COLLEGE PARK — It isn’t common that a game features a battle between a third-string and fourth-string quarterback, but with both Michigan and Maryland ravaged by injuries to their men under center, that is exactly what happened Saturday.
While neither quarterback put their definitive stamp on the contest, redshirt freshman Brandon Peters had enough help from both teams for the Wolverines (5-2 Big Ten, 8-2 overall) to come away with a 35-10 victory over the Terrapins (2-5, 4-6).
“He made the big play, and he was very accurate,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “… He played the kind of football we like, and he did a nice job.”
He finished 9-for-18 with 145 yards and two touchdowns on the day, but even those scores through the air came off fortunate breaks.
The most work Peters had to do was launch a deep throw over the top of the defense to redshirt sophomore tight end Zach Gentry, who was wide open over the middle. Gentry took the pass the rest of the way into the end zone for a 33-yard score with just over 11 minutes remaining in the second quarter. By that point, the Wolverines already had a two-possession lead.
On Michigan’s first scoring drive, Gentry came up with an impressive catch in the red zone when Peters’ pass looked to be out of reach, even for his 6-foot-7 frame. After catching the pass, Gentry almost ran it into the end zone, but he was knocked out of bounds a few yards shy.
That presented an opportunity for fifth-year senior Henry Poggi to notch a career highlight. In a homecoming game for the Baltimore native, Poggi punched it in from two yards out for his first touchdown as a Wolverine.
On Michigan’s second, Peters looked to be in trouble as the Maryland defense came barreling down upon him. But Peters was able to drop it off to Higdon before absorbing a hard hit, and the running back weaved his way through the defense for a 35-yard gain.
The Terrapins were called for a roughing the passer penalty, adding 15 more yards onto the play to move the Wolverines all the way up to Maryland’s 16-yard line. Evans had to rush just three times after that before leaping into the end zone for the score.
Peters’ 33-yard touchdown to Gentry was also the byproduct of a Terrapin miscue. Down 14-0 at the start of the second quarter — after all three of its first-quarter drives ended in a three-and-out — Maryland tried to execute a fake punt. But the Terrapins were halted and called for a penalty, giving Michigan the ball deep in Maryland territory.
It took Peters all of one play to end that drive with a touchdown pass to Gentry.
“Their safety was playing way backside,” Peters said. “The seam just popped.”
His second score of the day came in a similar fashion. On the very next possession, sophomore defensive back Josh Metellus blocked the Terrapins’ punt at the 19-yard line, giving the ball right back to the Wolverines.
Junior running back Karan Higdon broke toward the outside for a 16-yard rush, and then Peters lofted a pass to sophomore tight end Sean McKeon for a three-yard touchdown.
It took just two plays for that drive to reach the end zone.
“I just really sold the fake,” Peters said, “and they really bit on it.”
Walk-on Ryan Brand didn’t have the same amount of support from either side in his first career start at Maryland, finishing 16-for-35 with 136 yards and a touchdown.
Toward the end of the first quarter, Maryland attempted to wake up its offense with a double reverse pass between Brand and Harrison. But with acres of daylight in front of him, Brand couldn’t come up with the catch in the backfield.
And even when Brand had his best opportunity of the first half near the end of the second quarter — after the Terrapins had managed to reach Michigan’s 10-yard line — sophomore defensive back David Long intercepted the ball in the end zone and returned it 80 yards.
Brand found some success in the second half, though, At the end of the third quarter, he completed two consecutive deep balls to place Maryland at the Wolverines’ five-yard line. But the drive stalled at the goal-line, and the Terrapins had to settle for a field goal to finally end the shutout bid.
On the next possession, Brand finally found the end zone. After a methodical drive through the air, Brand hit receiver Taivon Jacobs for a 10-yard touchdown to bring the deficit down to 28-10.
“They were executing well,” Harbaugh said. “I mean, the execution was good the whole game, but then we made a few mistakes defensively, made a few mistakes offensively.
“… (It) was a combination of both, and they made some plays.”
But Maryland committed another key error on the next series, and Michigan capitalized yet again. On a deep pass from Peters to freshman receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, the Terrapin defender was called for a pass interference penalty. Evans made Maryland pay, rushing 17 yards into the end zone to seal the victory.
Taking advantage of the Terrapins’ miscues throughout the day, the Wolverines had what Harbaugh called one of the best games of their season.
“I really think it might have been our best ballgame — in all three phases,” he said. “Very sound game by our team.”