For the second straight week, the Michigan football team (4-2 Big Ten, 7-2 overall) claimed a comfortable win against an inferior opponent. The run game surged and the defense locked down the Golden Gophers (1-5, 4-5).
Here are five things the Daily learned from the battle for the Little Brown Jug.
1. Peters may be the quarterback, but the running backs are the offense
In Brandon Peters’ first start at quarterback, the redshirt freshman threw the ball just 13 times. He completed 61 percent of his passes and threw his second career touchdown to sophomore tight end Sean McKeon on the opening drive. After that set, Peters was quiet, mainly because Michigan’s running backs kept breaking free for long runs.
Junior Karan Higdon and sophomore Chris Evans combined for 391 rushing yards, and each scored two touchdowns.
Higdon’s performance marked his second 200-yard game and his third game with multiple touchdowns. Evans, on the other hand, had been quiet in recent weeks since his two-touchdown outing against Purdue.
But with fifth-year senior running back Ty Isaac out due to injury this week, coach Jim Harbaugh decided to give Evans more carries. For Michigan, that move paid off.
2. Michigan’s defense has figured out the direct snap
While the play haunted the Wolverines against Penn State and Rutgers, Minnesota found little success.
On Minnesota’s only touchdown drive — its second drive of the game — quarterback Demry Croft shifted in formation and running back Rodney Smith received a direct snap. He rushed forward for a short gain of just two yards. His results didn’t get much better from there.
To put that in perspective, the last two opponents to take direct snaps against Michigan — Penn State’s Saquon Barkley and Rutgers’ Janarion Smith — ran for 60-plus-yard touchdowns.
The Golden Gophers occasionally snapped the ball directly to Smith, but he couldn’t break loose for big plays. Smith is the team’s leading rusher and averages 78 yards per game on the ground. Against Michigan, though, he ran for just 38 yards.
Michigan handled every other type of snap just as well, shutting Minnesota out of the end zone after the second drive of the game and allowing just 36 yards in the second half.
3. Cesar Ruiz is a solid replacement at right guard
With sophomore right guard Mike Onwenu out with an apparent foot injury, the true freshman Cesar Ruiz earned his first start.
Ruiz helped the Wolverines’ offensive line open lanes for the running backs time and time again. There was a bit of cause for concern in pass protection — Peters was sacked three times — but as a whole, the offensive line also allowed just five tackles for loss.
Harbaugh said after the game that he thought Ruiz played “really well,” and spoke about Ruiz in a similar way Saturday that he spoke about Peters a week before.
The young player had been competing well in practice, and it was simply “time for him to play.”
4. McKeon is Peters’ favorite target
After the win, McKeon joked that he was angry with his new quarterback.
On a pass play where McKeon was wide open, Peters took a hard sack.
“He’s a tough guy, I knew he was going to be fine. I was just mad cause I was open on a crossing route for the first down,” McKeon said with a laugh.
The Peters-to-McKeon connection has proved to be one of the most effective for the Wolverines’ offense. For the second week in a row, McKeon led Michigan in receiving yards. He caught three catches for 30 yards and one touchdown against Minnesota, and last week against Rutgers he caught three for 31. While the traditional wide receivers have had less of an impact, the offense is still finding ways to score on the ground.
If push comes to shove and Higdon’s and Evans’ contributions lessen, it appears Peters still has a top option in McKeon.
5. Prediction: Peters will probably get more throws against Maryland
In evaluating his redshirt freshman quarterback, Harbaugh admitted that there weren’t very many opportunities for Peters to throw. He only threw the ball just 13 times.
When Higdon and Evans run for 60-yard touchdowns on every drive, not only does Peters not need to throw, but he also doesn’t get to throw. The lack of passing activity made it difficult for Michigan’s new starter to get into a rhythm, and Harbaugh also said he will do more to keep Peters active on the sideline.
While the Terrapins don’t present much of a challenge to Michigan’s run game, the future opponents — Wisconsin and Ohio State — likely will. It could be vital to get Peters more chances to throw next week before asking him to do so on a bigger stage.