At the start of last season, Jim Harbaugh didn’t know who his quarterback would be. Redshirt sophomore Wilton Speight and redshirt juniors John O’Korn and Shane Morris all presented compelling cases for the starting job.
But on the first Saturday of September, Speight stepped onto the field at Michigan Stadium to take the first snap of the 2016-17 season and never looked back. Starting all but one game — due to a shoulder injury — Speight threw for 2,538 yards and 18 touchdowns with a 61.6 completion percentage.
Coming into the 2017-18 season, it would be safe to assume that the now-redshirt junior would take the field for the Michigan football team in its season opener at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX.
But that’s not the way redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters sees it.
After the Wolverines’ annual spring game Saturday, Peters was asked if he was trying to be the starter for this season opener.
“Of course,” Peters said with a smile. “Why would I not want to?”
His performance Saturday proved that sentiment.
As the starting quarterback for the Maize team that topped the Blue team, 31-29, Peters tackled the competition against Speight and O’Korn, both of whom led the Blue team, head on and came out on top. He completed 9 of 17 passes for 160 yards and tallied both a touchdown and an interception. Meanwhile, Speight went 9-for-26 for 78 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns, and O’Korn went 3-for-6 for 60 yards and a touchdown.
Peters struck first halfway through the first quarter, finding junior tight end Zach Gentry wide open in the middle of the field. Gentry returned the favor, making junior defensive back Louis Grodman miss and taking it to the end zone for a 55-yard touchdown.
It wasn’t until the third quarter that Peters made his first mistake. Off balance, he threw the ball to no one in particular, and senior cornerback Brandon Watson pounced on it. Peters tried to stop him, but Watson took the pass straight to the end zone for a pick-six, giving the Blue team its first lead of the game.
“As soon as I let go of it, I just followed the play,” Peters said. “… I didn’t really see him when I threw it.”
Eager to make up for his error, Peters quickly marched his side down the field, and then handed the ball off to sophomore running back Kareem Walker for what looked to be an easy score. But an illegal formation penalty negated the touchdown right before the end of the quarter.
Peters didn’t let that drive go to waste, though. Just eight seconds into the fourth quarter, he scrambled into open space and rushed 12 yards into the end zone to retake the lead at 21-17.
“I just felt the pressure and my read wasn’t there, so I made myself check down and made a big play,” Peters said.
Though the game looked to be over when junior safety Jordan Glasgow intercepted a pass from Speight in the red zone and took it 100 yards to the opposite end zone, O’Korn came into the game with just under five minutes remaining and made his presence felt. Leading two straight scoring drives, one in which he threw an 11-yard touchdown to freshman wide receiver Tarik Black and another in which he handed it off to junior running back Karan Higdon for a two-yard touchdown, O’Korn carried the Blue team to a 29-28 lead. With just 1:38 left on the clock, it looked like O’Korn had sealed the comeback victory.
But the day belonged to Peters, and he made sure of it.
“The first play, I was like, ‘Let’s call a deep shot,’ ” Peters said. “And (offensive coordinator Tim Drevno) was like, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ ”
From his own 40-yard line, Peters unloaded a rocket pass toward sophomore wide receiver Nate Schoenle, who was running down the right sideline. The ball came down perfectly into his grasp for what looked like a 50-yard completion.
“I saw it was man coverage and that route is perfect for man coverage, and we just executed,” Peters said.
Strategically moving the ball and calling timeout in a four-play sequence, Peters set junior kicker Kyle Seychel up for a chance at the game-winner with just a few seconds left. Seychel left no doubt about it, nailing the 31-yard field goal as time expired.
Peters — ranked as the sixth-best pro style quarterback nationally in his class in the ESPN300 — didn’t take part in the quarterback competition last year, eventually redshirting in his freshman season. Though a quarterback battle hasn’t been expected to take place this year, he acknowledged that Harbaugh preaches competition above all else.
And while Speight is undoubtedly Michigan’s starter, Peters made it clear that he intends to turn it into a competition.