Ask Brandon Peters about the bruising hit, and he’ll laugh.
It was one he had already experienced. As Peters pointed out, he once “got folded in half” by someone in high school that plays at Notre Dame now.
But last Saturday, he got another dose of it.
With just under 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter against Minnesota, Merrick Jackson darted into the backfield and found himself one on one with Michigan’s young quarterback.
What happened next may have given Wolverine fans some pause. Merrick turned Peters into a tackling dummy, leaving him on the turf, where he was slow to get up. According to Peters, he only had the wind knocked out of him. But the hit was one of the less enviable firsts that the redshirt freshman has experienced thus far in his short tenure.
“It’s probably the first time I’ve been hit since high school,” Peters said. “Welcome to college football.”
Welcome to college football, indeed. And the hit aside, it has been a peachy start for Peters.
He entered the game against Rutgers midway through the second quarter, receiving his first meaningful college snaps. He finished having completed 10 of his 14 attempts for 124 yards with his first collegiate touchdown pass.
A week later, he recorded his first start against Minnesota, completing 8-of-13 passes for 56 yards and another touchdown. He said Tuesday that the Wolverines probably could have thrown more, but admitted there wasn’t much of a need to with Michigan’s ground attack making his job “10 times easier” by rushing for 371 yards and four touchdowns.
So instead, as Peters said, he simply made sure everyone knew what they were doing, knew the checks and managed the game. And at the end of the day, he found solace in his minimalist role.
“Obviously we didn’t need the pass game much that game,” he said. “That’s fine by me, as long as we get the win.”
The Wolverines did get the win, and a convincing one at that. They did so with Peters under center against Rutgers, too. And the level of competition aside, that’s a long way away from where he was at the beginning of the year.
At Big Ten Media Days in late July, Jim Harbaugh said Peters was caught in a “dead heat” with redshirt junior Wilton Speight and fifth-year senior John O’Korn, as each vied for the starting quarterback position.
But as Michigan moved on from spring ball, Peters fell out of that competition. When the season opener rolled around, he was third on the depth chart.
This drop, Peters admits, was the product of mental errors. As the playbook opened up, the issues arose. There were turnovers, fumbled snaps and missed reads, and he wouldn’t call the play right in the huddle.
Through all of it, though, Peters didn’t waver in confidence.
“You can’t get down yourself,” he said. “You always got to keep the same confidence because when you start getting down on yourself, it’s gonna snowball.”
But nothing snowballed, and now Peters is — based on Jim Harbaugh’s press conference Monday — unquestionably Michigan’s starting quarterback. And if you ask Peters if he expected this moment to come this season, even he isn’t entirely sure.
“At the beginning of the year, third string, obviously not many third strings get the chance to get in the game unless it’s like a blowout,” Peters said. “I saw the opportunity when Wilton went down.
“You never want to wish that against your teammate for someone to go down, but it happens, so you’ve just gotta be ready. When that happened, I saw an opportunity — second string, anything can happen, it’s one play away.”
That play — or series of plays — finally came in the second quarter against the Scarlet Knights, when O’Korn went three and out with just over 10 minutes remaining. On the next drive, Peters’ two-week path to officially being named the starter began.
According to Peters, Speight has played a large role along that path.
“He’s been basically like a coach,” Peters said. “He’s helped me a lot, keeping me confident, keeping me calm, giving me tips, reminders, that kind of stuff.”
And ironically enough, Speight may be the only one left to challenge for Peters’ job. After fracturing three vertebrae against Purdue and undergoing a recovery process, Harbaugh said Monday that Speight has finally been cleared for non-contact activity and has resumed throwing.
Peters knows that when Speight does finally return, the competition is open again. And he admitted that for this to remain his job, he needs to make plays, control the offense and avoid turnovers.
So far, he has done just that. And when asked to grade his own understanding of the offense, but more specifically, if he could do everything Speight could do, Peters showed no hesitation.
“Yes sir,” he said. “I got a pretty good grasp on the offense. There wasn’t much change from last year’s offense, a lot of it carried over. I’ve been kind of in this process for two and a half years now when I came early.
“I’ve got a pretty good grasp on it. I can do pretty much anything the coaches ask me.”