Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh pulled Brandon Peters in close and gave the 20-year-old a few final words of advice. Peters had worked on everything his coach had told him to. He needed to be louder, communicate better and have bigger presence on the field. When Harbaugh let him go, Peters jogged 15 yards out, shuffled his feet and sprinted right back — one last warm up.
After a season and a half of waiting, he was finally going in for a legitimate drive. Peters, the quarterback Michigan fans have called for since the Spring Game, took over the reigns. The fans at Michigan Stadium cheered at the sight of No. 18 lining up under center.
With him in command, the Wolverines marched downfield for a touchdown, and on their next two drives, they reached the end zone as well. The offense surged, the passing game connected and the Wolverines defeated Rutgers in a comfortable 35-14 win.
Peters’ performance — 124 passing yards, a 71 percent completion rate and one touchdown — garnered praise from his teammates, coaches and the entire crowd.
With less than a minute remaining in the second quarter, Peters dropped a lofted pass to sophomore running back Chris Evans for his first career touchdown pass. Streaking for the end zone, Evans made the catch and fell across the goal line for the 20-yard score.
“Ever since (redshirt junior quarterback Wilton Speight) went down, I stepped into the backup role, and ever since then I’ve been preparing like I’m the starting QB,” Peters said.
All the preparation finally became worthwhile. Michigan (3-2 Big Ten, 6-2 overall) made the switch to Peters on its fifth drive of the game, after fifth-year senior John O’Korn was intercepted and threw for just 13 yards.
The mood at Michigan Stadium changed immediately, and so did the Wolverines’ game plan.
When O’Korn was in, the coaches’ conservative play calling leaned on the running backs. Michigan would give the ball to junior Karan Higdon, fifth-year senior Ty Isaac or redshirt freshman Kareem Walker. Rarely did O’Korn get the green light to pass downfield.
When O’Korn finally received that signal midway through the first quarter, he was picked off.
So Peters entered, and Michigan balanced its offense. On his first drive, the Wolverines ran five times, passed three and capped it off with a 10-yard rushing touchdown from Higdon.
Though Peters passed more consistently than O’Korn, the running backs still made major contributions Saturday against the Scarlet Knights.
Higdon led the team with 158 rushing yards and two touchdowns, Isaac ran for over 100 yards and Walker had a career-high six rushing attempts to go along with his first touchdown at Michigan.
Rutgers found its own success on the ground, as both of the Scarlet Knights’ touchdowns came on run plays. The first — a direct snap to receiver Janarion Grant — came midway through the second quarter, when Grant sped past Michigan’s secondary for a 65-yard rush. Running back Gus Edwards scored the second touchdown on a two-yard rush in the third quarter.
Michigan’s defense allowed a total of just 195 yards, keeping Rutgers (2-3, 3-5) contained for the majority of the game. Fifth-year senior defensive lineman Maurice Hurst led the unit with eight tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack on Rutgers’ first play of the game.
“It felt huge to get that first sack on the first play,” Hurst said. “I think it really did get our defense going. Anytime you can three-and-out them early on in the game is really important.”
The defense played as expected and so did the running backs, but when O’Korn had another hiccup, Harbaugh knew that the time had come. He made the choice to put Peters in, and the move paid off.
He led the team on 50, 60 and 70-yard scoring drives. He played a pivotal role in each of them, leading Michigan to a much-needed win. And more than that, Saturday was the inception of the Peters-era in Ann Arbor.
“I feel really good about the way he played,” Harbaugh said. “I feel good about (Peters) now taking the next step and being the starting quarterback.”