When the name Drew Stanton comes up in conversation around the state of Michigan, an exercise in counterfactual history usually ensues.
More specifically, the parties privy to the discussion typically mention that, if the Michigan State quarterback hadn’t gone down with an injury during the first half of last year’s game against the Wolverines, the end result – a 45-37 triple-overtime Michigan victory – might’ve been a little different. That’s because, by the time Stanton dislocated his right shoulder after being tackled by Michigan’s LaMarr Woodley late in the second quarter, the Spartans’ signal-caller had already accumulated 95 aerial yards on 10-for-13 passing to go along with 84 rushing yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Michigan State led, 17-7, at the time of Stanton’s departure.
“You talk to various people who are Michigan fans – big Michigan fans – and everyone wants to talk about, ‘If you would have stayed in the game, you guys would have won,’ ” Stanton said. “It’s nice to hear that compliment from Michigan fans – to hear that they have that much respect for you.”
Still, the Farmington Hills native doesn’t exactly have fond memories of the Michigan fans’ reaction when he was lying on the turf in pain. In fact, he remains very bitter about the cheering he heard when he got injured.
“I think it was a little classless of the student section, to be honest with you, just because I was down,” Stanton said. “It was completely classless on their part. And that’s what was hard for me. Because, yeah, it’s a big game and there is a lot of emotion, but it’s still a game. As soon as I went down, I was right next to student section and I could hear them cheering. I thought, ‘The last thing I’m going to do is sit on this turf anymore. I’m getting up and getting out of here.’ Unfortunately, it left a bad taste in my mouth.”
An angry Stanton is the last thing Michigan needs right now. He looks to present a major challenge to the Wolverines’ defense on Saturday. The redshirt junior, who is considered a major dual threat out of the spread offense, is by far the most mobile quarterback Michigan has faced all season. And he’s peaking at just the right time for the teams’ intrastate rivalry game.
With 1,184 passing yards and a 73.1 percent completion rate, Stanton has tossed an impressive 13 touchdown passes while giving away just two interceptions, and he has positioned himself on the fringes of the early-season Heisman race. On the ground, the Harrison High School graduate has picked up a modest – for him – 123 yards and one touchdown. But the Wolverines are well aware that he could break out for a big scramble on any play. After all, in just 10 games and seven starts last year, Stanton ran wild for nearly 700 yards and five scores.
“Like everyone knows, it all starts with Stanton, a guy who can do it all – pass, run – he’s a mobile quarterback,” senior co-captain and defensive tackle Pat Massey said. “If you watch film on him, he’s a tough kid. He’s going to come to play, (and) he wants to win.”
Michigan’s struggles against running quarterbacks have been well publicized. In their final two games last year, the Wolverines allowed Ohio State’s Troy Smith and Texas’s Vince Young to rush for an unbelievable 337 yards and five touchdowns. But much of the team’s offseason preparation was geared toward containing big plays on the ground from the opponents’ men under center. The early results appear successful, since Michigan has held opposing quarterbacks to negative-eight yards rushing this season. But the Wolverines haven’t run into a defensive task as difficult as the one Stanton presents.
“I think he’s obviously a talented guy,” coach Lloyd Carr said. “I think he’s surrounded by excellent people. I think he’s in a scheme that gives him an opportunity to do a lot of things.”
At 6-foot-3 and 222 pounds, Stanton prides himself on being unpredictable when he crosses the line of scrimmage with the ball. In fact, he claims he’s not always sure where he’s going sometimes.
“I’m out there, and I don’t even know what I’m doing,” Stanton said. “So that means the defense probably doesn’t have any idea of what’s going on. It’s definitely a fun part of the game. I enjoy doing it, but I definitely realize the need for staying healthy.”
Chances are, Stanton will finish the game on Saturday healthier than he did last year. But the Wolverines hope the victor remains the same.