The Wolverine

December 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 22 of 75

DECEMBER 2017 THE WOLVERINE 23 BY JOHN BORTON J im Harbaugh stepped to the podium at Schembechler Hall, confirming that yes, Wilton Speight could make it back to the lineup this year. In a season marked by signal-call- ing shakeups and inconsistent of- fense, such an audible would bring everything full circle. The redshirt junior quarterback crumpled to a heap on the Ross- Ade Stadium surface in the Big Ten opener. He was already down, but absorbed a cheap-shot pile-on that left him with three fractured verte- brae and left Michigan searching for a leader. It found one that day, with fifth- year senior John O'Korn stepping in to throw for 270 yards and a touch- down in a 28-10 win. It appeared all was well at 4-0, with two weeks to prepare for a home showdown under the lights versus Michigan State. When that sodden, pivotal evening arrived, not much went right for the home team. O'Korn fired three inter- ceptions amid five Michigan turn- overs in the rain-soaked setback, the stand-up veteran delivering a blunt self-assessment. "We trust the play calls that are coming in, and we've got to execute them," he said. "I take full ownership for three interceptions that shouldn't have happened. I take full responsi- bility for this loss. "I wasn't upset with any of the calls at all. I was just upset with my- self. You can't turn the ball over and expect to win, and you can't give them great field position all game and expect to win." The Wolverines bounced back to survive an overtime win at Indiana, but got blasted under the lights at Penn State with the Nittany Lions sacking O'Korn seven times. When Michigan found itself in a 7-7 dead- lock at home against Rutgers through 18 minutes of play, Harbaugh sig- naled to the bullpen again. This time he brought on redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Pe- ters, who wowed fans in the spring game but underwhelmed his coaches in fall camp. Peters connected on 10 of 14 throws, including a touchdown, to help ignite a 35-14 win. Many volunteer coaches among the 110,000 onlookers were tempted to go the "It's long overdue!" route in assessing the QBs shuffle. Following his first career start — a 33-10 win over Minnesota — Peters explained why it wasn't, in fact, overdue. ON THE JOB TRAINING Harbaugh has always praised Pe- ters as a smooth, natural deliverer of the football. The second-year Wol- verine out of Avon, Ind., certainly demonstrated that, both in the spring game and in his relief appearance against Rutgers. But practice observers noted he wasn't always Michigan's best on the training grounds, especially when the defensive heat got turned up. Still, Harbaugh noted the Wolverines entered fall camp with a three-way QB race raging, between Speight, O'Korn and Peters. By the end of camp, Peters emerged third among the three. He'd com- mitted enough mistakes, with every play getting charted, to fall behind his elders. "I was making some mental errors that I shouldn't have made," Peters said. "The coaches lost a little con- fidence in me during camp. That set me back." Pressed for details, Peters noted he was: "Turning the ball over, not making the right reads, fumbling the snap, not calling the play right in the huddle." Under those circumstances, Michi- gan's coaches reordered the depth chart. Although few players admit it at the time, most say later it's tough to maintain the same competitive focus when they know they're not likely to see the field. Peters locked in more thoroughly when Speight hit the deck, and for good reason. "At the beginning of the year, third string … obviously, not many third strings get a chance to get in the game, unless it's like a blowout," Pe- ters observed. "I saw the opportunity when Wilt went down. "You never want to wish that against your teammate, for someone to go down. But if it happens, you've got to be ready. When that hap- pened, I saw an opportunity. You're second string, anything can happen — [you're] one play away." Peters also noted his grasp of the offense improved throughout fall camp, even though the execution wasn't always there. In his second year in Harbaugh's system, he un- derstands it, but when more is de- manded to counter defenses, there's a learning process involved. "You can't get down on yourself," Peters said. "You've always got to keep the same confidence. When you start getting down on yourself, it's going to snowball. "I lost a little focus. You get more and more reps, you're going to get better at it. It changed a little bit from the spring, because we opened the playbook a little bit more. The more camp went on, the easier it became." Harbaugh might have carefully picked his spot with the redshirt freshman, inserting him into a home game against a team far from com- peting for a championship. Peters earned his first start the following week, under the lights against Min- QUARTERBACK SHUFFLE Circumstances Force A Revolving Door Behind Center Redshirt freshman Brandon Peters is the only Wolverine quarterback this year to throw for a touchdown in three straight games, tossing four in his three meaningful appearances against Rutgers, Minnesota and Maryland (he saw some mop-up duty in his first game played against Purdue). PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolverine - December 2017