Many have been wondering where the offensive spark would come from for the Michigan Wolverines. A lack of production on the offensive side of the football had already cost the Maize ‘N Blue two games on the season.
Losses to both Michigan State and Penn State have put the Wolverines in serious danger of being out of the East division race before its annual clash with Ohio State is even a real thought in their minds. That’s not exactly how head coach Jim Harbaugh or anyone else drew up the season going.
Michigan was much-hyped heading in to the 2017 season, and much of it surrounding having a returning starter at quarterback in Wilton Speight. At least that was the thought until spring ball when it became clear that Speight didn’t have a clear grip on the starting job.
Yet, despite a year of experience and an offseason of no separation, Harbaugh became his stubborn self and kept Speight as the starter. It was almost immediately clear that he didn’t have the dynamic ability needed to move this inexperienced offense forward.
In three starts before the Purdue game, Speight threw for 200 yards or more just once and completed less than 61 percent of his passes in every start. He also managed just three touchdown passes to two interceptions. His season likely ended with a horrific hit early on against Purdue in West Lafayette.
Yet, still it was experience over talent for Harbaugh as veteran transfer John O’Korn got the call with Speight out. In the case of in-game changes, that made perfect sense. Experience should steady the team after a bad injury, but O’Korn didn’t do much of that steadying on his own.
Going in to the Rutgers game, O’Korn had played and/or started the previous four games and had completed just 63 of 115 attempts for a 54.7 completion percentage. He also had tossed just one touchdown pass to four interceptions. But, even that stat line wasn’t good enough for Harbaugh to give the talent of Peters a shot.
It took a horrific start to this last game against Rutgers for Harbaugh to make the call to Peters.
So, what took Harbaugh so long? It appears that the “timid” nature of Peters entering this season was a factor.
“It’s like, ‘Wow, he’s a lot louder,'” Harbaugh said, via MLive.com. “He’s really doing the job. That sounds good. He’s been good.”
Yet, in the next breath Harbaugh admits Peters has been ready for a few weeks going in to the Rutgers game.
“We talked about it last week, we assessed where things were,” Harbaugh said. “We always look at it like a process. For a couple of weeks now, we felt he was ready. It was time.”
Peters certainly was good in his first action at the collegiate level. He finished the Rutgers game 10 of 14 for 124 yards and a passer efficiency rating of 169.4. It was a breath of fresh air on the stat sheet and in the win column, something that almost was in danger of not happening had Harbaugh not made the switch.
Ironically, it is that “timid” nature that Peters’ fellow offensive players seem to have responded to. They see it not as timid, but as someone cool and even-keeled.
“He’s a cool, laid back kid,” running back Karan Higdon said, via MLive. “You can see it in his demeanor right now. That’s what I love most about him. He definitely doesn’t fluctuate from that. What you see is what you get, and that’s very important.”
Perhaps it was a case of too little, too late for some, but at least Harbaugh made the move and it seems to be paying off. The 35 points scored against Rutgers was the most since 36 was put up against Cincinnati and the most in Big Ten play this season. Going in to the game, Michigan was averaging just 19.5 points per game.
Rutgers defense also isn’t the bottom of the barrel group it has been for most of its existence in the conference, so seeing those numbers put up against an improving group is a good sign going forward.
There will likely be some ups and downs though, such is the nature of a young player manning the quarterback position, but it is clear Peters is the right choice to give the offense the life it needs going forward.
But, the question remains, did Harbaugh’s stubbornness in wanting experience over talent cost the Wolverines a chance to be dynamic on offense and thus challenge Michigan State and Penn State’s defenses even a bit more. Would it have been better to live with early mistakes for better returns in conference play and a chance at a championship that Harbaugh was brought in to win?
Should Peters continue to showcase what we saw against Rutgers against the better defenses in the Big Ten, it certainly will be a case of what might have been for Michigan football in 2017.