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Tuesday Morning Brews: The Brandon Peters era begins

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Peters had a strong debut, but fans shouldn’t get carried away

NCAA Football: Michigan Spring Game Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Tuesday, folks. Welcome to Morning Brews. Well, winning by 3 TDs isn’t normally what Michigan fans would consider a success against Rutgers - but there are other reasons to be excited. Fan favorite Brandon Peters has made his way to the field after beginning the season as the No. 3 quarterback on Harbaugh’s depth chart, and he appears to have taken over the starting spot. This morning I urge fans to have patience and be cautiously optimistic about what the offense can do with Peters at the helm. I also tee up what fans can expect out of the offense next week against Minnesota.

Let’s get to it:

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Patience and cautious optimism are key as the Peters era begins

The prayers of many fans were answered on Saturday. Following an interception and poor 3/6 passing start to the game for John O’Korn, Brandon Peters took the field. A voice cried out from heaven saying, ‘it is done,’ a cheer came from the Michigan faithful battling the elements in the Big House, and the Peters era began with a 15-yard completion to Tyrone Wheatley Jr.

After the game, Harbaugh said that it was time for Peters to see the field and that he had been ready to play for the last few weeks. That was certainly news to many of us who write about Michigan football, because word out of practice had been consistently that Peters was not ready. Harbaugh also said that it was time for the bird to leave the nest, and today was a good day for that to happen. The matchup against Rutgers presented an easier entry point for Peters than a night game against Michigan State or Penn State. Over the next couple games, Peters can get his feet wet without the risk of too much trouble, before the regular season concludes with Wisconsin and Ohio State.

So, is Brandon Peters the starting QB for Michigan? Probably. Harbaugh was noncommittal, but sorta committal, after the game saying, “We'll see, I feel really good about the way he played and feel really good about him now taking the next step and now being the starting quarterback.” The first part makes it sound like Harbaugh hasn’t made up his mind, the second part makes it sound like he has. Harbaugh was equally noncommittal during his Monday press conference. If Peters does turn out to be the new signal caller, I urge this in fans: patience and cautious optimism.

Despite being a redshirt freshman, Peters will have some technical and tactical blunders. The rumors out of practice suggested that he didn’t yet have the full playbook down and that he was prone to big mistakes in the passing game. While his performance against Rutgers was solid for being thrown into that situation, we saw a little bit of those concerns show. Let’s take a look at a few clips so you can see what I mean.

This first clip shows what had been missing from this year’s passing attack: short passes. On this play, Harbaugh is keeping Rutgers defense honest with a play action roll out after two straight runs. It gets Peters out in space, away from pressure, and allows him to make a nice, easy five-yard pass to Wheatley - who turns it upfield and gains another 10 yards after the catch.

Against Rutgers, TEs, RBs, and FBs accounted for 9/13 of Michigan’s receptions. On the year, they’ve accounted for only 41.5% of receptions. Last year it was 46.9%. These short passes help to engender confidence in a QB, particularly a young or inexperienced starter. Last year when Wilton Speight needed to make a throw, his safety valve was Jake Butt, De’Veon Smith, or Khalid Hill. The play calling had gotten away from those sorts of passes this year, and it’s good to see them make a return for Peters.

But this also shows that the coaches are being cautious with Peters. They want him to get his feet, and learn to crawl before he can walk. Of Peters’ completions against Rutgers only 4 were for 15+ yards, with two being exactly 15 yards. We’re likely to see a steady diet of these short passes over the next couple games, with some medium length passes and perhaps a play action boot to something medium to long mixed in as his and the coaches’ confidence grows. This will just be part of process, so don’t get too concerned if the pass offense doesn’t start producing 350 yards and four TDs per game.

This second clip shows the sort of mistakes Peters will likely make in the coming weeks. Here we have a miscommunication between Grant Perry and Peters. Perry recognizes that the the safety is coming down, so he cuts off his short post route and starts to sit down in a soft spot. Peters apparently doesn’t see the safety, expects Perry to keep going, and nearly throws an interception. Perry was expecting the ball behind him, toward the sideline, but Peters threw it in front. This play was right before Peters’ passing TD to Chris Evans, his only TD on the day.

Swapping his TD for an INT may have made the day much less successful in the eyes of fans, but that’s not my point here. We heard after the game that Peters had been preparing to be the starter, but we don't know how many reps he was was taking with the first unit in practice - and I suspect it wasn’t as many as O’Korn was taking. Peters will likely need time to get used to making these sorts of reads in games and to build the sort of relationship required with the receivers to consistently anticipate their improvisations. Again, patience and cautious optimism.

What to expect against Minnesota

In brief? More of the same. The game plan last Saturday was obviously to run the ball early and often. Of Michigan’s 71 offensive plays, 51 were running plays - and thankfully they went for 6.5 yards per carry or 334 yards overall. This was likely due to two reasons. First, the uncertainty and inconsistency at QB. If your QB can’t get the job done, take it out of his hands. Second, Rutgers’ defense was better against the pass than the run. According to the S&P+, Rutgers had the No. 33 pass defense and the No. 48 rush defense.

How does Minnesota’s defense compare to Rutgers? The Gophers have the No. 86 rush defense and the No. 37 pass defense. Expect the run game to again be the focus early and often against Minnesota. This is probably a good thing because it will allow Peters to have a relatively calm day in his first collegiate night game playing experience. I suspect the plan will be to give him somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 passing attempts, like it was against Rutgers. Those attempts are likely to again be mostly short passes (Minnesota doesn’t often give up big plays in the passing game).

What do you think of Peters’ debut? Weigh in with the poll below and down in the comments.

Poll

What did you think of Peters’ performance against Rutgers?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    He is the truth. Michigan has found its QB
    (142 votes)
  • 71%
    It was promising, but let’s not get carried away
    (651 votes)
  • 9%
    The playbook was extremely limited and he hit easy throws. I’m not sold yet
    (89 votes)
  • 2%
    If Wilton Speight returns, he should start
    (27 votes)
  • 0%
    If Peters struggles, O’Korn should go back in
    (6 votes)
915 votes total Vote Now

Is that good? I feel like that’s good. Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich had great days against Rutgers. Gary looked unblockable for nearly the entire game, and even with his stat line reading five tackles, two TFLs, and one sack, he impacted the game much, much more than that as you can see above. Rutgers ran away from Gary’s side of the field for much of the game on Saturday, which meant that Winovich got plenty of opportunities to make plays - and Winovich took advantage, recording two sacks, three tackles, and one and a half TFLs. Maurice Hurst also just destroyed people in the middle, racking up eight tackles, two TFLs, and one sack.

Hockey split its B1G-opening weekend with No. 15 Penn State. On Friday, the Wolverines came up just short, losing to the Nittany Lions 5-4 in overtime. Penn State equalized with about 90 seconds left before scoring the winning goal 53 seconds into the overtime period. On Saturday, Michigan got its revenge, blowing past Penn State 5-2. Michigan jumped out to a 3-0 lead before Penn State scored its first goal with 68 seconds left in the 2nd. Michigan added two more goals in the third before Penn State found the net again. The Wolverines then cruised to the end of the game. Hockey is now 4-2 (1-1) in Mel Pearson’s inaugural season.

Field Hockey faced off with Ohio State on Sunday in the Wolverines’ first game of the B1G Tournament. As the No. 1 seed, Michigan had a first-round bye. Ohio State beat Indiana 3-1 in what amounts to a play-in game in order to face Michigan. Simply put, the Wolverines dominated, holding Ohio State to four shots and only one on goal that didn’t come until the final minute. Michigan netted three goals to move on to the semifinals next Friday, where they’ll play Northwestern.