Brandon Peters, we hardly knew ye. The redshirt freshman quarterback was 9/18 for 157 yards in about three quarters of play before being knocked out of the game. This was just his third start after replacing the ineffective John O’Korn, who was himself replacing the injured Wilton Speight. Peters was in the midst of showing the whole country what a lot of us Michigan fans saw in the spring game, and that’s the fact that he’s Michigan’s best quarterback. Peters did lose a fumble while making an ill-advised lunge for the goal line, but that was his first and only turnover in about four full games of work and 64 passing attempts. Peters was being evaluated for a head injury, almost certainly has a concussion, and will probably miss next week’s game against Ohio State.
Hit the jump for the rest of the recap.
The hit wasn’t that bad. The injury to Peters came on a stunt by Wisconsin linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, who was not flagged for roughing the passer or targeting – and rightfully so. Van Ginkel hit Peters a split second after Peters let go of the ball, hit with his shoulder in Peters’s ribcage, and took him down to the ground like a normal football tackle. The color commentator (Joel Klatt, I believe) said that football needs to take that kind of hit out of the game, and I disagree – to an extent. That was a perfectly clean football play, and it happened to have a poor result. If you take that kind of play out of the game, then – and I’m not being facetious here – you need to make the quarterback position a two-hand-touch position. Quarterbacks are “defenseless” for much of the game, and they already can’t be hit when they slide, they can’t be hit in the head/neck area, they can’t be driven into the ground, and they can’t be hit if you take more than two steps after they throw the ball. If quarterbacks are the lifeblood of football and need to be protected from hits like the one we saw on Saturday, then change the rules, make it a two-hand-touch position, keep the quarterbacks healthy, and move on with the game.
A bad call bites Michigan. I called it in the game preview that a crucial call would go against Michigan (LINK), and that’s exactly what happened when a video replay of a Peters-to-Donovan Peoples-Jones pass was upheld as an incomplete pass when it should have been a touchdown. I don’t blame the officials for calling it incomplete on the field, because it was literally as close as you can get to being incomplete when Peoples-Jones’ feet came down almost simultaneously, one in-bounds and one out-of-bounds. But slow-mo and freeze-frame replay show that Peoples’s left foot came down within the field of play just before his right foot landed on the sideline. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I just had a feeling that in a big game that would likely be close, Michigan would lose out on a big call. Not everything went against Michigan. For example, a long third-down catch by Wisconsin’s Danny Davis III was reversed and called incomplete when it was called complete on the field, despite the ball barely moving. And Michigan avoided a roughing the kicker penalty on a punt because Wisconsin’s punter kicked his leg out at the defender, even though that would probably be called a roughing penalty 90% of the time or more. But taking 6 points off the board is a bigger deal than either of those calls.
Wisconsin wore out Michigan. Michigan gave up 99 yards to Wisconsin in the first half, and then gave up 226 yards in the second half. They bottled up running back Jonathan Taylor in the first half, but he ended the game with 132 yards on 19 carries (6.95 yards/carry), the highest average he’s had since Wisconsin played Purdue on October 14. I talked about Michigan lacking depth on the defensive line, and they just don’t have bodies who can come in after the starters and be effective. Redshirt junior nose tackle Bryan Mone played a fair amount in a game where he should be effective, and he was largely ineffective with 0 tackles, along with some missed opportunities to make stops in the run game.
Michigan also misses Keith Washington. I was disappointed that Washington transferred prior to the season, reportedly upset that he wasn’t a starter at cornerback and that Michigan was transitioning him to safety. Michigan’s starting corners have been fine, but where it hurts is depth. With Lavert Hill out due to a concussion, Michigan was forced to play freshman Jaylen Kelly-Powell at nickel corner, and Kelly-Powell isn’t up to the task. He was beaten soundly for a 51-yard gain by Wisconsin slot receiver A.J. Taylor, and the Badgers scored on a 24-yard pass to Taylor a couple plays later. There are some transfers that don’t hurt (Shane Morris, Wyatt Shallman, etc.), and there are some that do, such as Washington.
Michigan isn’t creative on offense. The Wolverines are going to have to make some changes with the offensive staff this off-season, and hopefully it’s not too painful or divisive. Whether it’s Tim Drevno or Pep Hamilton (or others), someone has to go and some new ideas need to be implemented. Michigan inexplicably rolled out a “Wildcat” package for the first time that saw Chris Evans taking some direct snaps…in an empty backfield. They have been working on this package since the summer. And in that whole time, this is what they came up with. That was the last straw for me. Evans isn’t a threat to throw the ball, and Michigan didn’t put anyone in the backfield with him for misdirection. There were no reads, no motions, no fake handoffs, nothing. It was just Evans standing all alone in the backfield, Wisconsin teed off on it, and he gained zero yards on two attempts (if I remember correctly). Here’s how the conversation must have gone in the coaches’ meeting room when they dreamed this up:
“Hey, guys, what if we take our second-best running back, put him in shotgun, empty out the backfield, and then just let him run straight forward against the best run defense we’ll see all year?”
“That’s a great idea, but let’s not roll this out until he has a chance to take snaps away from our only competent quarterback after we go through two crappy ones.”
Bad things happen when young guys play. This isn’t so much an excuse as a reality, but being young probably cost Michigan this game. If Michigan’s players had one year more under their belts in this matchup, then I think the Wolverines pull out this win. Peoples-Jones would have better field awareness to only drag his left foot, Peters might not try to be a hero and fumble the ball, Kelly-Powell might not get beaten deep by Taylor, and maybe the right side of the line picks up stunts better. I worked with a coach once who said (about high school ball), “You lose one game for every sophomore who starts on varsity.” It takes a year or two for even these elite athletes at the college level to figure out how to do things the right way, and they weren’t capable of doing it in this game. The bright side is that Michigan will return 8 starters on offense (no Cole, Kugler, or Hill/Poggi) and 9 on defense (no Hurst or McCray) in 2018.
What does it all mean going forward? I’m not going out on a limb here, but Michigan’s going to lose against Ohio State next week. John O’Korn (2/8 for 19 yards, 3 carries for 2 yards) can’t do enough right things as essentially the #4 QB (behind Speight, Peters, and the previous version of O’Korn himself), and there are no other viable options on the bench. It would be unfair to burn Dylan McCaffrey’s redshirt, Alex Malzone suffered a precipitous dropoff in practice snaps, and Michael Sessa and Garrett Moores aren’t options. On top of the quarterback problems, Michigan is beaten up at running back with Higdon nursing an ankle injury and Ty Isaac apparently aggravating a knee injury. We can hope for a miracle, but ultimately, what Michigan is looking for is to get through the game healthy and then maybe win the bowl game when Peters or Speight comes back.
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