Mailbag: Pepcat Blah, Peters Challenge, Blueshirting, Western Existential Crisis

Submitted by Brian on December 12th, 2016 at 12:03 PM

Pepcat sadness.


infrequent [Fuller]

Why did Peppers seem to disappoint on offense this season in the big games? Lack of creativity? Poor execution on his part, maybe from limited reps? OL play? Cosmic misfortune?

There are many reasons.

  • Defenses tended to absurdly over-focus on him when he entered the game. This resulted in a bunch of plays where his presence as a decoy created huge chunks for guys not named Peppers.
  • Michigan's read option package was basic. Teams started scrape exchanging against it and Michigan did not have a response to it. This resulted in a number of plays that looked like bad reads but were in fact RPS minuses. It probably would have been more effective to just single-wing, or use Peppers as a tailback.
  • He got some bad edge blocking from tight ends.
  • Cosmic misfortune always plays a role.

In retrospect the QB package should have been dumped midseason, probably after Illinois shut it down, and Michigan should have moved on to something else. They've been good at doing this so far under Harbaugh—fullback traps fell out of the offense this year—but not so here.

The Pepcat package featured something every high schooler is relentlessly drilled on these days: defending a crazy athlete QB. Michigan is not a spread option team. They are strictly dilettantes in that department. So you had a primitive attempt at spread option going up against the last ten years of defensive advancements against it. That is ceased working after a shock and awe period isn't a surprise.

Peters chatter, QB competition


daddy needs a new Andrew Luck [Fuller]


There never seemed to be much insider chatter floating around this year about how Peters was performing in practice. Obviously last year the big chatter was that, O'Korn was out performing Rudock. Question 1.)  Do we know anything about how he performed this fall in practice?

Secondly, I for one was pleasantly surprised with Speight's performance this year and I believe exceeded what many's expectations were for him.

That being said -

Question 2.) Do you anticipate any serious competition next year between a Redshirt Peters and Speight for the starting gig?

Go Blue,

After a productive spring, Peters chatter went to zero in fall camp. You shouldn't read anything into that, though. O'Korn got talked up last year because Rudock was so bad early and there was nobody else to talk about except Shane Morris, who was not a viable target for chatter after last year's Minnesota game.

Michigan had determined it was going to redshirt Peters, he got put on the scout team, and Speight played well enough that backup talk was restricted to a few off weeks. O'Korn's existence, meanwhile, kept what backup chatter existed focused on him until Indiana.

I do expect a serious QB competition this offseason. By "serious" I mean "there is at least a 20% chance someone not named Speight is the starting QB." Brandon Peters is extremely good and should eat up ground quickly since he was not one of those QB guru guys. Speight had a good sophomore season but remains someone else's QB that Harbaugh is making do with, and we saw him switch horses midstream in San Francisco. Speight's weak performance against Iowa and turnovers against OSU leave the door open for a challenger.

I'd be surprised if Peters passed Speight. I would not be shocked.

[After the JUMP: blueshirting, sartorial discussion, why do anything really I mean seriously]

Blueshirting is fine. It's got "blue" in it. QED.

Hi Brian,

In your latest recruiting round up you briefly described what a blue shirt is. Can you please explain this in more detail, especially if this is something UM is considering.

The consensus seemed to always be taking more than 25 recruits was dirty until you looked into the whole back dating and informed the blog. That made the practice seem OK in my mind. If I know more details on blue shirting, maybe I'll feel better about that, but it has a similar dirty feel.


I've never had a problem with teams recruiting a bunch of players as long as they have the room. Michigan has room.

They're in an unusual position because they had back to back years of 17 and 14 recruits as the Hoke era spluttered to a disastrous finish. That led to a big class last year, and there's still a ton of room this year since Michigan has lost a number of those guys. Peppers (probably), Canteen, Ferns, Pallante, and O'Neill are gone from the 2014 class; Brian Cole and Andrew David are already gone from 2015.

So Michigan's in a spot where they can legitimately add so many recruits that they outstrip the NCAA-mandated letter of intent count of 25. I'm still unclear on who counts and who doesn't but with Hawkins and Dytarious Johnson not making it in last year Michigan had 27 initial counters and backdated 7. (Ahmir Mitchell may or may not count but it doesn't really matter for our purposes.) Therefore they can backdate five guys this year and sign a total of 30.

Blueshirting is a way around the LOI cap. "Unrecruited" walk-ons can show up in fall camp and get a scholarship without being an "initial counter." In practice this means the recruit doesn't take an official and doesn't sign a LOI. I've been told that Michigan might not have to execute this maneuver for reasons I don't quite get because I'm not in NCAA compliance, but if they do there's nothing nefarious about it. Kid gets a scholarship immediately, as he was promised.

This is a very important sartorial discussion.

I’m wondering why no one has commented on Harbaugh’s pants at State. He upgraded to plain front last year – midway through the season. Though, he still did wear the pleats occasionally. It was reported that he was going to wear Jordan brand Khakis this year, and I’m curious whether what we saw was just that on Saturday. They had a very different cut … more like Jeans. For someone who doesn’t deviate from the norm, I thought it was pretty odd – and actually quite of an upgrade (to go with his retro glasses). Will this be the new look? Or did he forget his pants and send an assistant to go find anything that looked khaki.


I don't know why nobody has commented on Harbaugh's khakis. Seriously. This fanbase comments on everything else, several times in a row. You'd think a changeup like this would get at least one thread.

What's the point of Western?

Hey Brian,

I have been enjoying Western's perfect regular season this year and the MAC school taking its star turn in the national spotlight. (BTW, I can't help but wonder if Western's mascot has always looked as stoned as the one that appeared on College Gameday a few weeks ago?) Western never seriously entered into the College Football Playoff conversation, and I can understand the conventional wisdom behind that being the top MAC school would more than likely never be more than a middling contender in a Power 5 school. Fair enough. In that case why even bother considering the second-tier conferences for the CFP? Western did everything it could this season to win the national title but couldn't even come close to breaking through even against this year's highly imperfect field of CFP competition. So what's the point? Why bother having a 128-team FBS if roughly half of them have no shot of winning the national championship?

Keep up the good work,

It is possible for a team in the bottom half of D-I conferences to put themselves in the playoff conversation. They just have to beat Oklahoma. Western did not do this. They beat Northwestern and Illinois and then played a MAC schedule. An undefeated Houston with wins over Oklahoma and Louisville is at least in the conversation and maybe/probably in over Washington.

"What's the point?" is not the kind of question that got asked before there was a playoff. The point is to win the games that are put in front of you. The point of adding a G5 team to the New Year's Six is to forestall antitrust legislation. The point of having an 128 team FBS is... uh... ask Georgia State?

If you're asking me why an Appalachian State would rather be a D-I school that aspires to the Sponsor That Didn't Pay Us So We're Not Calling It That Bowl instead of battling NDSU annually for national championships, I have no earthly idea. The MAC has been D-I forever and knows nobody will ever win a national title out of that league, which is fine, I guess. Just enjoy the WMU season for what it is. I bet Bronco fans would rather take on Wisconsin than Alabama, anyway.



December 12th, 2016 at 12:18 PM ^

The Pepcat offense always felt like a one-off, and I'd have liked if they saved it a bit for bigger games when it would still be surprising.  But as Brian noted, teams are used to it, and with no threat to throw it's even more predictable.

Peters at QB seems unlikely, but I could see there being more rumbling if he takes the leaps we have seen with other QBs.  I still don't see him losing to Speight, but he could see some significant backup playing time.  What that means for O'Korn is another matter.

The MAC absolutely could get a shot at the playoff; CMU beat Oklahoma State this year, which if they had run the table against the MAC + Virginia, might have been enough.  But yeah, you have to get lucky that your league isn't garbage (the AAC was probably as good as the Big 12 this year, or close to it) plus you get a nice OOC win or two.  The MAC's problem this year was they were down save for Western and didn't have many big scalps save OSU.  


December 12th, 2016 at 12:53 PM ^

Yeah, the Pepcat package was just baffling to me after the Iowa game. Like everyone else, I was dead certain that Harbaugh had other plays built into that package that were being saved for OSU. Not so much, and it was more disappointing to me than anything else that our offensive brain trust did this year.


December 13th, 2016 at 12:12 AM ^

we had three drives when up by only three in the fourth quarter and totaled 16 yards with one first down.  In three drives.  Get a couple first downs!  It's crazy how easily we moved the ball in the first half only to stall out there in the fourth.  Nothing creative.  Nothing interesting.  Karan Higdon running up the middle and Speight missing throws. Ugh.  Are we getting a UFR? Anyone know?

True Blue Grit

December 13th, 2016 at 11:10 AM ^

Illinois, MSU, and Maryland were all over it almost everytime. Brian's assessment was spot on.  Everyone knew Peppers was about a 80-90% chance of keeping it.  So, it was always easy to stuff.  I agree that Peppers should have been used more as a RB instead.  At least that way, you have a real threat of throwing the ball.   I also think running the formation was often disruptive to the flow of the offense.  It almost always resulted in 3rd and long.  

N. Campus Tech

December 12th, 2016 at 12:55 PM ^

Peppers is a once in a generation player. Harbaugh wanted to get Peppers (whom he inherited from Hoke) a chance at winning the Heisman. The only way for a primary defensive player to win the Heisman, was to play offense part-time (See: Woodson, Charles)

The Pepcat was the best that this staff could come up with. The problem is the OL is only mediocre, so lining him up at Tailback wouldn't be that effective.

He would draw too much attention for jet-sweeps, and I guess he couldn't spend enough time working with Speight to line up as a wide out.


December 12th, 2016 at 1:21 PM ^

I don't think it was about winning an award; Harbaugh seems like the last guy in the world who would care about that, and Peppers never came across as a guy chasing a statue.  I think they gave Peppers some run because he is a dynamic player who gave them a change of pace in the backfield.  The problem was that they never evolved it past the first time we saw it, which was why other teams quickly adjusted.  Hell, had they even let him throw once or twice, it would have helped.


December 12th, 2016 at 2:18 PM ^

My biggest beef with Peppers use on offense was the lack of creativity.  Hell, I would have liked to see him using his speed to stretch the field a little.  Run some go routes.  Look at Charles Woodson.  They brought him in as a slot guy, and he would easily get himself open, numerous times.  I have never been a wildcat offense fan as it is just too predictable, I just wish he would have been used at wide out a little more.


December 12th, 2016 at 2:54 PM ^

Peppers got a limited number of snaps in 2015 at tailback as I recall and was very effective as a runner to the point where Brian was speculating about Peppers getting more work as a traditional RB leading up to this past season. Maybe the OL's troubles scuttled those plans.

Whether Harbaugh actually thinks it's important if any of his players wins the Heisman he'll have to come out and say it, but he has definitely advocated for his players to be considered over the years. He definitely lobbied for Toby Gerhardt in 2009 and Andrew Luck while he was at Stanford. Those guys were the runner-up three years in a row.


December 13th, 2016 at 12:19 AM ^

yes.  This was exactly why he ran these plays against those teams instead of "saving" them.  Had to get Pepper's offensive flashy, county stats up.

But Brian is exactly right that after Illinois stopped it, you gotta park it.  Winning does more for a Heisman trophy candidate than a couple extra touchdowns, so you can't run stuff against good teams in close game if it has a poor chance of succeeding. I don't think they were going for the stats, but somehow they thought it had a better chance of succeeding than it did, I guess.


December 12th, 2016 at 1:33 PM ^

I could see a MAC team in the playoff some year. They would have to schedule a very good non-conference schedule, and it would help if at least one or two other MAC teams were having strong years. Unfortunately Western didn't play a top 40 team. Even though they beat 2 Big Teams, those teams were 6-6 Northwestern and 3-9 Illinois. Next year Western is at USC and at MSU. Winning those games would go a long way for their playoff hopes.


December 12th, 2016 at 12:23 PM ^

competition, I have been saying for a while, don't be shocked if Peters starts next year.  I think Speight had a good year and I saw improvement from him, for the most part, as the season went on. However, like you stated, he is not Harbaugh's QB, and he brought Peters in for a reason.

I think Peters has a much higher ceiling then Speight and I would suspect he will get some good reps, during bowl practices to see how he has progressed. If he puts in the work in the off season, I think there will be a serious QB competition next fall and think Peters has a punchers chance to land the starting QB spot when the 2017 season starts.


December 12th, 2016 at 12:57 PM ^

I will probably never understand the constant pining for the backup QB that seems to be part of our fanbase's mentality. I see it all the time, going back to my childhood, and I just don't get it. The grass is not always greener on the other side, and Speight was pretty damn solid this year with the exception of the Iowa game, and his two picks vs OSU. He makes good decisions, is elusive in the pocket, and has proven to be pretty damn tough.

snarling wolverine

December 12th, 2016 at 1:08 PM ^

This isn't about Michigan specifically.  The most popular player on every football team is always the backup QB.  

Peters has never lost a game he's started, thrown an interception or even thrown an incompletion.  Speight has done all those things.  Therefore, Peters must be better.  





Stringer Bell

December 12th, 2016 at 2:15 PM ^

It's less pining for a backup QB and more pining for Harbaugh's hand-picked guy, who was a top 75 recruit and has very high upside.  Speight was solid this year, but was a complete no-show against Iowa and made crucial mistakes against OSU.  The plan was for him to be a game manager and let us win games with our defense.  Unfortunately in our 2 losses he didn't do that.

snarling wolverine

December 12th, 2016 at 3:35 PM ^

This is just a repackaged version of the argument above.

Basically, you're saying that we should ignore that Speight made a number of very good plays in the game, including two TD passes, while playing through a shoulder injury.   He was basically our entire offense.  But what matters is that he made some "crucial mistakes" - which of course  Peters wouldn't have made, since he hasn't made any yet, right?

As for the whole "Speight isn't Harbaugh's QB" thing, I guess we should ignore that he's beaten out every other QB on the roster thus far, including a guy (O'Korn) who not only had more game experience but was recruited by Harbaugh himself?   

At what point does Speight become "Harbaugh's QB"?  If he's a 3-year starter, is he still Brady Hoke's player?







December 12th, 2016 at 4:34 PM ^

If a QB plays a good game but makes several back-breaking mistakes, is it really that good of a game? 

In the 11 games that Speight played, he was roughly 50/50 when it came to good/bad performances. 

I hope Speight is awesome next year (and he's still young so he's got time to improve) but I think he's being a bit over-hyped by some thanks to that three game stretch against poor teams in the middle of the season. Of course,the flipside to this is that some of his struggles might have boiled down to injuries.


December 12th, 2016 at 6:01 PM ^

Speight, as a first-year starter, threw only six interceptions, and two were really not his fault: the INT against Iowa (it was in Chesson's hands and then ripped out) and the first against OSU (an unblocked blitzer came in and tipped his throw).  That leaves four other picks on the season.  You're making him out to be a mistake-prone QB when in fact he was terrific at making good decisions with the ball most of the season.

Also, while it doesn't show up in the stats, Speight's pocket footwork is terrific.  He extended many plays over the course of the season by avoiding the rush and buying time.






December 12th, 2016 at 7:07 PM ^

Actually, I wasn't. I was speaking specifically about the Ohio State game where he made three huge mistakes (fumble, 2nd pick, Darboh slant). 

And sure, you can say that about his INT total for the year, but I'm sure if we went back we could find a few throws that should have been picked and weren't (the Wisconsin game comes to mind). 

Also, none of what you're saying disputes my overall point: Speight was good for half the season and bad for half the season. Am I wrong there? 

Honk if Ufer M…

December 13th, 2016 at 11:03 PM ^

Everybody dismissed Shane on only a handful of snaps, relatively, and most of them a play here and a play there with weeks or more in between.

Gardner, Rudock, O'Korn and Speight have all had much longer periods or more snaps of sucking then Shane ever had a chance to, yet kept getting long stretches, whole games or many straight whole games. 

The guy I speak to the most on the team right now, one of the freshman who has barely played so far, but who will get Xmas camp reps, just told me Shane has been GREAT in practice this year when we were talking about where he'll end up.

I still think all he needed was confidence in him from the coaches and a little uninterrupted time to get his shit together, learn from mistakes without constant fear of being yanked and the extra pressure you put on yourself in that situation, and get comfortable, figure shit out and start clicking. 


December 13th, 2016 at 12:18 AM ^

False straw man. The issue is folks like me want Peters to win the job, not be handed the job.

We want this because Sp8's mechanics preclude him from ever leading an elite offense. Maybe if I could see him fix his mechanics then I would not be so adamant in HOPING Paters earns the job.

No handouts or safe spaces in my world view, and definitely not one for Wilton.


December 12th, 2016 at 1:10 PM ^

He started strong vs. Hawaii and UCF. Colorado through Rutgers he really wasn't that impressive. He then had a nice three game run (Illinois through Maryland) against some pretty terrible defenses. 

He was then terrible against Iowa after the safety and pretty good minus the crippling mistakes against OSU (fumble, second pick, missed slant to Darboh). 

I think Speight is fine, but he's probably not elite. I happily hope I'm wrong and he wins the Heisman next year. 


December 12th, 2016 at 1:28 PM ^

People talk about Brady as if he was some scrub QB; dude led the conference in completion percentage and passing efficiency, a conference with Drew Brees in it, and was 4th in yards, 4th in ypa, and 5th in TDs.  He was quite good, but everyone thought Henson sounded better because he was a big-name recruit.  

Honk if Ufer M…

December 13th, 2016 at 11:17 PM ^

It wasn't just because he was a big name recruit, it was because we saw his arm and athletic ability and the greatness in him that just needed to be nurtured & given the time and chance. How Brady turned out later is irrelevant to what the choices seemed like at the time and what the upside and potential of Henson looked like. The fact that Henson picked the wrong sport doesn't mean the belief in him at QB was wrong. Just like Bo and Jordan and Deon wasting time in baseball didn't prove that belief in them in their main sports was misplaced does it? Henson's problem was choosing one over the other too soon, and the wrong one


December 12th, 2016 at 2:04 PM ^

To be fair, a lot of fans (myself included) did want Brady to start in '99.  I did because I figured an experienced senior would give us more of a chance than a first-year starter.  

Also in fairness, Henson did go on to be a very good college QB (in 2000).  He didn't become a baseball player because he couldn't hack it at Michigan, but because George Steinbrenner threw $17 million at him.  I was devastated when he left.



December 12th, 2016 at 8:29 PM ^

There were some who wanted Brady and some who wanted Henson.  That kind of thing is true almost anytime there is an open QB competition.

What's not true is the idea that Michigan fans were overwhelmingly in Henson's corner.  It was a faction of the fanbase that was, and most of it settled down after a few weeks when it became clear that Brady had taken a big step forward as a senior.  By the time of the two midseason losses, most fans were upset that the platoon was still going on.


December 12th, 2016 at 1:22 PM ^

I would speculate, as the poster has himself supplied later, that hoping for a competition is different than simply hoping for a backup QB. A competition tends to elevate the players involved. Speight has become something of a known quantity, so competition tells us more about the other guy than it does about Speight.

Further, because Speight is a known quantity, we also know his flaws. Michigan has, for two years, run an offense built on running the football and built upon a reasonably diverse passing game in which downfield passing is an important factor. And, for two years, Michigan has fielded quarterbacks whose ability to consistently strike downfield has cost us points and very arguably wins.

So competition raises the hope that, while Speight will be a good QB if he starts next season, there may be a guy who can address Speight's specific weaknesses without sacrificing too many of his strengths.

It's the idea of "hope."

I am sanguine about Speight next season, so I'm not too concerned about whether or not Peters can compete with him for the job. But if Peters can hang, great news. 


December 12th, 2016 at 1:15 PM ^

when I played in 7th and 8th grade we had a WB position. That stood for wing-back. He would either play a yard back of the LOS outside the tight end, or he'd stand next to the full back in a modified I-formation. The H-back position is similar to the WB, but the WB was more of a slot receiver in terms of stature.