The first of many touchdowns, one hopes. [Patrick Barron]
Welcome to the future.
After four drives for each team, Michigan found itself deadlocked at seven with lowly Rutgers in front of a listless homecoming crowd. Embattled quarterback John O'Korn had completed 3/6 passes for 13 yards with an interception and two dropped snaps. On what turned out to be his final snap of the afternoon, he passed up multiple open receivers to roll out of a clean pocket and throw in the direction of a very well-covered Donovan Peoples-Jones.
When the defense booted Rutgers off the field with 7:01 to play in the first half, ballyhooed redshirt freshman Brandon Peters entered in O'Korn's stead.
"They just told me to get warmed up," said Peters. "When we got the ball I was just standing there next to Harbaugh and he said let's go, you're in."
The crowd instantly came to life. So did the offense. Two Karan Higdon runs picked up 20 yards to open the drive, then Peters got going, connecting on passes to Ty Wheatley Jr., Henry Poggi, and Nico Collins for first downs before Higdon capped the drive with a ten-yard touchdown.
"I wasn't that nervous," said Peters. "Honestly it was a great opportunity to get out there. I was more excited and confident than nervous."
Peters didn't seem nervous. When Michigan got the ball at midfield with 1:49 to go in the half, he marched the team right into the red zone. He had a freshman moment, nearly throwing an interception on a slant to Grant Perry, but that didn't rattle him one bit. On the very next snap, he tossed a near-perfect* lob to Chris Evans on a wheel route for a 20-yard score. With one change in personnel, Michigan went being in a dogfight at home against Rutgers to blowing them out.
"I saw man coverage, one-on-one with Chris," said Peters. "I wanted to give him a chance to make a play and he made a great play on the ball."
The wheel route remains undefeated. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Michigan had already made needed improvements elsewhere, and the insertion of Peters served to accentuate them. The offensive line had been opening holes in the running game, which featured a diverse array of powers, counters, outside zones, and crack sweeps. With opposition safeties finally forced to respect the pass, the backs found ample room to run. Higdon (158 yards on 18 carries) and Ty Isaac (109 on 14) both cracked the century mark; Michigan averaged 6.5 yards per carry.
The pass protection also looked vastly improved. O'Korn and Peters both consistently operated out of clean pockets; Peters did a better job of standing in and delivering. Michigan didn't take a sack.
Most importantly, Peters continued dealing. He finished 10/14 for 124 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers. He didn't lock on to a favorite target; ten different receivers caught passes for the Wolverines today. While Peters's stat line may not blow anyone away, he made it obvious he's the best option to run this team right now. His coach agreed.
"He really aquitted himself well," said Jim Harbaugh. "Moved the football team. Played very, very well. He did a lot. From the first time he went in there, just feeling the deep zone, feeling the linebackers drop, taking that extra half second to take a breath, take a checkdown. it was good ball. It was good."
Harbaugh probably didn't need to declare Peters the starter for next week's game against Minnesota, but he did so anyway.
Mo Hurst spearheaded another dominant defensive performance. [Campredon]
The defense needed no such fixing. Outside of a long Janarion Grant touchdown out of the wildcat and one drive in which Rutgers QB Giovanni Rescigno uncharacteristically connected on a couple NFL-level throws, they effectively held the Scarlet Knights to nothing. Rescigno dropped back to pass 21 times; he threw for 101 and took five sacks. Rutgers's pair of running backs combined for a mere 45 yards on 18 carries. Rutgers simply couldn't block Maurice Hurst, Rashan Gary, and Chase Winovich, and freshman DT Aubrey Solomon didn't look out of place on that line while getting the most extended playing time of his young career.
Higdon opened the fourth quarter with a 49-yard touchdown jaunt on a perfectly blocked power play to put Michigan up 35-14. A game that had already flown by didn't take long to wrap up from there. Rutgers wanted to get home. Michigan, one would like to think, was champing at the bit to get the Peters Era underway in earnest when he gets his first career start under the lights against Minnesota.
"It was time," said Harbaugh.
*Nitpickers will note it was a little short. Most Michigan fans, however, saw the skies part and heard angels sing.