Maize (and Black) and Blue: A history of Michigan QB Injuries

Submitted by Brhino on November 28th, 2017 at 1:18 PM

Michigan's 2017 football season will be remembered primarily for the health and performance of its quarterbacks.  Two long term injuries and one ineffective player contributed to a season in which which we find ourselves asking "What if?".   It is not hard to see, with just a little more luck, three more wins and a trip to the B1G championship and the College Football Playoffs within reach.  As always, when we look to the future we consider the past.  How well have Michigan's quarterbacks historically held up throughout the 12+ game season?

Year Head Coach Quarterback's Season Summary Record with healthy 1st choice QB Record with backups/walking wounded/midgame injury QB
2017 Harbaugh Wilton Speight wins the starting job. He is knocked out for the year in the 4th game (Purdue). John O'Korn is his replacement. He is benched in the 8th game (Rutgers) for ineffectiveness. Brandon Peters is his replacement. Peters is injured in the 11th game (Wisconsin). John O'Korn finishes the season. (Bowl pending) 3-0 5-4
2016 Harbaugh Wilton Speight wins the starting job. He plays until the end of the 10th game (Iowa) of the season, but afterwards is reported to be injured. Initially it is reported he will be out for the season, with John O'Korn playing the 11th game (Indiana). Wilton Speight does start the 12th game (OSU) and the bowl game but there are questions regarding how badly his injury may have limited his effectiveness. Speight is rumored to have offseason surgery to fix the injury but this is never officially confirmed. 9-0 1-3
2015 Harbaugh Jake Rudock wins the starting job. He is injured in the 8th game (Minnesota) of the season. Wilton Speight is his replacement. Rudock returns for the next game. Rudock is injured again in the 12th game (OSU) and again replaced by Speight. Rudock returns for the bowl game. 9-2 1-1
2014 Hoke Devin Gardner wins the starting job. He is replaced in the 4th game (Utah) of the season due to ineffectiveness. Shane Morris is his replacement. Devin Gardner returns in the 5th game (Minnesota) when Shane Morris is infamously concussed. Devin Gardner plays the remainder of the season. 5-5 0-2
2013 Hoke Devin Gardner wins the starting job. He starts the entire regular season and plays through the 12th game (OSU). In that game, he is reported to break his foot but stays in the game. He is replaced for the bowl game by Shane Morris. 7-4 0-2
2012 Hoke Denard Robinson wins the starting job. He is injured in the 8th game (Nebraska) of the season and replaced by Russell Bellomy. Bellomy is ineffective, and Devin Gardner (who had been practicing as a wide receiver) is the starter for the remainder of the season including the bowl. Denard Robinson returns but his injury prevents him from throwing effectively, so he is used as a running back / wildcat. 5-2 3-3
2011 Hoke Denard Robinson wins the starting job. He is injured at the end of the 7th game (MSU) of the season and replaced by Devin Gardner. Robinson returns the following week but is injured again in the 10th game (Illinois) and replaced by Devin Gardner again. Again Robinson returns the following week and plays the remainder of the season. 10-1 1-1
2010 Rodriguez Denard Robinson wins the starting job. He is injured in the 4th game (Bowling Green) and replaced by Tate Forcier, who is injured in the same game and replaced by Devin Gardner. Robinson returns for the next game. Robinson starts, is injured and replaced by Tate Forcier in the 7th (Iowa), 9th (Illinois), and 12th games (OSU) of the season, returning the following week in each case. In this season Denard Robinson was frequently "dinged up" and replaced by Forcier for a series or so. I have noted only games in which Robinson could not return and finish the game. 5-4 2-2
2009 Rodriguez Tate Forcier wins the starting job, with Denard Robinson used as a change-of-pace QB in some situations. In the 6th game (Iowa) Forcier is pulled for Robinson. Forcier is later said to have sustained a concussion during the game but starts and plays briefly in a blowout win the following week. Forcier starts for the remainder of the season. 5-6 0-1
2008 Rodriguez Rodriguez's first season featured Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan splitting time, as both are highly ineffective. I am honestly not sure how one would characterize this season, apart from its 3-9 record. * *
2007 Carr Chad Henne wins the starting job. He is injured in the 2nd game (Oregon) and replaced by Ryan Mallett. Henne does not return until the 5th game (Northwestern), when he reclaims the starting position. In the 8th game (Iowa) Henne is reinjured and Mallett returns. Mallett starts the 9th game (Minnesota). Henne starts the remainder of the season including the bowl, although he was withdrawn very early in the 11th game (Wisconsin) and did not return. 5-2 4-2
2006 Carr Chad Henne wins the starting job. He starts every game of the season, never withdrawing from a game due to injury or ineffectiveness. 11-2 0-0
2005 Carr Chad Henne wins the starting job. He starts every game of the season, never withdrawing from a game due to injury or ineffectiveness. 8-4 0-0
2004 Carr After the graduation of John Navarre, Matt Gutierrez is slated to be Michigan's starting quarterback for 2004. However he suffers a shoulder injury before the season opener and is replaced by true freshman Chad Henne. Henne is unusually effective for a freshman and never relinquishes the starting job. I am not sure at exactly what point he would have said to have transitioned from an injury replacement to the preferred starter. * *


So what did we learn?
Your starting quarterback will be injured. Unless he is Chad Henne, and then he will only maybe be injured.
With that said, 2017 has been the worst year for quarterback injuries in over a decade. Not since Matt Gutierrez injured his shoulder in pre-game warmups before the 2004 season opener has Michigan lost a quarterback so early, so permanently - and even then, Gutierrez's failure to return was more about Henne's steady performance and durability than the severity of the injury.
Recall the 2012 season, Denard's last. Denard is injured against Nebraska and backup Russell Bellomy is utterly ineffective, forcing Devin Gardner to become the new starter in spite of spending the year practicing at Wide Receiver. Now imagine that Gardner suffered a season ending injury and Bellomy was forced back into action. That is how this year's season unfolded.
Unsurprisingly, Michigan's best seasons in the past decade have featured minimal starting quarterback downtime. Those attempting to hold Harbaugh to the standards of those seasons in spite of the quarterback injuries do not have realistic expectations.
Harbaugh's record with his preferred preseason quarterback starting and experiencing no lingering injuries is a phenomenal 21-2.  The only losses in this category are:
  • 2015 against Utah: Newly-arrived transfer Jake Rudock was clearly not on the same page with his wide receivers, which contributed to 3 INTs (one returned for a TD) in a game decided by one touchdown.
  • 2015 against Michigan State: In which MSU's victory came via a literal 1-in-a-1000 occurrence on the last play of the game.
  • One might also include 2015 against Ohio State. Technically starter Rudock was injured in the second half of the game, but the score was well out of hand by the time the injury occurred. We are tending to blame DJ Durkin for spending too much time on his resume and not enough on his game planning.
What about Cardale Jones?
Those that subscribe to the "No Excuses" school of thought like to bring up Ohio State's 2014 National Championship season.  To Recap: Braxton Miller has 2.5 years of starting experience but is injured in the preseason.  Redshirt Freshman JT Barrett replaces him and plays well until his suffers a broken ankle in the Michigan game.  Redshirt Sophomore Cardale Jones, nominally the 3rd string QB at the start of August, then leads Ohio State to three straight victories including the National Championship game.
Why can't Michigan do that? In one word: Talent.  Braxton Miller and Cardale Jones were both drafted by the NFL, and JT Barrett presumably will be as well.  The last time Michigan had 3 future NFL draftees on the roster at quarterback?  1999, when Tom Brady was backed up by Drew Henson and John Navarre.
Brady Hoke's quarterback recruiting does not need to be examined in depth here.  It should be sufficient to say that unless Wilton Speight plays his way into the NFL draft with an excellent final year at his new school, four years of Hoke recruiting produced exactly 0 NFL draftee quarterbacks.  Michigan has not had the talent to replace injured future NFLers with backup future NFLers since Lloyd Carr was the coach.
What does it mean for the future?
For next year, Michigan's young talent is encouraging but we are still dangerously thin and unproven.  Here the impending transfer of Wilton Speight particularly hurts.  We wish him well at his future school, and if we're being honest we're a bit excited by the implication that he didn't see himself starting for Michigan next year.  However, his departure leaves Michigan with exactly one tested and ready quarterback: Brandon Peters.  If/When the inevitable injury to Peters happens, our only hope is that Dylan Mccaffrey is talented and ready.  If he's not, or if he too suffers an injury, then true freshmen will have to be thrown into the fire.  At times we were frustrated by Wilton Speight's performance, but having him available as a 2nd or 3rd string QB is a luxury that we may miss.
In the long term, if Michigan wants to have championship football seasons, it's going to need a steady stream of NFL-caliber quarterback talent or a lot of luck.  Harbaugh's recruiting has been promising so far and his track record before Michigan is excellent, but it will be a few years before we can judge the results on the field.


Raving Blue Lunatic

November 28th, 2017 at 1:52 PM ^

Please don't mention it again... : (

But yeah, there is something to be said for having a healthy, talented, QB with 3+years in the system and at least one season starting under his belt...


An O-Line that can keep him upright and intact through 12 games. 


November 28th, 2017 at 4:19 PM ^

I've seen a lot of late hits such as Speight's that led to his injury and if you look at our most recent QB injury the tackler drove Peters into the ground.

Michigan players don't do these things.  Hurst did much less than either of these and was called for a personal foul.


November 29th, 2017 at 8:45 AM ^

The quarterback injury was an issue pre-2004 as well. 

I remember banging my head against the wall when I read online that Drew Henson fractured his foot in practice just weeks before the season opener in 2000, needed surgery and would miss the first 4 games. 

Scott Dreisbach was also injured in practice, his thumb and wrist got banged up in a collision and he needed two surgeries on his hand.  He missed the last 9 games of the 95 season.  The following year, he left the OSU game with an injury. 

Kirk Herbstreit's main claim to fame as a college quarterback was leading OSU to tie against us in 92, thanks in large part to us losing Elvis Grbac to an injury in the 1st quarter.  Grbac also had to sit out games against Oklahoma State and Houston that year with injuries. 

In the 80's - Michael Taylor was in and out all of Bo's last season and he was too injured to play the last 5 games the previous year.  Harbaugh broke his arm against MSU trying to recover a Jamie Morris fumble.  Steve Smith was knocked out of the Rose Bowl and could not start the opener the following season after an injury in practice.  John Wangler tore ligaments in his knee on the second possession of the Gator Bowl.  

Our longest period without a major QB injury was 2001-2006 (3 with Navarre, 3 with Henne)

You Only Live Twice

November 29th, 2017 at 10:49 AM ^

From other comments over the past several weeks, it doesn't sound like JT Barrett's draft stock is all that high.  If Wilton Speight gets meaningful playing time this fall he's a more likely NFL caliber QB, than JT.


November 29th, 2017 at 4:22 PM ^

Henne also only played the first 2 series of the Wisconsin (11th) game in 2007. While he technically started, I feel it is nearly the same as not playing.


November 29th, 2017 at 6:03 PM ^

Both Dennis Brown and Don Moorehead were knocked out of the 1968 OSU game, and Jim Betts had to come in to play QB.  Betts became a fine safety (All Big 10 in 1970), but he wasn't ready to play QB against the #1 Bucks.


November 30th, 2017 at 12:05 AM ^

I liked the overall summary and the commenter who reminded us of the Henson, Dreisbach, and Grbac injuries.  I also wonder about the OL correlation with this stat.  Our OL has not consistently producted talented players since the early 2000s, which is about the time the injuries started piling up.  

The Denard/Devin/Forcier injuries also illustrate that it isn't just pro-style statues getting hurt.  In fact, Navarre never got hurt and he's about as statuesque as they come!  

I do think we had more consistent depth back in the 1990s as most of our future-NFL QBs didn't assume the starting spot until later in their careers and there were a few memorable back-ups that showed potential (Gutierez, Richard, Loeffler, Riemersma, etc.).  Along those lines - our emergency QB next year can be Gentry!!  


December 2nd, 2017 at 7:51 AM ^

Unless one of the freshmen QB's shows a rudimentary understanding of the offense, Michael Sessa will be the emergency QB. Sessa will be a junior and will have been in the system for two years.

Bigly yuge

November 30th, 2017 at 11:44 PM ^

Wow NINE straight seasons of losing our starting QB at some point during the season is a crazy streak. That is not normal and doesn’t appear to be happening at other programs like osu, Clemson, Alabama, and others. Our offensive line has stunk for so long, and we had some mobile guys who got hurt constantly running for their lives. This trend has to change!!


December 4th, 2017 at 11:08 AM ^

It's an aside but always fascinated me. Most OSU QBs since 2001 have not established themselved as a QB in NFL. Craig Krenzel - nope. Troy Smith - hmm. Terrel Pryor - huh. Braxton Miller - got a concussion while returning a punt. 

But they were very effective college QBs and got the job done against UM. 

If one looks at the MSU QBs in the same stretch, Cousins and Stanton are paid big money and have been given enough rope to establish themselves in NFL.