Michigan Football Preview 2017

2017 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 61 of 179

60 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2017 FOOTBALL PREVIEW QUARTERBACKS QUARTERBACKS As Harbaugh and now quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton continue to develop performers behind center, it's obvious the Wolverines are increasingly strong in the depth department. "The head coach knows what he's doing at this position," Karsch stressed. "He's as quali- fied as any to make the call and bring quarter- backs along. That tells you something. "You go back a year ago and think about what people thought Wilton Speight might be, or two years ago, what Iowa people thought of Jake Rudock, and how each of the last two years the guy who started at quarterback ex- ceeded expectations. "Then think about what's in the pipeline. Quarterback at Michigan is going to be set for quite some time." Redshirt sophomore Alex Malzone did not appear in the spring game. Michigan did not produce a roster or a depth chart for the spring contest, but it's clear that Malzone is at best fourth on the U-M quarterback pecking order. Dylan McCaffrey, at 6-5 and 197 pounds, arrives this summer and begins his own Michi- gan journey. The son of former NFL performer Ed McCaffrey and brother of former Stanford star running back Christian McCaffrey, threw for 2,796 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior at Valor Christian High School in Colorado. The freshman comes in with talent in abun- dance, but it's likely that the Wolverines are getting past the days when a true freshman quarterback can walk onto campus and be- come a starter right away. "I've watch enough video to know he looks like he's incredibly talented," Karsch offered. "There is something to be said for the blood- lines and the fact that he grew up in a competi- tive environment, a football household, which puts him on a fast track to being ready. He's in the pipeline now, and the pipeline is filled with talent. "The coach knows what he's doing. It's just setting up incredibly nicely for the next few years." It's about competition, every single day. It's what gives the younger quarterbacks hope and keeps the established one fighting for every edge. "These guys are going to push each other," Karsch assured. "The head coach is going to create an environment where they push each other. That's going to raise all boats. "It just can't get much healthier than that. There will be debates over who should play, and that's fine. But the guy who is making the call and will have the ultimate say is so quali- fied to do so that, rest assured, he'll be making the right call." ❏ Wilton Speight tossed an interception on the very first throw of his career as a starter last fall. He followed that up with the most ball-secure effort in a decade and a half of Michigan football. The Wolverines fired seven interceptions as a team in 2016, all by Speight. The tally marked the first time in 10 seasons the Wolverines hadn't hit double digits, in terms of throwing the football to the other team. Here's a look at the past decade, regarding pickoff numbers: Michigan hadn't hit a number as low as seven in a season since 2002, when the Wolverines also fired seven pickoffs. Those occurred on 472 passing attempts, while U-M threw the ball 370 times last season. The last time Michigan dipped under seven interceptions in a season? It was the year 2000, when Drew Henson led the Wolverines to a shared Big Ten cham- pionship. He tossed four interceptions that season, with John Navarre throwing one early in the year while Henson sat out with an injury. The only other time since 1988 the Wolverines saw fewer interceptions in a season, they won the national championship. The Brian Griese-led Wolverines gave the ball away through the air only six times on the way to a 12-0 record and a spot at the top of the college football world in 1997. Since Michigan began keeping statistics on passing, interceptions, etc., in 1936, the Wolverines have enjoyed only four seasons in which they've managed five or fewer interceptions. Bo Schembechler's teams accounted for three of them, all on the way to Big Ten championships. His 10-1 squad in 1974 got intercepted five times, and his 10-1 crew in 1972 suffered only four pickoffs, both employing a limited passing attack (a combined 251 throws over the two seasons). In 1988, Michigan's 9-2-1 Rose Bowl champions set the all-time mark, throwing a mere two interceptions over the course of the season. Bump Elliott's 6-3 squad in 1961 threw only five interceptions, the only time in the modern era a U-M squad has limited pickoffs to that extent and not won a league title. Michigan's three interceptions in the spring game — two of them by Speight — went against the grain for both head coach Jim Harbaugh and new quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton. Speight assured he knows the score and the Hamilton imperatives. "The 'don't do this' would be, don't try and fit it into a window that's not there, which I did twice today," Speight said after the game. "Be able to move on to the next play. If there's a rush, and I get flushed out of the backfield, just throw the ball out of bounds." They'll be moving on to the next game come Sept. 2 against Florida in Arlington, Texas. Keeping the turnovers down will count for plenty, as always, and com- ing anywhere near the 2016 interception tally could go a long way in reaching double-digit wins for the third straight season. — John Borton Interceptions Hit A 15-Year Low In 2016 Redshirt freshman Brandon Peters put his physical skills on display at U-M's spring game April 15, tossing a 55-yard touchdown pass while adding a 12-yard yard rushing score. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN Fifth-year senior John O'Korn connected on 20 of 34 passes for 173 yards with two touch- downs and no interceptions in a backup role last season. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN 2016 — 7 2015 — 10 2014 — 18 2013 — 13 2012 — 19 2011 — 16 2010 — 15 2009 — 15 2008 — 12 2007 — 14

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