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Young players emerge as UM looks for depth

04/16/2017, 12:31am EDT

Harbaugh must replace 17 starters

Michigan tight end Nick Eubanks reaches for a pass while defended by defensive back Louis Grodman on Saturday. ASSOCIATED PRESS

ANN ARBOR — Ohio State came to the Big House on Saturday and trounced Michigan.

It was just a brief censure on an otherwise splendid day at Michigan Stadium, because the Buckeyes won a lacrosse game, not the region’s venerated sport of football.

Some 30 minutes after the lacrosse game’s conclusion, the Michigan football team played a controlled scrimmage in front of 57,418 devoted fans who gleefully awaited the first glimpse of the 2017 Wolverines.

What they saw was a team that’s replacing 17 starters — and its punter and kicker. The 40-minute game unfolded with irregularities — communication issues on offense, a shaky offensive line, consistency from quarterback Wilton Speight.

“You just want to see your guys compete and play hard,” defensive coordinator Don Brown said.

The final score — Maize 31, Blue 29 — was an afterthought. Instead the topics du jour were quarterback Brandon Peters, linebacker Khaleke Hudson, receiver Tarik Black, and other notable spring game performers.

It becomes an annual tradition each spring for players across the country to emerge in scrimmages only to disappear when the games matter in the fall. Michigan is aiming to avoid that trap.

“You just want to look how they handle the schemes,” offensive coordinator Tim Drevno said when asked how to evaluate spring games. “You see if they understand concepts, if they’re playing fast, physical, making good decisions. You see the competitiveness in the atmosphere.

“It was a great atmosphere out there to play in front of. It’s good for the younger guys in our program to experience that.”

Jim Harbaugh did not speak to the media after the game.

Peters, who is competing with John O’Korn for the backup quarterback position, engineered a final-minute game-winning drive. Kyle Seychel booted a 31-yard field goal through the uprights as time expired. The heroics came after Peters threw a third-quarter pick-six.

Peters finished 9-of-17 passing for 160 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He played nearly every snap at quarterback for the Maize.

“I felt great. My body feels good,” he said. “These four-hour practices aren’t easy. There might have been a little adrenaline. I’m a little tight right now, but I feel great.”

O’Korn, Speight’s backup a year ago, led two touchdown drives in the final seven minutes. The first possession was four plays and traveled 75 yards, with Black catching an 11-yard touchdown pass. O’Korn then led a five-play, 60-yard touchdown drive.

Karan Higdon, who had a 81 rushing yards, scored the second of his two touchdowns.

Speight played three uneven quarters, completing 9 of 26 pass attempts for 78 yards. He had zero touchdown passes and threw two interceptions, including a 100-yard pick-six by Jordan Glasgow.

“Obviously, I’d like to have those two throws back,” Speight said. “I was trying to force it into a small window and trying to make a play when there probably wasn’t a play to be made. There were times when I was trying to improvise.”

The push from Peters and O’Korn is being taken as a positive by Speight, who lauded Peters during Orange Bowl practices and added that the freshman quarterback continued the positive momentum when the team returned from South Florida.

“It’s encouraging for all of us,” he said.

EXTRA POINTS: Avoiding injuries is the No. 1 priority in spring, and Michigan didn’t come out unscathed. Right tackle Jon Runyan, Jr., and receiver Eddie McDoom appeared to suffer left leg injuries. ... Starting offensive line: Mason Cole, Ben Bredeson, Patrick Kugler, Michael Onwenu, and Runyan. Starting defensive line: Rashan Gary, Maurice Hurst, Bryan Mone, and Chase Winovich. ... Hudson, a sophomore, played the viper position and was perhaps the best player on the field. He finished with three tackles, including a sack on fourth-and-short, and a pass breakup. ... Black and fellow early enrollee Benjamin St-Juste, a defensive back, were the standout performers among true freshmen. Black had four receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown, and St-Juste recorded three tackles and an interception of Speight. ...Quinn Nordin entered the spring as the favorite to replace kicker Kenny Allen. A 48-yard field goal that sailed through the uprights and likely would have been good from 55 yards didn’t hurt. … The announced crowd was the second-largest for the spring game in program history. The record is 60,000, in 2015, during Harbaugh’s first spring as coach.

Contact Kyle Rowland at:, 419-724-6110, or on Twitter @KyleRowland.

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Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary chases quarterback Brandon Peters during Saturday’s spring game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. Peters was 9 of 17 for 160 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in the game. ASSOCIATED PRESS

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