ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP)— Jim Harbaugh stood near the sideline between quarterbacks Brandon Peters and John O’Korn while making a popular decision at Michigan Stadium.
He finally put Peters in and benched O’Korn, triggering a roar from the crowd, and the redshirt freshman made the most of it by helping the Wolverines score touchdowns on his first three drives to pull away and beat Rutgers 35-14 Saturday.
“It was time,” Harbaugh said. “Like a bird leaving the nest, a kid leaving the house.”
Peters took full advantage of his first opportunity to play extensively for the first time, completing 10 of 14 passes for 124 yards with a TD.
“I was more confident and excited than nervous,” he said.
O’Korn, starting a fourth straight game in place of injured starter Wilton Speight, was 3 of 6 for 13 yards with an interception and recovered two of his own fumbles off snaps.
Harbaugh insisted he planned to play Peters against Rutgers at some point, adding he start Saturday night against Minnesota.
Michigan (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) broke a fourth-place tie in the East division with the Scarlet Knights (3-5, 2-3) with a desperately needed win after losing two of three and falling out of The Associated Press poll for the first time in two-plus years.
Rutgers, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in attendance, kept its close while O’Korn was in the game.
Janarion Grant ran for a 65-yard score early in the second quarter, pulling the Scarlet Knights into a 7-all tie.
With Peters under center, Karan Higdon’s first of two touchdowns broke a tie late in the second quarter. Peters lofted pass over a linebacker to running back Chris Evans for a 20-yard TD pass with 23 seconds left in the half. He handed it off to freshman Kareem Walker early in the third to give the Wolverines a 21-point lead they didn’t have trouble keeping a year after beating Rutgers 78-0.
“It’s signs of progress, hopefully,” Scarlet Knights coach Chris Ash said. “Our guys compete. They play for four quarters. I couldn’t have said that about our football team last year.”
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights lamented opportunities they missed in the first half. They almost picked off a Peters pass, were inches away from a fourth-down stop, missed an open receiver that might’ve scored and could’ve returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
“We left a lot of plays out there,” running back Gus Edwards said.
Michigan: The Peters era has begun. It took a while for Harbaugh to give him a chance, but Peters was ready for the opportunity and likely will keep his job unless Speight somehow returns after having cracks in his vertebrae.
“It’ll be a great week now knowing he’s the starting quarterback in practice,” Harbaugh said.
Peters completed passes to nine players. Michigan’s defense had nine players have a tackle for a loss.
Higdon had a 49-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter and finished with 158 yards rushing on 18 carries. Ty Isaac ran for 109 yards on 14 attempts for the Wolverines, who ran for a season-high 334 yards.
“I don’t care what quarterback was in there,” Ash said. “They ran the ball exceptionally well.
Rutgers, meanwhile, had just 94 yards rushing and didn’t do much through the air. Gio Rescigno was 8 of 16 for 101 yards for the Scarlet Knights, who had won two straight Big Ten games for the first time.
Rutgers: Hosts Maryland.
Michigan: Plays the Golden Gophers at home.
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