He waited 10 months and 205 game minutes, which felt like an eternity to the quarterback who started every Michigan football game last season as a true freshman.
In the shadow of sophomore sensation and Heisman hopeful Denard Robinson, Tate Forcier learned his role on the team and what being a backup quarterback meant.
Robinson was sidelined with a minor injury in the first quarter of Saturday’s game against Bowling Green. True freshman Devin Gardner replaced the starter for a few drives. Then, with 5:07 left in the first half of Saturday’s game against Bowling Green, Forcier entered a game for the first time this season.
Senior offensive lineman Steve Schilling said after the game that Forcier had been “biding his time” waiting for his chance to go in.
“Today was his time,” Schilling said.
Forcier made the most of it. He went 12-for-12 passing, throwing for 110 yards and a touchdown. He also carried the ball four times for 30 yards.
Forcier’s 12-for-12 day set the Michigan record for completion percentage when the quarterback has taken at least 10 attempts. The previous record belonged to Jim Harbaugh, who went 12-for-13 (92.3 percent) against Purdue on Nov. 9, 1985.
“Tate’s a good thrower, a good football player,” quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said. “The key to him, just like any other player, is you’ve got to stay focused, you’ve got to stay disciplined in your reads and what you do. Everything else comes natural for those guys.”
Focus has been a word thrown around when discussing Forcier over the past few months. After a teammate called him out for missing voluntary workouts and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez took away his wings (from his helmet) in August, Forcier’s future as the Wolverines’ starting quarterback was in serious doubt.
Rumors that he would transfer began swirling around campus after Rodriguez named Robinson the starter for the season opener. The rumors gathered steam when Gardner became the second-string quarterback and Forcier got bumped to third string.
“A lot of people said I’m not staying here,” Forcier said. “But I’m still here. I love Michigan. I love everything about it. I’m not going to leave — not a chance. I love Coach Rod. I love these fans. I love Michigan football.”
Forcier’s giddiness was evident when he was asked what it felt like to get into the game.
“Oh God, I was so happy. I was so happy,” Forcier said. “It felt like it was my first start again. It just felt so good to go out there and hear the crowd.”
Fans gave Forcier a warm reception both when he entered the game in the second quarter and when he exited in the fourth after his flawless passing day.
While some teammates maintained that Forcier was the same quarterback he was last year, Forcier and the coaching staff discussed notable improvements. Forcier said the game has slowed down for him. Rodriguez agreed.
“He’s more comfortable seeing the field,” Rodriguez said. “As (he and Robinson) go throughout their careers, they start seeing things as coaches see them as far as not just focusing on one thing during the play, but they see a whole field and why a play should work.”
In addition to Forcier’s reads and comfort in the pocket, he also showed improvement his passing. The Wolverines, who mixed their pass and run games well — 466 rushing yards and 255 passing — saw very crisp, accurate passes from Forcier. More passing plays are part of the game plan when he’s under center.
“We try to gear to each quarterback’s strength,” Smith said. “All of them can run — Denard’s just more explosive than others. (True freshman Devin Gardner) can run and Tate can run, too. We still mix it in, but maybe not quite as much. We try to play to their strengths and go from there.”
Robinson tweaked his knee, according to Rodriguez, in Saturday’s first quarter and didn’t return. The injury isn’t expected to be serious, so Forcier’s and Gardner’s playing time will likely decrease in the coming weeks. Forcier says he’ll be ready to fill whatever role he’s needed for.
“You never know when your number is going to be called. The Big Ten is a big conference, a rough conference, and it starts up next week,” Forcier said. “You have to be prepared.
“Coach Rod is the coach and I’m going to let him make the decision and if they decide to go with (Robinson) and play with him, I’ll be right there, ready.”