Football Michigan Monday The Rivalry

Michigan Monday: Can O’Korn? Yes He Can!

Michigan Monday CU

Michigan moved to 4-0 (1-0) on the season with a 28-10 win at Purdue (2-2, 0-1).

The Wolverines were actually trailing 10-7 at the half, but they used the halftime to go have a good schvitz, and then they came out in the second half and treated Purdue like the Boilermakers deleted everything on Michigan’s DVR.

An entire season of Blue Bloods gone. Just like that. Oh yeah, you better believe that’s a paddlin’.

The big story in this one was that starting quarterback Wilton Speight was knocked out of the game in the first half when he was hit late and right on the back of his neck, compressing his entire body into Sonic the Hedgehog-like ball.

John O’Korn then replaced Speight and looked like the quarterback Michigan fans were hoping he would be over a year ago.

A week ago I wrote that perhaps O’Korn could be a solution to Michigan’s red zone struggles — a 10% touchdown rate — and O’Korn led the Wolverines to touchdowns on all three trips into the red zone against Purdue. Michigan has now scored touchdowns on 4-of-13 trips into the red zone.

O’Korn is more mobile than Speight and showed some nimble and nifty moves, particularly in the middle of the third quarter when he escaped a sack around the Michigan 10-yard line on third down and found an open receiver to move the chains. That drive eventually went 86 yards and ended in a touchdown, which gave Michigan a 14-10 lead that they would never relinquish.

Who knows what would have happened had O’Korn not gotten away, but it shows you what he is capable of and why opposing teams need to be concerned about him.

Defensively for the Wolverines, Purdue made some plays on offense in the first half, but then Don Brown came out of the locker room at halftime — still sporting a white towel around his waist and one draped around his neck — and ended any hopes the Boilers had of an upset.

Anyway, the real news is that thanks to locker room-gate, this new rivalry with Purdue moves Michigan State to No. 4 on Michigan’s rivalry list, behind Purdue, Rutgers, and Ohio State.

When Michigan Was On Offense

The Wolverines put up 423 total yards against Purdue, with 284 of those yards through the air and 139 on the ground.

As mentioned above, the big story here is Wilton Speight, who was knocked out of the game following a late — and unflagged — hit to the neck. Michigan has a bye this week, so Speight has time to recover from a “soft-tissue injury.” When Speight left the game he was 2-of-4 passing for 10 yards and had been sacked twice.

Speight was knocked out on Michigan’s third possession. The Wolverines were 0-for-3 on third downs under Speight, and he was 0-for-2 passing on third down, and was sacked on his final third-down snap.

John O’Korn then stepped in for Speight and completed 18-of-26 passes for 270 yards with one interception and one touchdown. He was also sacked twice.

The first drive that O’Korn saw, he led Michigan down the field for a touchdown, picking up two third downs through the air.

He is still capable of a “what the hell are you doing?” throw, but so is Speight. On the whole, however, he looked like a starter. He was comfortable in and out of the pocket, and he kept plays alive more than once.

He is still the backup for a reason, but this had to be a confidence builder for everyone involved.

O’Korn did most of his damage with tight ends Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry, who combined for eight receptions and 130 yards. If a Buckeye fan wants to get worried about Michigan’s offense, start with the tight ends. They are big, rangy, and somehow defenses aren’t able to see them until they have the ball in their hands.

The receivers were fairly quiet in this one, but that will likely change when defenses start worrying about the tight ends more. Freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones only had one touch — an 8-yard reception — which is not nearly enough. Michigan’s offense isn’t going to force something, especially when a new quarterback is feeling a connection with the tight ends. But still, one catch? He can handle more.

The running game had its worst outing of the season, rushing for 139 yards on 44 attempts (3.2 ypc). Sophomore Chris Evans led the team with 97 yards on 14 carries, including a 49-yard touchdown. Michigan averaged just over two yards per carry on their other 43 rush attempts.

It was a very disappointing game for leading rusher Ty Isaac, as he managed just 20 yards rushing on 10 carries. He was tackled by the first man almost exclusively. He was injured last week, so that could be why he looked so pedestrian. Karan Higdon wasn’t much better, rushing for 31 yards on 10 carries. Higdon is the hardest runner on the team, however. He did lose a fumble on a screen pass in this one.

It was not a good game for the offensive line. Averaging 3.2 yards per carry and giving up four sacks — and it could have been more if not for O’Korn’s elusiveness — is usually not good enough to get a win in Big Ten play. In fact, last year when Big Ten teams did what Michigan did — no more than 3.2 yards per carry and at least four sacks allowed — they went 1-and-15 in conference play. The one win? Michigan 14-7 over Wisconsin.

There were miscommunication issues on the left side of the line and right tackle Nolan Ulizio continues to struggle. Twists and stunts provided some trouble. Even when Michigan added a sixth offensive lineman to give them time to throw deep, it didn’t really help.

The UM offensive line will have plenty to work on over the break.

When Michigan Was On Defense

Purdue rushed for 30 yards on 20 carries and completed 13-of-30 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. The Boilermaker quarterbacks were sacked five times. The Wolverines now possess a top five rush and pass defense nationally.

Purdue amassed 179 of their 189 total yards in the first half. They threw for 25 yards in the second half and rushed for a loss of 15 yards.

You are rushing for more yards reading this right now than Purdue did in the second half against Michigan.

Defensive end Chase Winovich never seemed to come off the field, and it showed in the box score as he finished with three sacks and four tackles for loss. My only concern with Winovich coming into this season is the possibility that he would wear down over the course of a game or season. He’s holding strong so far, but we’ve got a long way to go. If they don’t help him out with some depth, there could be some slow-down to his game later in the season.

Middle linebacker Devin Bush is always fun to watch running around because he never arrives delicately.

I thought Purdue did a great job of attacking Michigan’s aggression in the first half with screens and misdirections. Perhaps some better athletes and better blockers could have housed a couple of the Boilers’ best plays. The problem with having success against Michigan’s defense, however, is that Don Brown only lets it happen for a half. Teams should come into a game against the Wolverines with two game plans, because the first game plan is only going to work for a half. Use the second game plan for the second half and hope like hell there is no overtime.

Purdue went 0-for-12 on third down, which is what won the game for Michigan.

Because of the Wolverines’ aggressive defense, there is room to scramble for quarterbacks. It’s not a lot of room and it closes quickly, but there are opportunities to move the chains on third down (as long as somebody picks up the blitz.)

I didn’t think it was a great day for linebacker Khaleke Hudson or safety Josh Metellus, but how bad could it have been when the Michigan defensive only gives up 189 total yards? I do think Metellus can be attacked, but it requires execution everywhere else in order to make it happen.

The Michigan Special Teams

The Wolverines went with a new punter this week, as Brad Robbins got the call and averaged just 40.6 yards per punt, putting only one of his seven punts inside the 20-yard line.

Quinn Nordin didn’t attempt any field goals, which will now give him two weeks to recover from any possible overworking during the first three weeks of the season.

There was really nothing else of consequence in the special teams, other than sophomore receiver Kekoa Crawford fielding a kickoff five or six yards deep and deciding to bring it out of the end zone. He made it out to the 15-yard line. It was another example of the frustration that I have with Crawford, who has significant talent, but his inconsistency overshadows the rest of his game for me.

(Correction: The returner was actually freshman cornerback Ambry Thomas, who also wears No. 1. My frustration with Crawford has now been lessened, but still exists.)

What Does It All Mean?

It means that Michigan may have found something with quarterback John O’Korn, and as long as the offensive line is going to continue to have issues, he might be the Wolverines’ best bet to score consistently.

I’m still one of those idiots who believes that coaches start the best quarterback on the team, so I would fully expect some bad moments from O’Korn if he were to get extended minutes moving forward.

That being said, he looked much better than he did a year ago when he started for an injured Speight against Indiana. O’Korn completed 7-of-16 passes that day for just 59 yards in a 20-10 win over the Hoosiers.

It also means that Michigan has a self-healing defense. The gashes that are there in the first half are gone by the middle of the third quarter, without virtually any scarring.

There is room to move against this Michigan defense, but it learns and adjusts, like a sadistic supercomputer.

You can use the Wolverines’ pursuit against them, but you better make it count. You’re still going to need more than misdirections and trick plays to win — it will take a physical attack to beat Michigan. Cute won’t get it done.

The Road to The Game

Sept. 2  Michigan 33 – Florida 17
Sept. 9  Michigan 36 – Cincinnati 14
Sept. 16  Michigan 29 – Air Force 13
Sept. 23  Michigan 28 – Purdue 10
Sept. 30  BYE
Oct. 7  Michigan State at Michigan
Oct. 14  Michigan at Indiana
Oct. 21  Michigan at Penn State
Oct. 28  Rutgers at Michigan (Rivalry Game)
Nov. 4  Minnesota at Michigan
Nov. 11  Michigan at Maryland
Nov. 18  Michigan at Wisconsin
Nov. 25  Ohio State at Michigan

10 Responses

  1. Love the rivalry comment! Thanks, Gerd!

  2. Frustrated with Crawford as well, but that was freshman, Ambry Thomas, that decided on a kick return x-yards deep into the endzone. Freshman will be fresh

    1. Yep, I have thrown in a correction. Thanks.

    1. Indeed it was. Just went back and watched. Thanks.

  3. Love these columns. You do a great job and there seems to be the most honest assessment of where Michigan really stands at any point in time. Thanks. Go Blue!

  4. Great column as always. On O’Korn vs. Speight, I think you have to assume that Speight has been better in practice. But he’s just been awful this year in his 4 starts. I think it’s 50/50 bad OL play and nerves (or something else psychological). It is possible that he’ll improve later in the season, but the defenses will only get better and–according to adj QBR–he’s actually regressed since the start of the season.

    I think O’Korn showed an upside that likely wasn’t so clear in practice. Or not clear enough to make the change. And this does happen with some regularity…it may be similar to the Jones/Barrett decision in 2015.

    I guess the simpler way of looking at is that Speight has not looked like the guy who finished 2016 as the #3 QB in the conference, and O’Korn looked like that guy. Also O’Korn’s skillset may be better suited to playing behind a terrible RG/RT combo.

  5. Michigan fan. This is one of my favorite pieces to read every week. You do an excellent job! On special teams, the player who ran the kickoff out was actually Ambry Thomas who has the same number (guys from mgoblog made the same mistake, but corrected it).

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