Hopefully Wilton Speight is okay. It sucks when your starting quarterback gets hurt, especially a high-quality character like Speight. It happened early in the game, and Speight was 2/4 for 10 yards, while also taking 2 sacks. He was crushed on a play that looked like it could have been flagged for targeting, since he was already in the grasp of another defender and got hit forcefully to the head. Jim Harbaugh says it’s a “soft tissue” injury, so that leaves something to the imagination.
Hit the jump for more on Saturday’s win.
But. BUT. Is there a quarterback controversy? I don’t know, but there should be. Speight was at 54.5% for 7.4 yards/attempt, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions going into this game, and he wasn’t doing well in his short time. Meanwhile, John O’Korn was 18/26 (69.2%) for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception in this game alone, and that doesn’t include supposed patsy opponents like Air Force and Cincinnati. The fact is that Speight has not been playing well over his last several games, and the offense has not been productive with him at the helm. O’Korn gave a jolt of energy to the team, and Michigan needs to see if they can ride that success. Sometimes it takes a bit to get a team rolling, but Michigan is 33% finished with their season, and the starting QB wasn’t getting it done. I hope Speight comes back healthy, but I hope the roles are reversed by the next game.
But Indiana last year! I’ve said for a while that a lot of people were judging O’Korn unfairly harshly for his performance against Indiana last season (7/16, 59 yards). That was O’Korn’s first start at Michigan, he had been getting backup’s snaps, and it was in freezing cold with wind and snow swirling. Sure, O’Korn had previous starting experience, but he played high school ball in Florida and transferred from Houston. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that he struggled in that situation, but now it should be clear that he’s much more capable than what he showed. Purdue isn’t a great team – it’s not like O’Korn shredded Alabama – but they had all the momentum when O’Korn entered the game, and he was a big part of sucking that momentum away.
Let’s look at the smaller picture. O’Korn played very well. I mentioned the stats two sections above, but aside from a couple plays, he did exactly what he should have and looked decisive doing it. There were a couple overthrows to Grant Perry, and he was sacked twice when he froze like a deer in headlights. But overall, he hit eight different receivers and landed some vertical routes that Speight surely would have missed. Michigan’s young receivers are struggling to get separation, and the timing with Perry needs to be improved, but where the Wolverines have an advantage over other teams is with their tight end versatility and depth. Sean McKeon (5 catches, 82 yards) and Zach Gentry (3 catches, 48 yards, 1 TD) both had career highs in catches and yards, and they need to be used more often. On top of all that, Michigan was playing its first game of the season without leading receiver Tarik Black, which makes O’Korn’s performance even more impressive.
The offensieve line. Nolan Ulizio is bad. Michael Onwenu is up and down. The right side of the line is embarrassingly bad, and Purdue doesn’t even have a good defensive line. Purdue came into the game having made 1 sack all season, and they made 4 in this game. They knocked Speight out of the game, and a blitzing linebacker had a chance to target O’Korn. If the offensive line doesn’t improve, we’re going to be looking at Brandon Peters or Dylan McCaffrey as the starting quarterback before long. I thought this before the season, but I’m even more convinced now: Tim Drevno won’t be at Michigan in 2018.
A couple unheralded players are tearing it up. It’s funny that the guys who earned a ton of pre-season hype (Rashan Gary, Maurice Hurst, Mike McCray II) are playing second fiddle right now. Lots of people doubted Chase Winovich (6 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks in this game) and his ability to play a bigger role, and Devin Bush, Jr. (6 tackles, 1 sack) flew under the radar. Hurst is playing well and looks better when he’s not lined up directly over the center, but he’s not putting up the numbers (3 tackles) that will get him a ton of attention for post-season accolades. The whole defense is playing well, but this is a group where even the lesser known guys are becoming stars.
Running back roulette. Karan Higdon earned the start and averaged 3.1 yards/carry; he also fumbled once on a screen pass. Ty Isaac – who has never been known for being a bruiser – seemed extra tentative, and his 10 carries netted just 20 yards. He struggled in pass protection, and either he or Mason Cole was responsible for the initial hit on Speight’s injury. I’m an Isaac fan, but he played poorly today, despite scoring a 1-yard touchdown late, his first of the season. I was a week early with my prediction, but Chris Evans led the team with 14 carries for 97 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 49-yarder. I’m not so sure if Evans would have put up such big numbers if not for the two targeting ejections (MLB Ja’Whaun Bentley, SS Jacob Thieneman) for Purdue, but either way, he was the guy who made the most things happen.
Purdue is fun to watch, but they play with an edge. I enjoyed their flea flickers, throwback screens, etc., but they seemed to throw everything they had at Michigan in the first half and didn’t have much left after halftime. Michigan had 292 yards in the second half, and Purdue had just 10. It didn’t help them that Bentley and Thieneman were ejected for personal fouls – which extended drives – and then Gelen Robinson was flagged for a late hit on Isaac, who was about three steps out of bounds. Sometimes playing with reckless abandon cuts both ways. Also, Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm seems very, very whiny.
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