Adversity is a word that is used far too often in our culture, in sports, even when it is not warranted. But as we sit here today, there isn’t a more fitting word to use for what Michigan football has gone through this week, adversity.
First, Michigan loses against Iowa, and then they lose their starting quarterback for the season, due to a broken left collarbone. Adversity is at its finest when it is at it’s ugliest. This reads ugly, and feels ugly.
As bad as things feel right now, there’s still plenty of reason to be optimistic. After losing the NFC Championship game by a field goal in overtime, Jim Harbaugh said something that resonates with Michigan’s current situation:
There is still hope, and it resides in the foundation that Harbaugh has already built. John O’Korn is now the captain of this ship, but he has a great crew to help him succeed in high waters. O’Korn has been no slouch himself this year, albeit playing in garbage time of games, he’s appeared in 8 and has completed 13 of 18 passes for 114 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Speight didn’t have his best game against Iowa, but he’s progressed throughout the season game after game, fine-tuning his game, displaying attributes he now has that he didn’t at the beginning of the year. His pocket presence was starting to excel, he was sensing pressure at a great clip, evading pass-rushers while keeping his eyes down the field.
Now Michigan must turn to O’Korn, who will be on a crash-course to ascension if Michigan has any hopes of beating Ohio State and ultimately reaching the College Football Playoff. Time isn’t on his side as it was on Speight’s in regards to having ample time and in-game experience to improve his game. Hopefully his reps in practice, and the tutelage of Jim Harbaugh since O’Korn as been at Michigan will be enough for him to perform at a high level.
There is no crystal ball here to predict how O’Korn will fare against Indiana and Ohio State, but there’s a great track record of Jim Harbaugh getting the most out of any quarterback he has ever started. This bodes well for the quarterback John O’Korn now is, and can become in the days ahead. Has O’Korn been listening to all Harbaugh and the coaches have had to say even though he’s been the backup? I suspect so, and if that is indeed the case then he is ready to take the reigns and look good on Saturday’s doing so.
The offensive scheme will not change, the pass-run ratio will not, it will be the same scheme, with plenty of weapons at O’Korns disposal to utilize. What will need to happen in short order is pass protection improving. Michigan’s offensive line was beat in both pass and run blocking against Iowa, there weren’t many holes to be found running, and little time to be had passing the football. O’Korn is going to need time to operate, it can’t be expected of him to execute at a high level if the pass protection is breaking down instantly. Although he may have received plenty of practice reps, the speed of a live game is different, and it will take him time to adjust. The adjustment time could be a quarter, it could take games. Either way, the offensive line must man up. They know it, and should be up to the challenge.
Michigan can win the next two games with John O’Korn, but he will need the Michigan defense to play historically once again and leave that performance they had Saturday in the state of Iowa. Forget and move on, get back to where you once belonged, as The Beatles would say. Michigan’s D knows what they are and what they can do, and I’m sure they are angry at their performance against Iowa and have more fire in them knowing they may have to carry even more of the load with a backup quarterback now taking over.
Two final points. Wilton Speight being out sucks and is bad news for the team. He was a Davey O’Brien Award finalist (best QB) for a reason, he was having a damn fine season. It will be hard, but not impossible, for O’Korn to match the production Speight was giving the Michigan team. The second point is... Speight’s a badass. He was still throwing balls after breaking his collarbone, and his demeanor wasn’t one of a player who BROKE HIS COLLARBONE. I mean, that really hurts.
Michigan will have to move on and not only have the next game up approach, but the next man up approach as well. Players are sure to be upset about this news today, but there’s not much time to think about it, they have a game to win Saturday, and if they win that, they will play their biggest game yet against Ohio State, which will decide their National Championship fate. Things just got even more interesting, and it remains to be seen how Michigan will handle this adversity. Michigan can survive.