Nick: Well, Garrett, it’s been over a month since we talked last. There’s been a bitter rivalry game, a loss to Iowa, and now we’re looking at the possibility of our starting quarterback being sidelined for an unknown amount of time - maybe no games, maybe as much as three. So, pretty eventful. First things first, how do you feel about John O’Korn’s ability to step in and produce if called upon?
Garrett: In all honesty, I’ve always liked O’Korn. I was a little surprised he didn’t get the starting job over Speight (but not much). I think in terms of turning to a backup in a desperate time, Michigan could be in a worse position. All that being said, he still seems to look like another Project every time he’s in the game, and without the benefit of a full season of first-team reps, there’s only limited magic Harbaugh can work.
Nick: I was a fan of Speight getting the quarterback position in September because I felt like the team needed an old head at that position. A calm presence as the team settled into a groove. But now, I think the team needs to get shaken up a bit. They came out a little unemotional against Michigan State, they faltered against Iowa…. So in some sense, this could be just what the locker room needs to stay sharp and motivated, regardless of who steps out of the tunnel against Indiana.
Garrett: There was another team that lost its starting QB late in the season and went on to win the National Championship as a four seed. Can’t place it though...
Nick: You know, I only remember ‘97. Things get a little fuzzy after that.
Garrett: Well let’s leave it to the historians to sort out. Anyway, I’m glad you brought up that Michigan State game. I really thought the team lacked some sort of...luster? Inspiration? (Something like that) and I think MSU’s nasty slide this year let Michigan coast because literally no one gave MSU much of a chance to even score a touchdown. And that game was in reach for the Spartans if another miracle had been in the cards.
Nick: And there’s always a question of peaking too soon for some dominant teams. (The Golden State Warriors last year come to mind.) I also think the coaching has been just a little bit cute at times … nothing wrong with that, necessarily, but now it’s time to get some desperation back and run back up the mountain. As it stands now, I think it would be a firefight in the (knock on wood) playoffs, and Alabama is in better shape than we are. We need to get better if we can.
But, that goes back to this being a blessing in disguise - whenever Michigan gets Speight back, they’ll also have a better idea of who else is capable of leading the offense.
Garrett: Going forward, I think this team’s success is not going to be so much about whether or not O’Korn plays great (that would be nice), but about who else on the offense is going to step up and carry the team. We’ve seen flashes from a lot of players -- Evans, Darboh, Butt, Smith, even McDoom and Higdon. But who is THE guy?
Oh and I left Peppers off that list until they find something other than the wildcat for him. That’s now way too easy to defend, as Iowa demonstrated, holding him to 11 yards.
Nick: Yeah, Peppers will be interesting. On defense, he’s been great, the defensive schemes have been great and we have enough other guys on the perimeter. But on offense, it really comes down now to whether he can be an accurate quarterback. And that’s a big leap.
I think in a larger sense, I want to see a little more from both Peppers and McDoom - the horizontal, sweep action stuff - and see what we can turn into deep, vertical passing. That’s Jehu Chesson’s specialty, with Amara in there as well, but Jehu’s been dropping a lot of balls this year. Kind of a first world problem, but it would be nice to have another option or two back there. We haven’t seen Peppers much in the slot or out wide, and that’s also a possibility if he can catch the ball.
Garrett: It definitely sounds like a first world problem, but I don’t think it actually is. I mean, Michigan hasn’t had a credible deep-ball threat since, what? Henne to Manningham?
Nick: It has been a while.
Garrett: Furthermore, when you look at teams similar to Michigan, historically, the ones that managed to go all the way and win a championship had at least some semblance of a threat to throw a 60+ yard touchdown through the air. It’s tough to win it all without that.
Early in the season, I was thinking that this team resembled a lot of Alabama teams -- particularly the 2011 squad that fielded a suffocating defense (one of the best ever), but on offense didn’t have much to offer outside of Trent Richardson and a young Eddie Lacy. But AJ McCarron turned into a competent quarterback and developed a big play threat throwing to guys like Marquis Maze.
I thought that if Speight could develop that timing downfield with Chesson or Darboh, the offense would be nearly unstoppable because that would make life so much easier for everybody else - the running backs, the tight ends, even the fullbacks. Which is what Alabama does so effectively. They haven’t had a Heisman quarterback, but they do have playmakers and can find a lot of ways to beat teams offensively.
Michigan has tried to find that spark, but it’s tough without a deep passing game.
The short of it is that it’s actually pretty difficult to run a successful and dominant pro-style offense in college football. If Michigan wants to be a serious threat to the national title, they have to find a way to make that happen. They want to be a power run team, but the stagnation of the passing game has hindered that.
Nick: Luckily, we do have good athletes. And going back to O’Korn for a second - I thought he looked genuinely good in his limited action, but the one concern that crept up at times was timing with his receivers. (Which is natural.) And going with our theme, this might be a nice opportunity for some of the receivers who had less of a comfort zone with Speight to step up and show what they can do.
Garrett: I’ve been waiting years for my hometown boy Drake Harris to have his coming out party. My hopes remain low, but you make a good point. Upcoming opponents have very little film on the first team offense as it looks with O’Korn as captain. The potential is there for Harbaugh to create some dangerous mismatches, simply because O’Korn’s scouting report is so short.