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Harbaugh’s decision to put in John O’Korn was the right one

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Jim Harbaugh threw a necessary curveball during Michigan’s 33-17 victory over Florida

NCAA Football: Florida at Michigan Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Harbaugh didn’t announce a starting quarterback heading into week one. When the starter took the field against Florida, it was Wilton Speight, which came as no surprise. What did come as a surprise is what transpired in the second quarter of the game, with Michigan down 17-10.

After Speight threw back-to-back interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, Harbaugh did something that was of the same mindset as a baseball manager putting in a reliever after his starting pitcher gave up consecutive home runs. Harbaugh pulled Speight, and put in John O’Korn.

Color commentator Todd Blackledge questioned the move at the time, calling it a bad decision. Blackledge’s reasoning was that Speight will be there sitting on the bench thinking about his mistakes. While this is true, that Speight was on the bench undoubtedly thinking about what transpired, it was a good thing for Michigan’s starting quarterback. Thinking about something negative isn’t a bad thing, it all depends on how a player harnesses those thoughts.

"I wanted him to just reset, calm down," Harbaugh said after the game. "And he was able to. Which was good to see. John jumped in there and did a good job, but I was happy to see Wilton rebound.”

Mission accomplished. O’Korn came in for two drives, and was able to lead the team down the field for three points. O’Korn’s only throw was a 37 yard laser that got the team into field goal range.

Harbaugh putting in O’Korn did a small number of things, all of which were positive:

  1. RESET: Sometimes a player needs a mental breather, and boy did Speight need one. The results speak for themselves, as Speight calmed down and was a better game manager in the second half.
  2. THE TABOO OF YANKING A QUARTERBACK BEING DAMAGING: There’s almost a superstition in football when it comes to the position of quarterback. It is unlike any other position in terms of a starter being pulled, put back in, and so on and so forth. The taboo is that the quarterback can’t mentally handle being pulled, and that if he is pulled it will create long term damage if he becomes the starter again. Harbaugh pulling Speight as he did proved a move like this can be done effectively and become a positive thing for the football team.
  3. JOHN O’KORN GAME REPS: While O’Korn may have only played two possessions, he faced a Florida defense that (at that point in the game) was taking it to Michigan’s offensive line. O’Korn really felt the speed of a big time game. This will bode well for him if/when he has to relieve Speight of his duties again this season.
  4. THE FUTURE: Going forward Speight now knows that there’s someone ready to take his job at a moment’s notice if he doesn’t play up to the high standard that Michigan sets. This will either motivate a man more, or make him more fragile. No one wants to lose their job, so we’ll see if Speight plays like someone who plans to never lose it again, even for a snap.

Speight finished the day 11-25 for 181 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. He went 3/8 for 58 yards with a touchdown and 2 picks before being ‘benched,’ then went 8/17 for 123 yards in the second half.

He certainly wasn’t lights out in the second half, still missing a few open targets and sailing some balls too high. But he showed an amount of resiliency and stopped throwing interceptions, and that was a noteworthy positive.

Who knows how the game would have transpired if he didn’t make that move. Maybe Speight would have recovered anyway, and maybe he wouldn’t have... but Jim Harbaugh should be trusted to manage his players, regardless of what voodoo we assign to the benching of quarterbacks.