2016 Indiana looks a lot like 2014 BYU
Wilton Speight was seen leaving Schembechler Hall without a sling, so the we can remain hopeful that he dodged a season ending injury like a broken collar bone or separated shoulder. But we also don't know anything with any real certainty, and until it's reported otherwise, or Harbaugh changes tact from denying everything, we have to assume John O'Korn is the quarterback of the Michigan Wolverines. Speight remains questionable for Saturday’s game against Indiana.
More often than not, in the sports world at large, perpetuating the myth that the obviously injured starting quarterback is day-to-day or questionable or a game-time decision is a poorly veiled attempt to prevent your opponent from adequately preparing for the backup.
Mental gymnastics notwithstanding, to predict John O'Korn's performance against Indiana, we are best served evaluating his game against BYU in 2014. The two teams pass defenses are remarkably similar.
|Team||Def. S&+||Rk||Rushing S&P+||Rk||Passing S&P+||Rk||SD S&P+||Rk||PD S&P+||Rk||Success Rt+||Rk||IsoPP+||Rk|
|Team||Def. S&P+||Rk||Success Rate||Rk||IsoPPP||Rk||S&P||Rk||Havoc||Rk||Front 7 Havoc||Rk||DB Havoc||Rk|
Of note, Indiana is better than BYU in Success Rate+ and their DBs have an edge. Those numbers could be important against a quarterback with little game time experience in almost three years.
Indiana likely won’t accomplish what BYU could defensively against Houston in 2014. BYU held the ball for over 35 minutes and limited Houston to 6-16 third down conversions. John O’Korn racked up good yardage (307), but he threw 52 passes to get there. He finished the game with a very average 51.8 QBR.
Houston’s rushing attack produced nine yards.
The 2016 Indiana team pretty good at some things, pretty bad at others. They are a .500 team that ranks in the top half of all the major advanced statistical categories. They’re a Mr Potato Head of a football team. The eyes and shoes are installed correctly, but he has two arms on one side, a mustache mouth, and juicy red lips for a hat. Indiana’s DBs have a better havoc rate ranking than Michigan — #8 vs #13, but they’re overall Passing S&P+ is relatively terrible.
Indiana is not terrible against the run. What seems most likely is they will trust their run defense to limit Michigan offensively and ask O’Korn to beat them with through the air. After Michigan’s dismal offensive line performance last week, Indiana should also feel confident pressuring O’Korn when he drops back to pass.
O’Korn demonstrated at Houston his talent to run with the ball, and that could be his best asset Saturday. Unfortunately, it could be his biggest struggle as well. In Houston’s system, O’Korn operated nearly exclusively from the shotgun, but with Michigan, he’ll be under center more frequently and he could be anxious to escape the pocket rather than move within it.
Looking back to the early games this season, the bulk of Michigan's passing strategy was short passes 4-7 yards downfield thrown with the hope their receivers had the opportunity to make plays in space. O’Korn has the accuracy and arm strength to throw deep, and he likely will get an opportunity or two early to prove he’s in sync.
What we've seen of O'korn thus far has been garbage time action when Michigan has lifted their foot off the gas pedal. He played the whole second half against Rutgers and only threw the ball three times. The trust that Harbaugh and Drevno have in him chucking the ball downfield regularly is unknown.
I expect he'll have a chance or two early, and the success of that will dictate his play selection deep into the game. Indiana has shown at times that can score, that they can be good but inconsistent, and Michigan could be asking a lot of their defense for the second week in a row if Indiana corners the wolverines into a shootout.
Against Indiana, he will be okay. He might even be better than okay. He might be above average. We don't know. We also don’t know how much of the playbook Harbaugh et. al. will be comfortable sharing with O'Korn — there's little doubt he knows it as he's been at the school for a year and a half now, but without many reps and little game time, it'll be wait and see as to what sorts of plays, and how many, he calls in the huddle.
Prediction: John O’Korn goes 14/25 for 195 yards with 1 TD, 1 INT, and he picks up 30 yards on the ground.