Michigan 28, Purdue 10 Comment Count

Ace September 23rd, 2017 at 8:52 PM

John O'Korn (#8) breathed life into the Michigan offense. [Patrick Barron]

While it certainly wasn't how they planned it, Michigan may have solved their passing problems.

The trip to Purdue couldn't have started off much worse. Facing a fired-up, trash-talking Boilermakers squad, the Wolverines looked ripe for an upset in the first half. For a while, the game seemed designed for maximum frustration; first the preceding baseball game went into extra innings, causing out-of-staters to scramble to find the Fox Business Channel. Then, more disconcertingly, the offense looked even more broken than before.

Karan Higdon rushed for a first down on Michigan's first offensive snap. They'd go three-and-out to follow; the next two drives ended in the same fashion. The offensive line couldn't protect Wilton Speight or open up holes for the backs, the playcalling felt predictable and conservative. Midway through the first quarter, the game was deadlocked in an ugly scoreless draw.

Then an awkward hit changed the course of the game, and perhaps Michigan's season. As Markus Bailey came through the line untouched to sack Speight, 295-pound defensive tackle Eddy Wilson delivered a second blow that crumpled Michigan's quarterback, who stayed down before eventually being taken for X-rays and further testing. This was disaster. Yes, Speight hadn't been good this season, but he'd won the job for the second straight year over John O'Korn, and O'Korn didn't inspire any confidence in his previous appearances in maize and blue.

Zach Gentry dives for the touchdown. [Eric Upchurch]

So, of course, O'Korn promptly led the offense on a 13-play, 84-yard touchdown drive, completing all five of his passes, including a 12-yard scoring toss to Zach Gentry. Michigan had finally broken through. Two questions loomed. First, could Purdue counter? Second, could O'Korn keep it going?

The early returns weren't good in either regard. The Boilermakers hit back on the very next drive, covering 75 yards in only five plays after switching from David Blough to Elijah Sindelar at quarterback. O'Korn followed that with an interception after he threw a ball well behind Kekoa Crawford. Purdue cashed in with a field goal and entered halftime with a 10-7 lead. The Boilermakers had outgained Michigan 179 yards to 131. With Michigan's offense primed to struggle, the game would likely come down to a battle of wits between Purdue mad scientist Jeff Brohm and Don Brown.

Purdue would finish the game with 189 yards. Winner: Brown.

The total dominance by the defense would've been enough to avoid the upset. The offense, to everyone's considerable relief, did much more than rely on that to carry the day. After a punt and a lost fumble by Higdon, Michigan mounted an 11-play, 86-yard drive that calmed a lot of nerves. The coaches seemed to simplify the playbook for O'Korn, who looked to his tight ends and Grant Perry to catch and run with short passes. The drive only got going in the first place when O'Korn improbably spun out of a sack, reset, and hit Perry to covert a third down. It ended on a gorgeous playcall when M lined up showing a crack sweep look but instead had Chris Evans hit an interior hole off the pitch; the unexpected constraint play allowed him to waltz in from ten yards out.

Chase Winovich, with three sacks, had another dominant game. [Bryan Fuller]

O'Korn's next drive featured more creating outside the pocket, more big plays to Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry, and a targeting penalty on Purdue's Jawhaun Bentley. Ty Isaac finished that one off from a yard out, squeezing through a tackle off the right side and bursting into the end zone.

At this point, Purdue was desperately flipping quarterbacks, but had no answer for Michigan's ferocious defense. Blough re-entered in the fourth quarter only to be pummeled into the turf. After the eighth of nine three-and-outs forced by the Wolverines, Evans broke the game wide open with a 49-yard slice through the gut of the defense. Up 28-10 against a team that couldn't move the ball, Michigan went into clock-killing mode. The final six minutes and change passed in a hurry, helped along when Mike Wroblewski knocked the ball out of Terry Wright's hands for a Noah Furbush fumble recovery.

After averaging a woeful 3.7 yards per play in the first half, Michigan hummed along at a 7.3-yard clip in the second. O'Korn, despite a couple hiccups, looked like a completely different player from the one who underwhelmed when Speight was hurt last year. The defense, meanwhile, amassed five sacks, three of them by Chase Winovich, and took the run away from the Boilermakers entirely.

After the game, Jim Harbaugh said Speight suffered a "soft tissue" injury and declined to give a timeline for how long he'd be out. With a bye week ahead to work with the first-team offense, however, it's hard to imagine O'Korn hasn't earned his shot to lead this team against Michigan State. At the very least, Michigan heads into their week off at 4-0 and finally carrying some momentum on offense.



September 24th, 2017 at 2:01 AM ^

here in NC our local Fox channel had "Military Make Over" on up until 4:00. So when that ended, you go to the UM game, right? Nope. They joined the baseball game in progress - with 2 outs in the 9th! This made zero sense. They ONLY showed the extra innings!
Still, just had to flip channels and didn't miss any of the Michigan game, so no big deal. Just thought that was odd.


September 23rd, 2017 at 9:59 PM ^

At first I felt annoyed b/c the players seemed so small and far away.

But then I started to like it b/c I could see almost the whole field of play and watch both the offense and defensive play develop and interact wholistically, and I could focus in on any player I wanted and follow them on a regular basis.

Ghost of Fritz…

September 23rd, 2017 at 11:33 PM ^

angle was one of the few things I liked about the broadcast.  It allows the viewer to see the entire defense and how the receivers run their routes. 

The usualy style these days is more close up and it cuts out half of the action.  It is as if the only action were where the ball is located. 

I prefer to see the whole play. 

True Blue in CO

September 23rd, 2017 at 9:01 PM ^

But how the team rallied and played well the rest of the way was remarkable. I hope Speight gets healthy but feel comfortable with the new John O'Korn and the Michigan Defense in the weeks to come.


September 24th, 2017 at 2:36 AM ^

acquitted himself well.  He scrambled well and threw the ball well.  He looked like he had a good grasp of the offense.  In the IU game and the Florida game he scrambled into pressure rather than away from it.  He certainly didn't look like he grasped the offense in either of the games.  I pray that he can continue that.  I also pray the Speight recovers from his injury quickly.

As has been the case for since the start of 2016, the defense was great. 


September 23rd, 2017 at 9:01 PM ^

Nothing like a good close to a road game on offense to make the fanbase feel good.

I feel that the playbook was simplified for O'Korn, especially early, giving him easy crossing reads to get moving. But he hit them. And then he began hitting some clutch passes, including the dart through zone coverage and that terrific pass on the play he got targeted on.

It remains to be seen if he has exploitable weaknesses, but the early returns are good. I wonder if simplifying things isn't just a good idea anyway. Speight seemed to play with so much on his mind, causing mechanical breakdowns and mystifying reads after previously doing both flawlessly.

Receiver injuries are a worry. Nico and Oliver will be needed.

Not a worry? The defense, man. Bush is smart and fast and electric, just like another guy that was just on this roster last year. The corners blanketed Purdue all day. It feels like they're getting better every game.

Two years of this, B1G.


September 23rd, 2017 at 9:34 PM ^

With a young team, keep it simple stupid is often the best damn thing you can do, especially with 4-5 6.5+ TEs that can run and catch.  Keep feeding them the damn ball...It was great to see OKorn targeting the big guys and watching them work it underneath.  

I doubt any team has the horses in the linebacking corps to keep up with Gentry, McKeon and Eubanks in coverage.  Hopefully they keep that group well fed the rest of the year.


September 23rd, 2017 at 10:07 PM ^

The "terrific pass on the play he was targeted on" was actually a pretty awful back-foot duck (understandable, as he was about to get lit up). But Gentry made a great play to adjust to the ball and make a great catch. Which is something else we had t seen a lot of - receivers making plays and helping out the QB.


September 23rd, 2017 at 11:27 PM ^

The context has a great deal to do with the quality in my thinking. It's hard to do much with a blitzer literally flying into your face, but he combined a good read with a pass to a spot that gave his man a chance and forsook any chance of a turnover. At worst it's an incomplete pass. Sharp play in my view.


September 24th, 2017 at 2:21 PM ^

My point is, I don't think you can give him credit for where the ball went as if he intended to put it precisely there. It was a miss caused by pressure (understandable!) that Gentry made a great play on. He was forced to throw off his back foot and I don't think you ever intend your receiver to have to spin around to make a catch like that.

If Speight threw that ball people would be bitching about his inaccuracy. O'Korn throws it and he's a genius. Confirmation bias is a beautiful thing.


September 23rd, 2017 at 9:54 PM ^

Agreed -- that one play transformed this from an escape-the-upset game to a game players and fans alike can feel really good about.  It was clutch, and at a critical time.  We would have won with our defense anyway, but the offense badly needed that spark.

Like everyone, I hope Speight is healthy and I wish him all the best.  But O'Korn just earned the starting job in my opinion.


September 23rd, 2017 at 11:58 PM ^

getting picked up off the turf in the fourth quarter, said everything about the pass rush and stifling defense. The corners were on lockdown. And Bush was everywhere along with Winovich, a relentless machine. The rush would come up the middle and Bush would loop around and close on the backfield.

I don't know how many plays Purdue ran in the second half, but they never made a single third down conversion all day.