This Week’s Obsession: QB1 Comment Count

Seth September 26th, 2017 at 11:01 AM

THIS ARTICLE HAS A SPONSOR: If you haven’t yet met the guy on the right, that’s Nick Hopwood, our MGoFinancial Planner from Peak Wealth Management. Since I made MGoBlog my career I’ve acquired a spouse, a house, and two kids, and a ton of questions about our financial future. IMG_2166-300x225

So I talk to Nick. In turn, Nick—who’s been reading this site since nearly the beginning—has a lot of questions about Michigan. So the deal is we go to him for financial strategies, and he gets to ask us Michigan questions. These we’ll answer in whatever format works: This Week’s Obsession, What Is, Neck Sharpies, Basketbullets, whatever. Anytime it’s a Nick question, we’ll let you know. Anytime you’ve got a financial question, let Nick know. And while you’re at it, if you also have Michigan question you’d like to be given the full MGoBlog treatment, well, Nick’s buying!


Nick’s First Question:

Does Michigan have a new quarterback?


[Patrick Barron]

BiSB: This is a bit of an Allegory of the Cave situation. We only see a small fraction of the available evidence, and we see it with only a fractional understanding of what should be happening. The coaches have much more information about both of these guys, and they clearly thought - right up until the moment he was origami'd by that Purdue defender - was that Speight was better. So I don't think I'm even qualified to guess in this situation, though that has never stopped me in the past.

My blind-ass prediction is that he gets the start against MSU, and his performance in the first game or two determines what happens when Speight is 100%. Two things I will mention in favor of the premise of the dawning of the O'Korn Era. The first relates to a name that hasn't been mentioned much recently: Colin Kaepernick. Alex Smith missed a start because of a concussion, and he never got his job back. The second point, which is related to the first one, is that O'Korn has the kind of mobility that Harbaugh has traditionally enjoyed with his quarterbacks. If he can extend that mobility to include mobility in the pocket the way he flashed against Purdue, I think he has a good shot to keep the job.

[Hit THE JUMP to see what we see]


Brian: I don't see how they can go back to Speight until and unless O'Korn's performance gives them a reason to. Michigan just had their best offensive performance of the season by a healthy margin, per S&P+, and that was with three Speight-led drives that netted 12 yards weighing down the O'Korn section of the game.

Speight's performance so far this year has looked worse than it's actually been. He's getting little help from his OL, RBs, or receivers. In this one he suffered when Schoenle failed to rub a guy on third and short, and when Michigan let guys through untouched up the middle, and when they did that some more. I don't think it's a blowout all of a sudden.

The more a thing happens the more you have to expect it to happen. [Chris Cook]

I do think O'Korn has a clear edge after Saturday. Speight's ability to make plays in the face of pressure has seemingly evaporated. For whatever reason he's gone from a guy who will avoid a rush and reset and do something productive to one who airmails his receivers when someone is vaguely in the area. Or he'll break the pocket and not find Grant Perry. O'Korn broke the pocket and found Grant Perry. With the offense in its current state, I'm going with the guy who finds Perry.


David: Probably? There's no official word on Speight's injury or any sort of timetable, but I don't think most people are expecting him back in less than two weeks...and even then, how much practice would he even get? The Bye Week came at the perfect time for Michigan. If Speight cannot go, Harbaugh and Co have two weeks to rep JOK with the 1's and continue building the continuity of timing routes and general teammate feels. Speaking of which, despite just missing Perry on a couple of key third downs, JOK looked very in sync with his targets.

We talked about the audible in Cover Zero leading to the jump ball to Gentry. Also, he consistently was able to connect with McKeon, leading to Sean's biggest day of his career. After taking a couple of series to settle in, JOK showed wonderful pocket presence and mobility...stuff that was projected and hoped for a year and a half ago. Granted, this is just based on facing a Purdue defense, and we really are still stuck with a small sample size, but it is starting to feel that the offense's ceiling took a huge bump with what JOK brought to the huddle.

The only reason I downgraded to “probably” is in case of a minor scenario. As Adam and I drove back from West Lafayette, I mentioned that if Speight's injury ended up being very minor, he practices and tidies up during the next 10 days, there's still the chance that he starts on the 7th...but with a much shorter leash. The bye week is the perfect time to make a QB switch, though. So, I would not be surprised to see JOK lead Michigan's offense in their 4th ever home night game.


Ace: I agree with everyone else here for the same reasons so I’ll just note that since none of us predicted O’Korn would even be on the two-deep in this year’s HTTV, he’s a dead lock to hold onto the job.

BiSB: The one caveat to Brian's point about Speight's production this year is that we have a significant sample from LAST season as well.

Ace: I think the offensive line really changes this year’s circumstances, though. Speight hasn’t responded well to having consistent pressure in his face and it seems like it’s affected him even when he isn’t under fire.


Adam: I think O'Korn is probably the new starter, but I can't discard the adverb because of what Bryan was saying about Speight and the coaching staff. There was clearly something the coaches saw that led to Harbaugh reiterating every week that. despite the offense's struggles, Speight was the starter.

Could that have changed after the Purdue game? Obviously. It seemed like O'Korn was developing his vision outside the pocket as the game progressed, moving from I-have-a-mobile-QB-and-am-in-7th-grade-MAKE-PLAYS Madden player to a legitimate threat throwing on the move. I think it comes down to a battle of weighing whatever the coaches were seeing from Wilton from spring ball through the last week of practices against what O'Korn did against Purdue, and that's a battle where I lean toward live reps. With Speight being definitively ruled out if there was a game this week, the window for him to make his case is shrinking quickly.


Seth: Speight isn't the guy who earned the Purdue start anymore. That guy was seeing everything in front of him, making correct reads, and could write a tour guide for pockets. Here’s that failed rub by Schoenle that Brian mentioned:

It's a counter off the mesh play that was the offense's staple in this game. It was also a staple play last year when Speight was too injured to throw downfield yet still money on third and short passes. Speight comes off his first read, McKeon, too fast to realize that his hot read is hot, and then bugs out in the direction of his next two reads. The second read is Schoenle's snag, which doubles as a pick route, but like Brian said, Schoenle didn't run it picky enough to open up the third read, Hill, which isn't open because the pick didn't come off.

A year ago Speight had the presence and command to step into that pocket, which was fine, and let McKeon's route have a chance of coming open. From the pocket Speight would have still been able to access Schoenle and Hill, without losing the opportunity to find McKeon and Gentry. Instead he did the thing Gardner did all 2014 where he's bugging out too quickly. The thing that quarterbacks do when they've been under siege and don’t trust their linemen to keep them alive for half a progression.

I think what the coaches saw in Speight was the guy they weren't ready to give up on. The guy who got shaky after Colorado, got a bye week to reset, and eviscerated all comers until Iowa. The guy who played hurt in the Horseshoe for them. Justice is a form of merit, and it was only justice to allow that guy a shot against Purdue’s leaky passing defense to make it to the bye.

There's a version of this story where Speight makes it through the Purdue game, gets a week to reset, and comes out refreshingly lethal against State. But that timeline didn't have O'Korn use his opportunity to demonstrate he can handle the job. Harbaugh said Speight probably couldn't go if there was a game this Saturday, and given the kind of pain Speight's played through in the past that says he's not going to be able to practice.

So the answer for now is yes, Michigan has a new starting quarterback. But then we haven't seen how O'Korn will stand up against the kinds of things Speight's been through. Nothing's permanent; it’s now JOK’s job to lose.


Ace: One thing going in O’Korn’s favor that isn’t always the case in these scenarios: Michigan has rotated so much at WR and TE that he’s probably had more reps with the pass-catchers who’ll see the field than most backups. That came to mind when it was clear he felt most comfortable throwing to McKeon and Gentry.



September 26th, 2017 at 11:10 AM ^

Two points: it seems like, going back to last year, Speight gets broken every time he takes a nasty hit or gets injured and it takes him time to get back to where he was before said hit. So what does that suggest about his performance whenever he returns?

This offense not only had an identity for the first time this year with O'Korn behind center, but it had the identity most of us expected from a Harbaugh offense. Wide distribution among pass catchers, and liberal use of big block and catch guys in the passing game. I think I saw somewhere that O'Korn threw passes to 10 different receivers.


September 27th, 2017 at 12:12 PM ^

is something I noticed right away in the game. Speight did not step up and give the play 1 more second to develop, even thought he could've and should've. Right after he bugs out Gentry comes wide open about 8 yards in front of him and McKeon is just about to break open also. I was screaming at the TV for him to give it some time.  After three series I was frustrated with him, as I have been much of the season and hoping O'Korn would get into the game.

Hate seeing anyone injured and I hope Speight is healthy soon, but he's just not getting the job done and it's time to turn the keys over to O'Korn and let him run with this offense for the rest of the year and I would probably look to Peters after that to get him reps and prep for next year.

I think people seem to forget that O'Korn probably has more experience then Speight. It's not like he's an 18 year old Freshman. He's probably 22-23 years old. Has probably started or played significantly in at least 20 games now. Thrown for over 4500 yards and I think in the neighborhood of 40 TD's.  He has seen everything and probably more then Speight has over the years. I think this offense is in good hands.

Blue Sharpie

September 26th, 2017 at 1:03 PM ^

JOK came off the bench cold literally and figuratively. One data point under extreme circumstances is not a good data point to judge how good someone is. The Purdue game is a much better data point for all the reasons people have mentioned. Also they have been neck and neck in practice this year, but Speight has looked confused in games this year and JOK has looked good without the benefit of more experience of playing Air Force and Cincinnati.


September 26th, 2017 at 10:50 PM ^

are correct.  There is also his sophomore season durng which he lost his starting job.  In the Florida game he threw one nice fade to Black and then on his other passes he took Madden 15 yards drops and scrambled into pressure rather than away from it, which is very similar to what he did in the IU game.

His performance in this game was extraordinary and has certainly earned him the starting job in my opinion.


September 26th, 2017 at 11:57 AM ^

Cautiously optimistic.

We don't know if Purdue was a blip or the turning point. We do know he was bad Against IU - granted the playing conditions mitigate that some.

Like Brian I was feeling increasingly down on Speight...he has shown great ability in the past, and I was clinging to hope that it was a chemistry thing - he just needed a few games to get him and his receivers on the same page. Instead each game has been a steady tick downward, to the point where even his decision making - his best asset - was notably regressing.

Add an injury that keeps him out a week or more, and I don't know how O'Korn doesn't start in two weeks. After that all depends on Speight's health and how O'Korn handles the MSU D.

yossarians tree

September 26th, 2017 at 2:16 PM ^

I concur with your cautious optimism. Speight had clearly regressed from the middle of last season. O'Korn is one hungry beast right now--this is his last chance to audition for the pros and in light of how he came out against Purdue I like the direction of his arc right now. Hunger along with a jolt of confidence. Plus the more success he has throwing, the more defenses will have to cut back on the pressure. This allows our young offensive line to develop and do more of what they are better at right now, which is run blocking.

MI Expat NY

September 26th, 2017 at 12:00 PM ^

I've always felt that the Indiana game has been blown out of proportion.  People seem to forget that it was far from ideal conditions to operate a passing game (or underestimate the impact for some reason).  Just up the road in East  Lansing, MSU QBs managed to go 8/21 for 127 yards and J.T. Barrett went 10/22 for 86 yards.  You can obviously ignore the MSU QB datapoint if you want, but there is no way J.T. Barrett has that kind of day against that defense if conditions were fine.  Plus O'Korn played against an Indiana defense that everyone spent this past offseason saying was actually pretty talented.  

I wonder what our perceptions would be if Speight's injury had happened at the very end of the Michigan State game instead of Iowa and O'Korn got to light up a bad Maryland defense while Speight had to play the game against a supremely underrated IU defense on a poor weather day.  



September 26th, 2017 at 3:01 PM ^

The happy feet in the pocket seemed to be the number #1 knock on JOK.  While he did it occasionally against Purdue and it led to a sack or two, for the most part he showed some poise and a better ability to work through some of his progressions than he has in past game experience.  Plus, as many have mentioned, his scrambling ability is a benefit to this year's team given how bad the right side of the offensive line is.  The good version of Wilton last year showed poise in the pocket but that hasn't been the case this year.  Let's hope that JOK gets the opportunity to start against MSU and takes full advantage of it.  If he doesn't, then maybe Speight can earn the job back.  I think most of us would like to see JOK get the chance to see if he can be "the guy" for this offense.  He earned that chance given his performance against Purdue and the lack of consistency from Speight to start the year.  

It's just awesome that our defense is good enough for us to possibly mess around with a QB change and still win ball games.  


September 26th, 2017 at 12:41 PM ^

The weather gets blown out of proportion too. Aside from being late Nov, there wasn't much remarkable about the weather until late. In any case, O'Korn's issues were largely weather invariant. He had horrendous pocket awareness and presence, a trait he showed again in his 2 series vs Florida and even a couple drives against Indiana. While this last game was certainly encouraging and an important data point, ignoring his previous performances is as equally foolish as placing too much stock in it.

MI Expat NY

September 26th, 2017 at 1:11 PM ^

I'm not saying you ignore the IU game, just always thought it was stupid that people took one game and two possessions against Florida, also in a bad situation, and claimed that we knew what we had in him and that he couldn't play.  And say what you will about his poor pocket presence against Indiana, but you know damn well that much of the "he's no good" narrative came from his poor passing numbers in that game.  

Against Florida, he had one bad sack where he did the Devin Gardner thing, one sack where it was unavoidable, four handoffs and one picture perfect deep ball.  He was playing when absolutely all the momentum was in Florida's favor.  He was fine in that game.  

I do expect that he'll still occasionally make a mistake in the pocket where he tries to make a play with his feet a little too quickly or in the wrong way.  But after seeing enough of Speight and seeing the positives O'Korn has to offer, I think we have to go with O'Korn and give him a chance to shore up some of his issues.  

MI Expat NY

September 26th, 2017 at 11:21 PM ^

He had two possessions. About 7 plays, three of which were all about not having another turnover. He basically was given one real possession and we scored a fg. That's the very definition of 'fine.' I don't think he was going to get another possession no matter what happened.


September 26th, 2017 at 12:12 PM ^

I don't think you ignore that game but I think it's data carries much less weight than the Purdue one. That game was in awful conditions (snowy and windy), nearly 2 years after he had been taking competitive snaps, likely had not been getting any first team reps during that entire season, and our offense had similarly struggled against Iowa as well. This years data, while brief, includes our current personnel and coaches (fisch vs pep) and was in more normal weather conditions. Given our oline remains porous, okorn's mobility does 2 things: 1) he can create plays from a broken pocket 2) teams may be a little more hesitant to blitz all the time if he makes them pay for it with his mobility.

At the end of the day, glad I just get to post on a board and am not responsible for making these decisions like the coaches.


September 26th, 2017 at 11:36 AM ^

How is it any different than asking,

"What if we don't fumble the kickoff to start the 2nd half of the Iowa game?"

"What if Darboh makes the catch against Iowa instead of letting the DB steal it from his hands?"

"What if we don't lose our only fumbled snap inside the 10 against OSU?"

"What if the refs weren't obvious homers for the OSU game?"

"What if Peppers had been able to play the bowl game?"

"What if Evans got more carries against FSU?"

("What if we had gone max-protect in 2015 on the final punt against Sparty?" "What if the G$%#$#@ officials called pass interference in 1990?" "What if Lloyd Carr went exclusively with Tom Brady in '99?")

You could "what if" yourself to madness like I have done. Let it go. Move on. Don't be like me.


September 27th, 2017 at 12:33 PM ^

What if the clock actually ran out against Staee in 2001? That moment was the first time that I understood how someone could actually be livid when it came to being a fan of a sports team. Before that I never understood how my dad could let a football game ruin his weekend. 


September 26th, 2017 at 11:15 AM ^

I rewatched the game last night, and an underrated element of the offense was that the rest of the guys helped bail out O'Korn at times. McKeon caught that ball between three guys instead of dropping it, Perry got open while O'Korn a scrambled, Gentry held onto to a slightly overthrown ball in the third. Speight wasn't always making good throws, but you look back and he had Crawford and Perry dropping catchable ball multiple times, or not drawing a flag on a long throw the way Crawford did in this game, etc. O'Korn should remain the starter as long as Speight is injured and ineffective, but it would also be nice if he got a bit more luck.


September 26th, 2017 at 11:43 AM ^

I'm definitely in the JOK should start camp, but without re-watching the game I don't think there were any passes that could've/should've been caught but were dropped when JOK was in the game.  The closest one that comes to mind is possible the pass to Perry that was intercepted.

Part of that is I'm not sold on Crawford being the #1 receiver.  Did JOK even throw a pass to Crawford?  I'm guessing he did but I can't remember any.  It seems like it was mainly the TEs and Perry.