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.
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?
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.