BLOOMINGTON — For those who thought Michigan would avoid any more quarterback controversy this year, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
It may be time for Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines to give redshirt freshman backup Brandon Peters a shot. They had a chance to do so in the second half against Indiana, and next week’s road game in a raucous environment against No. 3 Penn State may not be as good of an opportunity.
But, with how abysmal Michigan’s passing offense has been the past couple weeks, it still seems worth trying.
Michigan’s offensive woes looked to be solved after John O’Korn’s stellar performance on the road against Purdue. We haven’t seen that same player in the two games since.
It would be one thing if O’Korn fit the category of ‘game-manager.’ That’s a term that often carries a negative connotation. But right now, a game manager under center wouldn’t be all that bad.
With how absurdly good the Wolverines are on defense, someone who could make the easy throws and reads while limiting turnovers would be a lifesaver. Couple that with an improving run game — Michigan rushed 44 times for 271 yards with two touchdowns Saturday — and you have a recipe for success.
But O’Korn hasn’t been a game manager. Quite simply, he has regressed since that big game against the Boilermakers.
In last week’s dreary, rain-soaked 14-10 loss to Michigan State, he threw three interceptions on three consecutive drives, killing any momentum Michigan had gained with an early second-half touchdown. That game could’ve easily been won. The turnovers made things harder.
O’Korn didn’t turn the ball over once against the Hoosiers on Saturday afternoon. But he still left precious points on the board after completing 10-of-20 passes for just 58 yards.
In the first quarter, he overthrew a wide-open Donovan Peoples-Jones on a sure touchdown. On the same drive, O’Korn left one a little too high for Grant Perry on 3rd-and-12, and Michigan settled for a field goal.
He may have made a bigger mistake in the third quarter on a play that developed beautifully.
After the Wolverines sold a run fake, redshirt sophomore tight end Zach Gentry ran an ‘over’ route, cutting across the field, and broke wide open.
The throw was there. Acres of wide-open turf — and a game-changing touchdown — beckoned.
But Gentry was left throwing his arms up in the air as he watched the ball fall harmlessly to the turf 20 yards away from him, the pass intended for a blanketed Kekoa Crawford.
Two drives later, O’Korn did look for Gentry. It came off play-action once again. This time, though, Gentry wasn’t open. The ball was nearly picked off, and Michigan’s offense listlessly trudged off the field after yet another misfire.
Besides the missed throws, there were simple mistakes that one wouldn’t expect from a fifth-year senior. Michigan took two delay of game penalties, including one that inexcusably negated a beautifully-designed shovel pass to Khalid Hill that would’ve kept the drive alive.
Conservatively, all those missed opportunities cost the Wolverines 11 points — points that would’ve been a buffer against Indiana’s late push to force overtime. No. 3 Penn State isn’t as likely to be so forgiving of such errors.
O’Korn was defensive when asked what he thought it would take to fix the passing game.
“We ran for over 200 yards,” O’Korn said. “That was what was working. I don’t know that we need to necessarily fix anything. We went with what was working, and we won the game.”
Harbaugh, meanwhile, took a ‘wait-and-see’ approach with his assessment of O’Korn after the game.
“Well, we have to really look at the tape before I go into that,” he said. “ … We had some opportunities. Not a lot — we were grinding some meat out there today.
“There wasn’t a plan to throw 25 times, 30 times or 20 times. Had some opportunities. Made some plays. … Overthrew an open go route to Donovan (Peoples-Jones). Got to look at it before I say anything.”
But with a passing game that has averaged just 4.65 yards per attempt the past two weeks, meat grinding can only take a team so far — especially with games against the Nittany Lions, No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 9 Ohio State remaining on the schedule.
So here we are, yet again, embroiled in another debate over the quarterback situation.
After today, though, the answer seems clear: at this point, Michigan should see what it has with its backup quarterback.
It knows what it has from its starter. And if Saturday was it, there’s no sense in not checking what else is there.