Opportunities like this don’t come around very often.
And yet, here it is: after transferring and patiently sitting out a year, after losing the starting competition twice, John O’Korn is now the starting quarterback for No. 7 Michigan as it heads into the biggest matchup of the season thus far, a night game at home against in-state rival Michigan State.
“(Wilton’s) going to be out,” said Jim Harbaugh on Monday afternoon. “John O’Korn will be the starter.”
It won’t be known until later in the season whether the job is permanently in O’Korn’s grasp. For all we know, he may have earned the job outright by leading the Wolverines to a comeback victory over Purdue two weekends ago. But Harbaugh announced redshirt junior Wilton Speight “won’t be able to compete this week, or for multiple weeks,” which means this case won’t be reopened for quite some time.
Until then — and maybe even for the rest of the season — this is the John O’Korn Show.
“John’s done a fantastic job ever since he got here,” Harbaugh said. “Every role that he’s been in, he’s acquitted himself very well, including coming off the bench and leading our team to a victory against Purdue. I think that speaks volumes.”
Added fifth-year senior fullback Khalid Hill: “Being a quarterback, you’ve got to be ready. I think John did a great job (against) Purdue, coming in and performing the way he did, but that is expected from everybody. Coach Harbaugh always says, ‘Next man up,’ so always got to be on your Ps and Qs because you never know when your time is called.”
O’Korn, who completed 17-of-26 passes for 270 yards with one touchdown and an interception against the Boilermakers, appears to have earned the full confidence of his teammates.
“… (O’Korn) just came in composed, he came and he was ready,” Hill said. “I applaud him for coming in and playing the way that he did, because you don’t expect that to happen.”
For Hill, the difference in O’Korn’s demeanor has been noticeable. According to him, O’Korn spoke the other day about taking his time after feeling like he was always facing pressure. Now, Hill says, O’Korn is taking a more relaxed approach by letting things come to him.
And while senior offensive tackle Mason Cole couldn’t speak to that — he grinned as he said he has no idea what O’Korn does as he blocks for him — he still agreed with Hill on O’Korn’s readiness.
“When he came into the game, the transition was just really effortless,” Cole said. “He came in like he’s been there all year, and I think that’s the biggest thing — we knew he’d be ready to play if he had to, and he was.
“… We knew the talent John had and we knew he would get the job done if he had to go in, and he has.”
In the offseason, O’Korn spoke candidly about dealing with the loss of his confidence after transferring from Houston and struggling early on at Michigan. The hiring of passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton, he said, reignited his game and brought him to a level he had never seen before.
Now, Michigan will get a full chance to see what that level is.
“That gives you confidence — your quarterback comes and performs … the way he did, it gives you confidence and John’s going to hopefully do the same thing this week,” Hill said. “I know he’s preparing to have the best game of his life.”