WEST LAFAYETTE — The biggest crowd at Purdue in nearly a decade watched in silence as Michigan redshirt junior quarterback Wilton Speight laid motionless on the ground.
Speight had been slammed for an 11-yard sack, and a second hit from behind crunched Speight’s neck as he fell to the ground.
Speight left injured midway through the first quarter, but led by fifth-year senior quarterback John O’Korn, the eighth-ranked Wolverines (4-0) rallied for a 28-10 win.
With Speight out, O’Korn completely took over. He completed 69 percent of his passes for 270 yards and one touchdown.
“I thought John really played great,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “He was seeing things really good right from the time he came into the ball game. (He) ran the offense well, made the big plays.”
On the first scoring drive, O’Korn went 5-for-5 in the air for 61 yards and ended the drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore tight end Zach Gentry.
And each drive, O’Korn continued to improve in the pocket.
On the Wolverines’ second scoring drive, O’Korn went 5-for-9 with 73 passing yards. Sophomore running back Chris Evans capped the drive with a 10-yard rushing touchdown, going straight up the gut for the score.
On Michigan’s third scoring drive, O’Korn connected on all three of his passes for three first downs and 65 yards. Another fifth-year senior, running back Ty Isaac, dove one yard for a touchdown.
To put the game out of reach, Evans rushed for his second touchdown in the fourth quarter, breaking past the line of scrimmage for a 49-yard score. Evans ended with 97 yards on 15 carries.
For the first time this season, the Wolverines’ offense excelled, and it started with O’Korn.
Though Michigan had struggled all season in the red zone, it was perfect against the Boilermakers. The Wolverines converted all three of their red-zone trips for touchdowns. They were 1-for-10 in that category prior to the game.
“It was nice to see something that was stressed so much all week carry into the game,” O’Korn said. “We were 3-for-3 in the red zone, and the work we put in as a team paid off.”
Depending on Speight’s diagnosis, O’Korn may be called upon again.
He proved capable of commanding the pocket, and displayed an ability to slip past tackles to gain yards in seemingly disastrous situations.
And O’Korn saw plenty of them. He faced pressure from Purdue’s defensive line all day, as the Wolverines’ offensive line showed their inexperience.
The Boilermakers sacked Michigan’s quarterbacks four times. This defensive pressure helped Purdue through the first half. At the end of two quarters, the home team led, 10-7.
The Boilermakers’ two-quarterback system had troubled the Wolverines’ defense early on, but Michigan cleaned up the mistakes and held Purdue to just 10 yards in the second half.
Purdue quarterbacks Elijah Sindelar (7-for-16, 103 passing yards, one touchdown) and David Blough (5-for-13, 32 passing yards) continuously used trick plays and throwback passes to confuse the Wolverines. Eventually Michigan’s defense caught on.
“They caught us off guard (early),” said sophomore linebacker Devin Bush. “They kept doing it, but we just hunkered down and played our man.
“… We knew towards the end of the game they were going to pull out more trick plays.”
Redshirt junior defensive end Chase Winovich led the defense with six tackles and three sacks. Sophomore linebacker Devin Bush also continued his successful year with six tackles and a sack of his own.
Despite those early scares, the Wolverines prevailed.
The extent of Speight’s injury is still unknown, and when the starter went down, O’Korn ran onto the field to help him up.
“Just lead the team,” Speight told his teammate. “Do what you do.”
So O’Korn went out and put on a show, giving Michigan it’s first Big Ten win of the season.