The Michigan football team may have lost more than just the game on Saturday, as redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight suffered a shoulder injury late in the 14-13 loss at Iowa and now could miss this week’s home finale against Indiana.
Reports from MGoBlog and The Detroit Free Press each cited a source who said Speight broke his collarbone and would miss the rest of the regular season.
Speight said Saturday night that his shoulder was bothering him during the game. On the last pass he threw, Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse came in unblocked and hit Speight in the left shoulder. Speight came up holding his arm and grimacing.
During his weekly press conference Monday — before the reports of a broken collarbone — Harbaugh gave no specifics on Speight’s injury regarding severity, possible structural damage or prognosis.
“When we’ll know is based on what the doctors say and how Wilton’s feeling, what he’s able to do in terms of practice, et cetera,” Harbaugh said. He added that the decision on Speight’s status could be made as late as game time Saturday.
A broken collarbone, though, would mean that Speight would certainly miss at least this week’s game and next week’s showdown at Ohio State, and perhaps whichever bowl game Michigan lands in around New Year’s Day. The injury usually takes at least six weeks to heal, which would put Speight back at practice around the time of the bowl game.
If Speight can’t play Saturday, the starting job would likely go to Houston transfer John O’Korn, who has played several snaps as a backup in blowouts this season. He is 13-for-18 for 114 yards and two touchdowns in seven games, though he has not started.
Still, Speight’s absence would be a blow to Michigan’s offense next week against the fifth-ranked Buckeyes, if not this week against the Hoosiers. His struggles Saturday notwithstanding — Speight completed just 11 of 26 passes for 103 yards and a late interception at Iowa — he has been one of the offense’s most productive players.
“That would be tough — Wilton’s done a great job, he’s been a great leader for us and he’s stepped up for us in countless situations throughout the whole entire season,” said senior tight end Jake Butt on Monday. “But John’s a great leader, too. John will get ready to go, and he’s one of those guys that leads by example with his work ethic. So as an offense, we’ll all stand behind whoever’s in that huddle.”
O’Korn, who transferred to Michigan in 2015 after Harbaugh was hired, sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules and spent the year on the scout team. He and redshirt junior Shane Morris battled Speight for the starting job for the duration of spring and fall camps before Speight ultimately won out.
But some lopsided scores in the Wolverines’ victories have inserted O’Korn plenty of times. On Oct. 8, when Michigan trampled Rutgers, 78-0, O’Korn played the entire second half.
“If John’s number is called, we’re fully confident in him,” Butt said. “We’ve seen what he can do since he got here. He’s been a hard worker, great note-taker, great leader. He’s got everything you need to do to get the job done. So if his number is called, if it turns out that Wilton can’t go, he’ll be ready to go, and we’re fully confident in him.”
Speight’s first encounter with the Michigan quarterback job came just over a year ago, also because of an injury. The Wolverines’ starter, Iowa transfer Jake Rudock, suffered an injury on a hit at Minnesota on Oct. 31. Speight came in and threw a game-winning touchdown pass to fifth-year senior wide receiver Jehu Chesson to lead Michigan to a 27-23 victory.
Rudock returned the next week against Rutgers and won four of his last five starts, alleviating any concern. This year, the Wolverines find themselves in another predicament, though this one may be more serious.
“Wilton stood back there — we’ve seen him take some hard shots all season,” Butt said. “Kind of similar to how Rudock did last year. Just kept bouncing back and putting the team first. He understood he was in pain. I think he knew he wasn’t the only guy. We’re all sacrificing for the greater good of the team right here.”
That put him on track to become the starter, a job he has kept all season. The redshirt junior transfer played for a year and a half at Houston, making his last start in a loss to Central Florida on Oct. 2, 2014.
He is smaller than Speight and a less consistent passer, but he does add more of a running dimension. Despite losing the competition this summer, O’Korn has earned nothing but praise since he started on the practice field.
“John’s been great — he’s been amazing,” said redshirt junior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst. “They were competing until basically the start of the season for the starting spot. They’re both really great players, and I definitely have full confidence in John, have full confidence in Wilton.”