Saturday, the No. 7 Michigan football team (1-0 Big Ten, 4-0 overall) will host in-state rival Michigan State in the first night game at Michigan Stadium since 2014.
The last time the Wolverines played a night game at home, Brady Hoke was the coach and Devin Gardner was the quarterback. Times have changed, but the storylines are just as intriguing.
Here’s what to watch for when the Spartans and Wolverines kickoff at primetime this weekend.
1. O’Korn’s big day
Wilton Speight is out. John O’Korn is in.
After transferring from Houston and losing the position battle two years in a row, the fifth-year senior is set to be Michigan’s quarterback for the foreseeable future.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday that Speight would be out for “multiple weeks” due to a soft-tissue injury. O’Korn is next in line, and following him are redshirt freshman Brandon Peters and freshman Dylan McCaffrey.
While O’Korn hasn’t played consistently during his college career, he threw for 270 yards and a touchdown off the bench against Purdue. He has enough offensive weapons to utilize — various tight ends and a deep running back group — that he can fall back on if he starts to struggle.
2. Michigan State’s weapon: Lewerke to Davis
Michigan’s run defense is the best in the nation, but it will face a challenge from Spartan quarterback Brian Lewerke, who has rushed for 248 yards and two touchdowns this season. The Wolverines have faced a mobile quarterback before — Air Force’s Arion Worthman — and they were able to quickly settle in and shut him down.
Lewerke’s playing at a high level, and while his feet certainly pose a threat, his recent connections with leading wide receiver Felton Davis III are where the Wolverines need to be focused. Davis caught two touchdown passes from Lewerke against Iowa last weekend.
Michigan’s defensive backs have done well so far against the pass, but Davis will be one of the top receivers they face this season.
3. Will the running backs keep spreading the wealth?
The running back revolving door continues to rotate. Sophomore Chris Evans is the latest to feature in the spotlight, and exceled against Purdue with two touchdown rushes and 97 yards. Evans’ performance against the Boilermakers brought back memories of last year’s Hawaii game, when he had two touchdowns as well.
In both games, Evans displayed remarkable acceleration. His speed differentiates him from the other running backs: fifth-year senior Ty Isaac and junior Karan Higdon.
Michigan State’s defense has done well to stop the run so far, holding opponents to an average of just 96 yards per game. Earlier this week, Isaac spent time evaluating the Spartans’ defense, commenting on its physicality and blitz-heavy packages.
Isaac and Higdon, due to their size, are best suited to handle a physical run, but in the open field, it’s Evans that stands out from the pack.
4. Will Chase Winovich take a single snap off?
Two days after Michigan defeated Purdue, defensive coordinator Don Brown went on the “Inside Michigan Football” radio show and informed the public that Winovich played every snap of Saturday’s game against the Boilermakers.
The feat is impressive regardless, but was even more astounding given that the Wolverines’ accumulated 50 defensive snaps in 90-degree heat. As if that weren’t enough, Winovich finished with six tackles and four sacks — a performance that garnered him Big Ten co-defensive player of the week honors.
Saturday night is expected to hover in the low 80s, and it will have all the energy of a night game against an in-state rival to go with it. Expecting a repeat of Purdue isn’t too reasonable, but if someone on Michigan is going to do it, Winovich is the best bet.