ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan is in the midst of its bye week, and is one of 16 undefeated teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 heading into the weekend.
The No. 8 Wolverines (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten Conference) have managed to stay in the nation’s top 10 despite a quarterback change because of an injury last week, a defense that lost the bulk of its starters and a young group of receivers.
The Wolverines resume their schedule Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET against Michigan State at Michigan Stadium.
Here are five things we’ve learned about Michigan after its first four games.
John O’Korn should start over Wilton Speight
John O’Korn has created a quarterback controversy as the Wolverines prepare to dive into the heart of their Big Ten Conference schedule.
It’s a small sample size, but to paraphrase Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh, fifth-year senior quarterback John O’Korn has acquitted himself well as a quarterback in a short amount of time.
Wilton Speight won the starting job coming out of preseason camp, but when Speight was shaky in the season opener Sept. 2 against Florida, O’Korn stepped in and settled down Michigan’s offense midway through the second quarter. O’Korn completed one pass for 37 yards in that stint, and helped Michigan regain its footing before Speight returned with less than two minutes left in the first half.
When Speight was injured Sept. 23 at Purdue, O’Korn stepped in and commanded the offense. He threw for 270 yards and a touchdown, and steered the Wolverines on drives of 84 and 86 yards that ended with red-zone touchdowns.
In backup duty, O’Korn led Michigan to 3 red-zone touchdowns. Speight had a hand in one.
O’Korn has been more accurate as well. He has connected on 19 of 27 pass attempts for a completion percentage of 70.4 percent. Speight is 44 for 81 with a completion percentage of 54.3.
The big question is: if Speight is healthy, who will start Saturday against the Spartans? It should be O’Korn.
This defense is dominant
The Wolverines lead the nation in total defense (203.3 yards allowed per game), and are fourth in rushing defense (69.25 yards), eighth in pass defense (134 yards) and 12th in scoring defense (13.5 points). They average 4.5 sacks per game and have scored 3 touchdowns and a safety.
With Rashan Gary being double-teamed at times, his teammates on the defensive line have picked up the slack by posting 17 sacks (Gary has 1). Michigan’s linebackers are as good on the pass rush as they are containing the run. A new group of defensive backs, led by junior Tyree Kinnel, has held its own, as the pass defense ranking suggests.
The Wolverines’ defensive success — and this is becoming a habit of defensive coordinator Don Brown’s unit — is a product of consistency. Michigan’s defense lost 10 starters from last season, but the Wolverines haven’t missed a beat, and have bought into Brown’s philosophy of intelligence and aggression.
Ideally, this defense hasn’t peaked yet.
Chase Winovich, Devin Bush star on defense
Chase Winovich, a redshirt junior defensive end, and Devin Bush Jr., a sophomore middle linebacker, have become the stars of the defense.
Winovich is the biggest personality on Michigan’s defense, and brings strength and stamina to the line. Brown said Winovich played on defense in every snap at Purdue (in 90-degree heat), and had 6 tackles and 3 sacks. He has 24 tackles, 5 1/2 sacks (third in the nation) and 2 quarterback hurries in four games.
Bush, the son of former Florida State safety Devin Bush Sr., who is a defensive analyst on Michigan’s staff, has a team-leading 33 tackles, including a team-leading 20 solo tackles. He also has 4 1/2 sacks.
Tight ends are the most valuable receivers
Sean McKeon, Zach Gentry and Nick Eubanks have become an integral part of Michigan’s passing game. They have combined for 18 catches and 300 yards, which is a little more than one-third of Michigan’s 892 receiving yards.
They’ve helped move the offense at key times. Against Air Force on Sept. 16, Speight found Gentry for a 30-yard pass on second-and-2 from the Air Force 39 to put Michigan in the red zone. On Michigan’s go-ahead touchdown drive in the third quarter at Purdue, O’Korn involved tight ends on six plays. Those plays included an 11-yard pass to Gentry on first-and-17 from the Michigan 7, and a 30-yard pass to McKeon on third-and-7 from the Michigan 33.
The tight ends, however, can’t carry the wide receiving corps through the course of the season. Michigan needs production from freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones and sophomore Kekoa Crawford. Junior Grant Perry is Michigan’s leading receiver with 13 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown.
Offensive line has room to improve
The offensive line is doing the job, but is still a work in progress. Michigan has allowed an average of 3 sacks and 8 tackles for loss with a young and reshuffled line.
The left side of the offensive line has experience. Senior Mason Cole has moved back to left tackle after starting at center last season. Cole began his Michigan career by starting 25 games at left tackle. Sophomore Ben Bredeson has made 12 career starts at left guard, and fifth-year senior Patrick Kugler has handled the starting center assignment well.
The right side of the offensive line has room for improvement. Sophomore Michael Onwenu and Nolan Ulizio are still adjusting to their roles, although Onwenu was named the team’s Offensive Lineman of the Game for his performance against Purdue. Onwenu has rotated at times with Jon Runyan Jr. at right guard.
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