Michigan QB John O’Korn inspires confidence in teammates

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It’s official: John O’Korn will start at quarterback when No. 7 Michigan hosts Michigan State at 7:30 p.m Saturday.

Nine days after O’Korn replaced an injured Wilton Speight in a 28-10 win Sept. 23 at Purdue, Michigan’s offense now belongs to him.

O’Korn takes over as Michigan’s leader on the field, but he won’t be alone. He has his teammates’ confidence, which is vital to both his and the team’s success.

Michigan cornerback Lavert Hill sees an importance in providing moral support to a new quarterback.

“We have to keep him up and say positive things around him,” Hill said. “Just to keep his vibes up. He’s looked pretty good in practice. It’s next man up, so he’s got to be ready.”

In front of O’Korn, Michigan left tackle Mason Cole said the offensive line needs to take a stronger tactical approach.

“With a new quarterback back there, we need to protect better, and to protect well, so he can make plays,” Michigan left tackle Mason Cole said. “But, really, nothing different. You always want to protect better, no matter who your quarterback is.”

Against Purdue, Speight sustained an unspecified injury late in the first quarter when he was hit in the upper back by defensive tackle Eddy Wilson after being sacked by Markus Bailey. O’Korn replaced Speight and took command of the offense, leading it to three red-zone touchdowns — two more than Michigan had scored in its first three games.

He made decisions and responded to the flow of the game, and had the most productive passing outing for Michigan this season, throwing for 270 yards and a touchdown against the Boilermakers. O’Korn also displayed mobility and withstood a physical Purdue defense that sacked he and Speight four times.

As O’Korn’s performance got stronger against the Boilermakers, so did the Wolverines’ offense.

“He’s a good leader in the huddle,” Cole said of O’Korn. “He really takes control in the huddle. We’ve got all of our confidence in him.”

John O’Korn game-by-game statistics

Date Opponent Statistics
Sept. 2 vs. Florida 1-1, 37 yards
Sept. 23 at Purdue 18-26-1, 270 yards, TD

Wilton Speight game-by-game statistics

Date Opponent Statistics
Sept. 2 vs. Florida 11-25-2, 181 yards TD
Sept. 9 vs. Cincinnati 17-29-0, 221 yards, 2 TDs
Sept 16 vs. Air Force 14-23-0, 169 yards
Sept. 23 at Purdue 2-4-0, 10 yards

Now, O’Korn has to make this into a consistent practice, instead of simply being a flash in the pan. So do his teammates, and it starts this week, as Michigan prepares for Michigan State.

The Spartans (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) are revitalized after a 3-9 season, and Michigan State’s defense is fifth in the nation and No. 2 in the Big Ten (248.3 yards, including 152.3 yards passing).

O’Korn was not made available to the media Monday, but following the win at Purdue, he credited coaches for helping prepare him for the moment.

“The coaches have done a great job of keeping me in tune with the the game plan every week, and keeping me ready to play,” O’Korn said. “It’s cliche but you’re always one play away.”

Cole gave O’Korn a vote of confidence nine days later.

“Things are fine here,” Cole said. “With John moving into quarterback, it’s effortless. We knew the talent John had and we knew he could get the job done if he had to go in, and he has.”

O’Korn’s teammates have his back. So does Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who has one message for O’Korn as he prepares for a pivotal matchup: follow the game plan.

“Putting in a game plan today, and John does a great job of studying that, and studying the opponent,” Harbaugh said. “I expect that this week he’ll continue doing a great job of that. We’ll put in the scouting report and the game plan. That will be the message.”

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