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  • After Wilton Speight went out with an injury, backup quarterback John O'Korn led the Wolverines past the Boilermakers
By Chris Johnson
September 23, 2017

The most notable feature of Michigan’s offense entering Saturday’s game against Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium was its inability to turn red zone possessions into touchdowns. Over three weeks, the Wolverines had made 10 trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line and only completed one of them with seven points.

To avoid an upset at the hands of the Boilermakers, Michigan needed to reverse its poor offensive form in the most important part of the field. It did, and the result was a 28-10 win that moves the Wolverines to 4-0 and vaults them over the biggest landmine in the early part of their conference schedule.

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Michigan’s offensive uptick came after a quarterback change. With just under five minutes remaining in the first quarter, with the score still knotted at zero, starting quarterback Wilton Speight sustained a big hit on a sack and was removed from the game. Fifth-year senior John O’Korn replaced him.

O’Korn promptly led Michigan on a 13-play, 84-yard scoring drive capped by a 12-yard touchdown pass to Zach Gentry. He guided another scoring march late in the third quarter, this one ending with sophomore Chris Evans getting into the end zone from 10 yards out. Evans put the game on ice with a 49-yard TD dash in the fourth quarter and totaled 97 yards on 14 carries (6.92 YPC).

In the aftermath of this win, attention will turn to the possibility of a quarterback competition between Speight and O’Korn. Knowing Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, he won’t be quick to offer clarity on the situation. The Wolverines have two weeks until their next game, at home against in-state rival Michigan State.

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​O’Korn gave Michigan’s offense some life, completing 18 of his 26 throws for 270 yards, but it’s important to keep in mind he did it against a defense that entered Saturday rated 83rd nationally in yards allowed per play. For now, it’s more important to focus on the fact that the Wolverines at the very least seem to have another capable option at quarterback.

This game, situated at the outset of the league schedule and several weeks before Michigan’s most challenging Big Ten tests (at Penn State, Ohio State), is the sort of sneakily treacherous tilt young teams can lose if they relax. Instead, the Wolverines stifled an explosive Purdue offense for their first true road win of the season.

O’Korn’s performance is encouraging in the context of Michigan’s offensive malaise during non-league play. Now the Wolverines need to build on it, whether with Speight or O’Korn under center.

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