Michigan quarterback John O'Korn talks about executing the offense. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor – Michigan quarterback John O’Korn knows he needs to produce more.
O’Korn has started the last two games after taking over late in the first quarter at Purdue when starter Wilton Speight was injured. Michigan is coming off an overtime victory at Indiana in which the Wolverines relied on the run and defense while mustering just 58 yards passing.
And now they travel to State College to face No. 2 Penn State in a night game “white out” at Beaver Stadium.
“Yeah, I need to pick it up, there’s no way around it,” O’Korn said Monday when asked to assess his play the last two weeks. “I need to pick it up, simple as that.”
O’Korn has not had a touchdown pass since early in the Purdue game, and in the second-half heavy rain at home against Michigan State, he had three interceptions.
He is 45-of-82 for 563 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. While O’Korn admits he needs to hit open receivers, the receivers have not always fulfilled their responsibilities and have dropped passes along the way.
“Hit the guys that are open,” O’Korn said when asked what in particular he needs to improve. “Run when I need to. Trust the offensive line. There were a few plays Saturday we had guys open, just need to hit ’em.”
Michigan quarterback John O'Korn talks about managing the offense, and limiting mistakes. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Michigan relied on its run game against Indiana, and Karan Higdon produced with 200 yards, including three touchdowns. He took the first play of overtime and bounced outside when he realized there was nothing in the middle of the field and scored on the 25-yard run for the go-ahead score.
While O’Korn certainly has struggled, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh chose to illuminate the bright spots from the last game, including not turning the ball over and not taking a sack.
“Avoided the plays that get you beat, and that was an emphasis,” Harbaugh said of O’Korn. “I thought he did a fine job of that.”
But what sticks out is the limited passing yards against Indiana and the lack of a touchdown throw in the past two games. That doesn’t faze O’Korn.
“I don’t think I’m very concerned about the stats, and I don’t think they are either,” he said. “What they want me to do is manage the game, manage the offense, and things like delay of games and turnovers can’t happen. You saw the turnovers improve at Indiana. Now we’ve got to manage the play clock a little bit better and just hit guys when they’re open, execute the plays that are called. Our run game’s rolling, our defense is rolling. It’s on us as a unit, quarterbacks and receivers, to pick it up.”
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh talks about his starting quarterback, John O'Korn. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
O’Korn is certainly aware he missed Donovan Peoples-Jones on a deep route in the first quarter against Indiana, but as Harbaugh has pointed out, O’Korn also has had “Houdini” plays at Purdue and Indiana when he avoided a sure sack and made big third-down conversions.
“We’re not going to take a shot on every single play,” O’Korn said. “There might be a guy on a go route, but our object of that play is to hit a five-yard flat route. Just executing the play, how it’s called, the purpose of the play. But when you get opportunities – the one on the first drive to Donovan on the go route he’s wide open sticks out – I gotta hit him.”
O’Korn said he has been getting into the groove of being the starting quarterback and getting more comfortable with his routine and game preparation.
“It becomes more natural each week,” he said.
During preseason camp he credited first-year pass-game coordinator Pep Hamilton with rebuilding his confidence that was shaken after being benched at Houston.
It is Hamilton’s even-mannered way of dealing with O’Korn that has allowed the quarterback to get more comfortable in his role.
“He’s just been probably the most consistent person in our building,” O’Korn said. “For me, that’s been huge. Every time I talk to him on the phone between series, he’s the exact same person, he has the exact same tone. In between series, he’s been really encouraging whether it’s a touchdown, interception, fumble, three and out, field goal. No matter what the outcome of the drive before, he’s been the same person. That’s been huge for me.”
And now it’s on to No. 2 Penn State for the second of Michigan’s back-to-back road games. For O’Korn, maybe it’s not about the stats, but it’s about the wins, and Saturday night would be an important one.
It doesn’t get easier for Michigan, either. The Wolverines face three teams currently ranked in the top 10 in these final six games, including Penn State on Saturday and then at Wisconsin and home against Ohio State.
“You saw so many top teams lose this weekend,” O’Korn said. “It was kind of a wild weekend in college football. Anytime you can win on the road in college football, it’s a big thing. From here on out they’re all huge, there’s no secret about that.”