Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Matt Charboneau look ahead to Saturday's showdown between the Michigan State Spartans and Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor. Detroit News
East Lansing — Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio had a pretty good idea of which quarterback his team would be facing this week against No. 7 Michigan.
After getting knocked from the Purdue game two weeks ago, it didn’t look to Dantonio like senior Wilton Speight would be ready to go for the Wolverines this week.
And while some coaches have a tendency to keep things like injuries quiet — especially when it involves the starting quarterback — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh made it clear on Monday this week that Speight wouldn’t be available for several weeks and that fifth-year senior John O’Korn would start against the Spartans.
“I think he took a pretty significant hit on the film,” Dantonio said of Speight. “So, I didn’t know if he would play or not. But you know, I just listen. I try not to react to things. I just know who is playing now, O’Korn, but I sort of anticipated that. I thought O’Korn played well in the game, as well.”
That he did, completing 18 of 26 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown as Michigan overcame a 10-7 halftime deficit to outscore the Boilermakers 21-0 in the second half.
For a Michigan offense that has struggled this season, O’Korn’s arrival appeared to add a spark. How much that changes the way Michigan State prepares, however, could be negligible.
“I don’t know if that changes who they are offensively or what they are going to call. I think they are sort of similar in a lot of ways,” Dantonio said. “I didn’t see their offense really change. He has experience. I think he’s been in the system long enough that he probably is well versed in everything that they do. And he’s operated very successfully.”
O’Korn is now in his third year with the Wolverines after transferring from Houston. His playing time at Michigan has been limited — Saturday will be just his second start — but he had plenty of success for the Cougars.
As a freshman in 2013, O’Korn threw for 3,117 yards and set Houston freshman records for touchdown passes (28) and completions (259). He started the first five games of his sophomore season before losing the No. 1 spot, leading to his transfer to Michigan. In eight games last season, threw for 173 yards and two touchdowns while starting once.
Now that he’s the starter, the Spartans will put extra time in this week to see how he’s different from Speight, and if that affects how the Wolverines operate.
“They do what they do regardless of who is in there,” Michigan State safety Khari Willis said. “They may have a few things different here and there, but we’re just going to prepare for whoever they put in there. Hopefully, we’ll be ready.
“We just try to see what type of player he is, see where we could try to take advantage of some of the things that they do. We’re coached to prepare for whoever, and I feel like that’s what we’re doing.”
Michigan State special teams coach Mark Snyder said last week the goal on kickoffs is to get a touchback, keeping teams from setting up a return.
The Spartans, however, have not been very effective in that area. Fifth-year senior Brett Scanlon handles the kickoffs, but on 18 attempts this season he has just two touchbacks while opponents are averaging 27.2 yards a return, with one taken back for a touchdown.
“I want to have faith in our kicker, but he’s got to get the ball up and he’s got to have a greater — a little bit better hang time,” Dantonio said. “That is a concern. … Some of the problems have been in coverage, as well.”
Whether Dantonio decides to make a change remains to be seen. The other options would include redshirt freshman Matt Coghlin, who handles the field goals, as well as freshman Cole Hahn and walk-ons Jack McKenna and Tyler Hunt.
“You’ve got to find ways,” Dantonio said. “We’ve got to have a better kickoff … but we’ll work towards it. We have a couple of guys working there, too, but I’d like to keep (Scanlon) in there.”