Ann Arbor — Defensive secondary coaches across the country must have cringed a bit in collective sympathy after watching two teams in consecutive weeks lose to BYU on last-minute completions.
Those have been the work of BYU freshman Tanner Mangum, the 22-year-old freshman who has taken over at quarterback in relief of Taysom Hill, whose season ended with a foot injury in the opener.
Mangum, who displays not only a strong arm but also his ability to escape and move out the pocket to make magic, brings his game to Michigan Stadium on Saturday.
And Mike Zordich, one of Michigan's two secondary coaches, is impressed with Mangum and his 42-yard Hail Mary with no time left to beat Nebraska and his 35-yard throw in the final seconds to beat Boise State.
"It's pretty unheard of," Zordich said Wednesday. "You watch the Nebraska game, just (an) unbelievable play. Unbelievable throw. You watch the Boise game, there's more than just the last play in the Boise game. There's three or four third downs where he's running, scrambling, and connecting on third and long and just breaking the back of Boise.
"It's tough to watch, especially as a secondary coach, to see those kind of throws from the quarterback. But it just adds to our challenge."
The Wolverines practice their Hail Mary defense each week, so that will be part of their focus today and Friday.
Zordich said Hail Marys are completed because "guys relax" in coverage.
"Guys think, 'It's not going to come my way,' and they don't do what they're supposed to do," Zordich said. "If you watch the Nebraska game, and I'm not picking on anybody because it certainly can happen to anybody, but one guy's just watching. He's watching the game, and you just can't do that. That's why we stress it and why we practice it."
Zordich is dumbfounded about how some players can just watch the play evolve without playing it properly.
"I'm sure all coaches wish they knew (why that happens), but it's hard to watch, I know that," he said.
'Hell of an arm'
The combination of Mangum's strong arm and ability to run and pass and the collection of big receivers for BYU has given Zordich and the defensive backs plenty to think about.
"He's got a hell of an arm," Zordich said. "This will be a really big challenge."
Quarterback John O'Korn, a transfer from Houston who must sit out this fall per NCAA rules, has provided the quarterback look for the Michigan defense.
"He's got a pretty good arm, he's pretty athletic, so in certain situations when we have time in practice we work a scramble drill just to get him moving around and guys running vertical routes and taking off from short routes," Zordich said of O'Korn. "We're trying to duplicate it. It's a hard thing to duplicate."
Using the eyes
Safety Jabrill Peppers is praised for his talent, but after the opener at Utah, Zordich said he can't freestyle and get away with things he did in high school.
"I'm sure when Pep played high school he was able to just go play and make plays because he was the best athlete, the fastest kid out there," Zordich said. "Things level out here, and he has learned and is learning to play with his eyes. Eyes are an important part of every player on this team. You have to have great eyes to play this game."