UM mailbag: Speight’s injury opens door for O’Korn

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Got a few paper cuts opening some of these mailbag questions. Lots of questions about Wilton Speight and John O’Korn, the upcoming night game against Michigan State and this defense. So here goes:

■ Question: Gut feeling on who starts next week at QB? It appeared O'Korn made quicker decisions and got more people involved in the offense — @Bigshawn1544

John O’Korn (8) appears to be the front-runner to start at quarterback Oct. 7 against Michigan State, as Wilton Speight (3) recovers from a “soft tissue” injury.

■ Answer: John O’Korn, in large part because — and I could be wrong — I don’t think Wilton Speight will be healthy enough to practice and compete. Although Jim Harbaugh didn’t tell us anything more than it was a “soft-tissue” injury, that looked like a neck injury, and who knows how long it takes to recover from that. So, I see your point that you think O’Korn earned the start, and I certainly agree with your assessment, but if Speight is healthy enough to compete, even after the Michigan State game week, those practices will determine who starts. That is, if meritocracy is the guiding approach.

■ Q: Just like San Fran, Harbaugh doesn’t make QB change until injury forces him. Would he have left Speight in entire Purdue game if not hurt? — @umichjenks

■ A: We saw in the season opener against Florida that Harbaugh sat Speight a couple series after he threw the back-to-back pick sixes. I do think if the offense kept sputtering as it had against Purdue, he would have made a change. Let’s face it — nothing was working in the first quarter when he was in.


■ Q: Does playing MSU at night change the way you practice or gameplan opposed to playing a noon or 3:30 game? — @Kev_1965

■ A: No significant changes, Kevin. The one day that’s always tough is Saturday. Lots of sitting around, and that’s the worst thing for coaches and players to deal with. They’ll stay focused with a walk-through and eat a bit later, but that’s about all. Practice weeks are pretty much set, so that likely won’t change.

■ Q: How does this year’s defense specifically their speed rank with other Michigan teams you’ve covered over the years. — @Uber_Jones

■ A: Every defense I’ve covered has always been measured against the 1997 defense and that bar is extremely high, when you consider there was a Heisman winner in Charles Woodson and a stout front seven. Different era, of course, and more run formation to face. This one is fast and swarming. There have been individuals over the years who have stood out, but the collective speed on this defense is impressive. Let’s see how this plays out in road games at Penn and Wisconsin.

Michigan wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones has three catches for 60 yards through the first four games this season.

■ Q: Will DPJ get more plays to him? He has speed and we should be utilizing it more. What happened to Jet Sweep last week? — @MikeCandela33

■ A: I really thought the Purdue game would have given Peoples-Jones plenty of reps to shine, but it really became the tight end show. It will happen. He’s too good not to utilize.

■ Q: is there any reason why there has not been more screens to running backs to utilize the speed of Evans and Higdon in the open field? — @Jright07

■ A: Jeff, kind of piggybacking off the question above regarding DPJ, this offense is very much a work in progress from the line, to the quarterback, to the running backs, etc. The coaches are still trying to piece it together, and there are definitely some solid pieces. I also think this: They haven’t shown all that much, perhaps because they are still finding out what they have or because they want to keep some cards close to the vest. This might be one of those cards, because you’re right about using their speed, especially Evans.

■ Q: What’s your assessment of MSU vs. last year — still a hot mess? Or have they solved the problems (other than fumble-itis) — @PaulHSpitz

■ A: I’ve got to believe, Paul, that last season was rock bottom for the Spartans on so many levels. From all accounts, this is a much tighter group of players, so I think “hot mess” describes last year and last year only. LJ Scott is a fine running back, but obviously he has got to clean up the fumbles.

■ Q: Wondering why Greg Frey is not calling plays?! He did such a great job in Indiana with much lesser talent. — @HoseaBulger

■ A: They’re not paying him to call plays. The $1 million-salaried coaches, Pep Hamilton and Tim Drevno, handle that. Now, Frey, like every other coach has input, and I imagine he’s added his thoughts on a weekly basis, but call plays? Not his job profile.

Q: Ian Bunting was penned to be the “next Jake Butt” this past summer. Has he just been beat by McKeon and Gentry, or has he taken a knock? — @TheBrijMSingh

■ A: That might have been me, although I don’t think I said “next Jake Butt” (at least I hope I didn’t). Bunting revealed last week he was working through some injury in the spring, and Harbaugh had said near the midpoint of camp that Bunting was finally back. So it sounds like he got a bit behind and meanwhile, those two took big steps forward.

■ Q: Over/under on the number of drunkard arrests next week? — @michmike69

■ A: Mike, the rowdy factor is what the Michigan and Michigan State athletic directors have, in the past, been worried about, and I doubt that’s changed. The big issue is because of the proximity to East Lansing, how many fans will travel to Ann Arbor without a ticket and just be there to tailgate and party. The same goes for Michigan fans. It will be more people than usual packed into Ann Arbor, because that’s the nature of a night game and there will be safety concerns.

Michigan running back Karan Higdon is third on the team with 136 yards rushing this season.

■ Q: IMO, Higdon has the best feet of all of our backs. Has ball security been the issue? — @NashCitySmitty

■ A: That hadn’t been the issue until last week. And as Chris Evans also learned this season, fumbles won’t be tolerated. I would agree with you on Higdon having great feet, but Evans is no slouch. I still subscribe to the lead back approach, but they both offer a different punch.

■ Q: Have you been to the visitors locker room at #thebighouse and if so can you rate if from 1-10 with 10 being best of course?! — @dhundley80

■ A: Instead of a star-rating system, we should have little urinal emojis, like, Purdue gets a half a urinal emoji for its rating (and yes, it is that bad). I haven’t been in Michigan’s visitors locker room in years. So mine is probably not a great perspective. I think Harbaugh knows it could be better, and that’s why he said Monday they will look at their own visitors locker room as he encourages a league-wide assessment.

■ Q: Does James Foug have any eligibility past this season? He’s been great to have with the hangtime he gets. — @BleedMaizeBlue

■ A: You’re right about the hangtime he gets, but you’re not going to like this — this season is it.

■ Q: It seems we haven’t through a quick slant since (Roy Roundtree). Are we avoiding the middle of the field to avoid INTs?

A: I think after the first game they perhaps had some concerns. A high ball over the middle could be major trouble. But I don’t think they’ve completely avoided it. Time will tell going forward with the quarterback situation.

■ Q: Which offensive lineman needs to improve the most during Michigan’s “improvement week”? —@Greymarch

■ A: I would say two — right tackle Nolan Ulizio and right guard Michael Onwenu, but since I think you’re making me choose, I’d say the latter. That’s why I think we’re seeing the “platooning” at that spot with Jon Runyan.