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
Michigan quarterback John O’Korn, preparing for his first start of the season, has been readying himself for this moment all season.
Speaking during his weekly appearance Wednesday morning on “The Jamie and Stoney Show” on 97.1, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said there is not, however, more on O’Korn’s shoulders than any other player as the Wolverines get ready to face in-state rival Michigan State under the lights Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
“Like a lot of us going into this game, it’s a big game,” Harbaugh said on 97.1. “There’s a lot on the line for the team and personally. I’m sure (O’Korn is) going in looking at it that way. What somebody does, they prepare themselves, understanding the game plan, understanding the opponents, putting themselves in the best position to be successful in the game. Recommending that all his focus and energy are on that. Not necessarily the outside factors of the game. Just the game. Concentrate on doing his job and playing the position.”
Harbaugh said that there are inherent challenges every practice, every week for backups at any positions to stay as focused and prepare as a starter.
O’Korn stepped in late in the first quarter at Purdue nearly two weeks ago when starting quarterback Wilton Speight was knocked out of the game with an unspecified injury. Speight will miss “multiple games,” Harbaugh said this week, and O’Korn is the starter with Brandon Peters as the backup.
“You’re better to be prepared and have that opportunity not come than to have the opportunity come and not be prepared,” Harbaugh said. “It’s much easier said than done. Some can do it, some can’t. John had that opportunity to come in two weeks ago against Purdue. He was not the starter, he was the backup quarterback. I’m sure he’s heard that old saying, you’re one play away when you’re the backup quarterback. You don’t know when that opportunity is going to come, but it came and he was prepared. The proof was there that he did that. That’s not easy. Not all players do that, but he certainly did, and it was much to his benefit and the team’s benefit.”
The Wolverines did not play last Saturday, giving O’Korn time to get more adjusted to his role as the starter.
“Now he knows that game is coming and that he’s going to get more reps and the same for Brandon Peters, who’s now the backup quarterback,” Harbaugh told “The Jamie and Stoney Show.” “He’s getting the backup reps and Dylan McCaffrey is getting the third-team reps. That helps in that way. You know (you’re the starter). You don’t expect them to prepare any differently.
“Probably the biggest compliment you can give John O’Korn, there has been no change from the way he was in spring ball to the way he was in training camp to the way he was in the first game, the second game, the third game, the fourth game. He’s the same John O’Korn we’ve seen each and every week, nothing’s changed, because he’s been preparing like he was the starter each of the those weeks and months.
Harbaugh was asked if there’s an easier transition with the other pieces of the offensive personnel because O’Korn has prepared so diligently.
“They believe in John,” he said. “They’ve had a lot of time on task with John as the quarterback. I hate to use the word easy. I’m trying to come up with a better word.”
Jamie Samuelsen offered “comfortable”.
“No, gosh, that’s even worse,” Harbaugh said, laughing. “There’s just some words that just don’t resonate to me in football.”
“My bad,” Samuelsen said.
“My bad is a third one,” Harbaugh said, still laughing. “My bad is also one of those — what does that mean? People say the word ‘my bad’ and everything’s going to be OK, we just move on. Easy, I don’t correlate with football. Comfortable, never associate that with football, and my bad is one of those that don’t resonate as well.”
Here are some other highlights from the show:
■ On whether the Michigan-Michigan State is a bigger deal than when he played: “It was big then. It really was. I remember being a kid here, 10 to 16 years old, my dad was coaching on the Michigan staff, it was big then. It’s one of those great rivalries.”
■ On whether there’s a routine change for the players for a night game: “We do advise sleeping in on game day and cutting the day somewhat in half so you’re not up at 8 in the morning. The worst thing you can do is start watching other games and you get emotionally wrapped up in other games. We’ll get up a little bit later, we’ll have some meetings in the late morning. We’ll get three good meals in the players before they play the game. We’ll schedule in time to get off their feet, too. Maybe even take a nap if they can to shorten the day so they’re not becoming so emotionally ramped up. Trying to avoid that before they really need to. We can’t really simulate that during the week because they have class. They have to get up and go to class in the morning. They can’t skip or blow off those classes.”
■ On MSU quarterback Brian Lewerke: “He was already good. He was already a good quarterback. And you see him getting better and better and better. Very good arm talent. He’s got good instincts to be a runner. Very effective as a ball carrier. He also makes big plays, has a penchant for doing that. He seems like he’s in control out there. That really shows up. That will be a big challenge for our defense and our football team.”
■ On the loss in the final 10 seconds to MSU two years ago: “There’s things in the past that you learn from and you implement and you move forward to make future you have a better — we don’t forget the past. We certainly try to learn from it in every possible way that we can.”
■ On preparing for MSU trick plays: “We do practice against it. It’s part of the defensive scheme to have eyes on, if it’s man coverage, your man. Not get tricked into taking your eyes off your eligible receiver and look into the backfield, keys for linebackers when it comes to guards pulling. If you have a zone to cover, you cover that zone first, and then come up on the run. We had a lot of practice on that the last time we played a game (two weeks ago) against Purdue. They had double-digit trick plays in that ball game. They’re allowed to run trick plays, so we’ve got to be able to defend them.”