UM mailbag: Quarterback options, Harbaugh hot seat

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Quarterback John O'Korn was a popular topic in this week's Michigan football mailbag.

Even though the defense is coming off its worst game of the season in the 42-13 loss at Penn State, the questions are still about John O’Korn, John O’Korn, John O’Korn, oh, and Brandon Peters and even Dylan McCaffrey. We also look down the schedule (yes, past Rutgers, Minnesota and Maryland). Here’s this week’s mailbag:

Question: What makes O'Korn a better game day choice than Peters or McCaffrey?  — @MaltoMarko

Answer: MM (who has the cool Maltese cross avatar), O’Korn has more game experience. He’s a fifth-year, had all those starts as a freshman and a third of the way into his sophomore season, so that counts. Is he more athletic than those two, who we really haven’t seen, except for Peters in the spring game and McCaffrey in high school? Probably not. The ceiling is very high for the two younger players. You can’t throw Peters in there to play more than a series or two, and you definitely don’t want to burn McCaffrey’s redshirt. O’Korn looked more composed last week at Penn State in an environment that could cause a lot of quarterbacks to fall apart.

Q. For Michigan what now? Play for next year and get young QB Peters experience or forge ahead with O'Korn?  — @RdotPaige

A. I am absolutely not a believer in playing for next year if that means sacrificing instead of salvaging what you can from this season, and there’s still plenty of season left with five regular-season games. Now, by forging ahead with O’Korn, it doesn’t mean they can’t get valuable game reps for Peters. In fact, I think they should, and I think they will have that opportunity. I know there’s the camp that thinks, well, O’Korn is a fifth-year guy, so time to move along, but that sends a terrible message to the other seniors on the team. They still have to fight for this season.

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Q. On a sale of very to very, very … how dumb are people who want our coach fired? — @Uber_Jones

A. Jamie, I’d go with very, very, very, even though that wasn’t an option. And is that legit? Have people gone that far to think that’s an option? First off, who would be better for the program? I can’t think of a coach off the top of my head who would be an improved fit. Is upheaval what this program needs right now — AGAIN? How is it healthy to get on this coaching carousel with no end in sight? I know no one wants to hear the “youth thing” but it is a young team that suffered injuries to its starting left tackle last season and starting quarterback and receiver this year. Very, very, very, very!

Q. Why has the progress of the offensive line been so inconsistent? — @jblanx

A. Perhaps the most important question. They weren’t ready for the loss of Grant Newsome at left tackle last season — imagine if he were back this year and how that would have shaped the offensive line this year with only two new starters and Mason Cole back at his best position, center? All that said, I think we can question both coaching and development — hard to put it on just one. I think they’ve recruited some good linemen, some freshmen who I’m glad they didn’t rush into the lineup. They’re finally getting some depth, and that’s been an O-line issue for many seasons now, so I want to say let’s see where they go next year. But it’s hard to avoid how unproductive and inconsistent this group has been, especially with two line coaches.

Q. Has O'Korn been practicing throwing long passes downfield this week? Can he throw them? Who can catch them? Zach Gentry/Donovan Peoples-Jones? — @TerriDorsey1

A. Oh, Terri — O’Korn can’t catch a break from you, either?  (See what I did there?)  Let’s talk about the receivers. Separation has been an issue for them and drops, and then there are flashes. Boy, they miss Tarik Black, but Peoples-Jones is coming along, and Kekoa Crawford last week made a great catch. I will keep saying this until I am out of breath, but they need to use Zach Gentry more. I know he dropped one too, but his upside is tremendous. I don’t think you want to tempt O’Korn to try too much deep, but if they could repeat some of the play-calling in the second half of the Purdue game and rekindle that production, that would go a long way for the offense.

Q. Who do we miss more: Tyrone Wheatley Sr. or Jedd Fisch? — @bongiornomd

A. Philip, I’ve wondered about this one a lot myself. I think Wilton Speight misses Jedd Fisch — they had a good rapport and that counts for a great deal with the quarterback. I’m going to answer Tyrone Wheatley. He was a great back, knows how important pass protection is and what it takes to be a force in pass-pro. Not taking anything away from Jay Harbaugh, but I think Wheatley was a great plus on the staff.

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Q. You have a beat on the team. How is the team morale at this point? — @Leroys_bar

A.  It really seems fine, Gregory. I will say this week that it felt like the offensive players seemed more ticked off than usual around the media. They’re not thrilled with their performances, and they agree there seems to be a breakdown on each play. All that said, they all seem determined. I don’t sense a letdown or anyone throwing in the towel.

Brandon Peters

Q. Do you see Michigan beating Wisconsin or Ohio State? Is it playoffs or bust for the Wolverines next year? — @IndyJeffrey

Q. Does Michigan beat Wisconsin and/or OSU this year? If not, is four losses acceptable? — @JRCurrier26

A. I’m bundling the two of you. So, in my preseason picks I went out on a bit of a limb and picked Michigan to beat Wisconsin. Of those final two, even though that game is on the road, I still think Michigan has a chance. The Badgers are a strong run team, no doubt, but I do think that plays into Michigan’s strength. Their defense is better than I thought it would be, even with the change at coordinator heading into the season and a couple injuries. And no, four losses are never acceptable. Remember the four, four-loss seasons in the 1990s? As far playoffs or bust next year … how about focusing on a Big Ten title first. That’s got to be goal No. 1, and maybe you assume if you get that, the playoff bid is the natural next step.

Q. Does the lack of playing time for “top recruits” like Brandon Peters and Kareem Walker mean they are not developing as they should? If so, is that more on the coaching staff? Or the kids themselves? — @TheExtraPointFF

A. Ben, I don’t think it means they’re not developing. Harbaugh said Walker was slowed early while he “worked through” some injury, and Peters is coming along. I really thought they’d be able to “develop” him more with real game reps if they had built leads in games I projected would be big-lead games, and that hasn’t happened. So in an extreme way, that’s on the coaches. Now, if Peters hasn’t shown enough in practice to get him more playing time so far, that’s on him. And for Walker, Jay Harbaugh said he should get more playing time against Rutgers.

Q. Do you think Speight is the starter going into the spring? Does Peters or McCaffrey transfer? — @MikeCandela33

A. Going into the spring, sure. But this is going to be a really, really good quarterback competition. Can’t you feel it? Do not sleep on McCaffrey making a lot of noise. Will it be enough from either of the younger QBs? What did Jim Harbaugh say at the end of his news conference Monday — “Crystal ball … don’t have one.”

Q. If Brandon Peters were a Star Wars character, who would he be? — @FingerootB

A. Brad, I have been thinking about this and thinking about this ALL day (yes, I have). I’m going with this — the young Luke we meet at the home of his aunt and uncle. He’s young, raw, but clearly has talent. And he needs Obi-Wan Kenobi to help him realize his ability.