October 27th, 2017 (Posted 10/30)
Stubborn Harbaugh sticks with O’Korn
rather than pressing the reset button
By KEITH GAVE
The Michigan Wolverines finished 10-3 in each of coach Jim Harbaugh’s first two seasons, and with two losses already they’ll be lucky to finish that well again this season. Now his young, shockingly unranked team is at a crossroads.
Quarterback John O’Korn has probably done the best he could have with a young team. His inexperienced offensive line couldn’t protect him in the 42-13 loss last week at Penn State. He was sacked seven times, in large part because his receivers were unable to get open.
O’Korn has six games remaining in his collegiate career. Then Harbaugh will have to turn the offense over to one of his youngsters – unless he can recruit another retread from another university to guide his team, much like Jake Rudock and O’Korn in recent seasons.
Maybe it’s time for a reset. Time to start looking ahead, beyond this season. Perfect timing, in fact, with woebegone Rutgers next up on Michigan’s schedule, followed by Minnesota and Maryland. Those are three winnable games – if a kid like Brandon Peters is as good as advertised when Harbaugh, the quarterback whisperer, recruited him. Harbaugh compared Peters, a 6-feet-5, 220-pound pro-style quarterback, favorably to Andrew Luck, whom he coached at Stanford.
So get the kid some experience. Prep him for a true baptism under fire against Wisconsin and Ohio State in the final two weeks of the regular season – games the Wolverines will be hard-pressed to win behind O’Korn, who by the way started the season as the No. 2 quarterback behind injured Wilton Speight.
But no, Harbaugh says. O’Korn will start against the 23-point underdog Scarlet Knights. Peters remains the backup, getting backup reps in practice, still one snap away from the starter’s job.
Sure, we all know Jim Harbaugh is the smartest guy in the room wherever he’s standing. Don’t believe me? Just ask him.
But if his team builds a big lead against Rutgers, as expected, and Peters doesn’t get some work, Harbaugh is leaving himself open for more criticism from the wolves already howling about the upset loss to visiting Michigan State and the embarrassment in Happy Valley.
Michigan’s future under Harbaugh begins now. His honeymoon is over.
Michigan (5-2, 2-2) vs. Rutgers (3-4, 2-2)
At Michigan Stadium
TV/Radio: BTN; WQON-FM (100.3)
Line: Wolverines minor-23
Prediction: Michigan 34, Rutgers 9
No. 16 Michigan State (6-1, 4-0 Big Ten) at Northwestern (4-3, 2-2)
3:30 p.m., Saturday
Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois
Line: Spartans plus-1
Far be it from me to question the oddsmakers when it comes to college football, but I have to ask: What do they know that we don’t?
The No. 16-ranked Spartans visit Evanston on Saturday at a 1-point underdog to the unranked Wildcats, who enter the game 2-2 in the Big Ten, with losses against powerhouses Wisconsin and Penn State.
Both teams survive on the strength of their defenses. Michigan State has been dominating on that side of the ball in all four Big Ten victories this season. Northwestern ranks fourth in the conference, allowing just 94.5 yards per game on the ground, so LJ Scott might find the going tough.
This should be a conservative, low-scoring affair like the Spartans played in Ann Arbor – without the monsoon. The difference? Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke. With the game on the line, he’ll make enough plays to provide the margin of victory, however slight. Because that’s what he does.
Prediction: Michigan State 14, Northwestern 12
Detroit Lions (3-3) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2)
830 p.m., Sunday
At Ford Field, Detroit
TV/Radio: NBC; WQON-FM (100.3)
Line: Lions plus-3 ½
The not-quite-ready-for-prime-time Lions take center stage before a national TV audience in prime time – in each of the next two weeks. Sunday they take on the Steelers, suddenly playing like one of the dominant teams in the NFL again. Next week: division rival Green Bay, injury-riddled every bit as much as Detroit has been this season.
The Lions have to find a way to win one of them to finish a brutal first-half at .500 or above, allowing them to feast on a much easier second half and compete for a playoff berth. But their best chance at a win in the next two weeks might be, of all places, in Green Bay a week from Monday.
Led by two weapons familiar in our neighborhood – running back Le’Veon Bell (Michigan State) and receiver Antonio Brown (Central Michigan) – quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s job is a lot easier, especially against a defense that is still banged up even coming off a bye week. Bell and Brown are two of the best in the game at their positions, and if the Lions aren’t careful this could get ugly in much the same way they unraveled in their 52-38 loss at New Orleans before their break.
The best outcome for the Lions on Sunday is to get through it without any serious injuries. Already, they’re losing the war of attrition, and they can’t afford much more if they hope to make the playoffs.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 30, Detroit 23