Michigan may need to reach for season goals with new QB
(AP) Michigan’s mission is to win the Big Ten title for the first time since 2004 and reach the playoff. If the Wolverines have to rely on a backup quarterback to do it, coach Jim Harbaugh doesn’t seem worried about it.
Wilton Speight injured his left, non-throwing shoulder in Saturday’s 14-13 loss at Iowa. Harbaugh said Speight’s status for Saturday’s home game against Indiana could be a game-time decision.
Harbaugh would not even say Speight had an injured shoulder. He acknowledged the undisclosed ailment would lead to backups John O’Korn and Shane Morris getting a majority of the snaps Monday and for at least the next couple of days.
“They’ve both had extensive practice time through the course of the year,” he said. “We’re confident they can do a good job.”
The fourth-ranked Wolverines can still reach their goals of a league title and likely a trip to the four-team playoff if they beat Indiana, win against No. 2 Ohio State on the road and win the conference title game.
Their chances of doing all that would improve with Speight, who has been excellent for the Wolverines (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) as a first-year starter this season. He completed more than 62 percent of his passes for 2,156 yards with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions.
O’Korn and Morris have played sparingly in several games, combining to complete 17 of 23 passes with two TDs and no interceptions. O’Korn started 16 games at Houston before transferring to Michigan and sitting out last season. Morris started one game as a freshman in 2013 and one game in the 2014 season under former coach Brady Hoke before becoming a seldom-used backup under Harbaugh.
“Him and Wilton are pretty similar quarterbacks,” tight end Jake Butt said. “We’re going to be running the same, exact plays.”
If Speight isn’t cleared to play, O’Korn will likely get start his first game at Michigan against the Hoosiers (5-5, 3-4).
“He has been preparing every single week as if he were the starter,” Butt said. “If his number is called, I’m confident, everyone is confident, that John will be able to get the job done.”
The Wolverines are favored to win Saturday by about four touchdowns, but will likely be underdogs on the road against the Buckeyes, who have won four straight and 11 of 12 against in the rivalry. If Michigan can reach the Big Ten championship game for the first time, it will be expected to get past the East division champion to advance to the College Football Playoff.
While Harbaugh has not talked to his team about the path to reach its goals, his players have been discussing the topic among themselves.
“Guys on the team have talked about it,” Butt said. “There’s really only one scenario, we got to win out. It’s as simple as that. If we win out and handle business, we’re right where we wanted to be.”
Harbaugh might want to hand the ball off to Chris Evans more to close the season strong. The freshman averaged 6.5 yards rushing per carry, nearly three times more than anyone else on the team, but had just eight of the team’s 35 rushing attempts against the Hawkeyes.
Michigan also could tweak its defense against the run after allowing Iowa’s one-dimensional offense to gain 164 yards on the ground and letting Michigan State’s struggling team have some success with 217 yards rushing.
“It’s something we don’t want to let happen again,” defensive tackle Matt Godin said. “We need to change it. Way too many yards. It’s definitely alarming in a way. I’m sure we’ll look at it and get it fixed. It all comes back to the defensive line and linebackers working together.”