John O’Korn? Wilton Speight? Michigan keeps starting QB under wraps — again
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh knows who his quarterback will be when the Wolverines host Hawaii in their season opener Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
Harbaugh says his starting quarterback also knows that he will, in fact, be the starter.
“He” will either be Wilton Speight or John O’Korn.
Michigan’s players, however, say they don’t know if Speight or O’Korn will lead their team. Yet five days before kickoff against the Rainbow Warriors, that doesn’t bother the Wolverines.
“I’m mainly just going with the flow,” wide receiver Amara Darboh said Monday. “And I’m comfortable with all the quarterbacks and I think it’s good, because it’s a long season. We need to have the one starter, but we need to have guys who are ready to take on that role. You never know what can happen down the road.”
This situation is nothing new for the Wolverines. Last year prepared them for it.
In 2015, Jake Rudock and Shane Morris competed to become Michigan’s quarterback. In the week leading up to the season opener at Utah, the Wolverines didn’t disclose who would start at quarterback until moments before the game in Salt Lake City.
Rudock got the go-ahead, and finished 27 of 43 passing for 275 yards and was intercepted three times in a 24-17 loss to the Utes.
Even after some deemed it a shaky start, Michigan stuck with Rudock, who went on to have a stellar season with the Wolverines as a graduate transfer, finishing with 3,017 yards passing and 20 touchdowns (249 for 389 passing, nine interceptions) to help Wolverines to a 10-3 season and a win over Florida in the Citrus Bowl.
Rudock had college experience to fall back on, as a fifth-year transfer from Iowa. O’Korn also has it as a transfer from Houston; in 2013, he threw for 3,117 yards and 28 touchdowns, but was intercepted eight times in 2014 and lost his starting job at Houston to Greg Ward five games into the season.
O’Korn sat out last season because of NCAA transfer rules and practiced with Michigan’s scout team, simulating opposing quarterbacks.
Speight has some college experience — in seven games last season, he was 9 for 25 passing for 73 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
In a 29-26 win Oct. 31 at Minnesota, Speight replaced Rudock and helped steer Michigan’s offense to one of its more notable wins, decided by the Wolverines’ goal-line stand in the final seconds.
What stands out about Speight this year is his raw talent, his size (6-foot-6, 243 pounds), a willingness to work on the fly and a keen sense of decision-making on the field. In fact, when he was a high school quarterback at Collegiate School in Richmond, Va., his coach entrusted him to make the calls, without further consultation from his coaches.
Still, there are unknowns, just as there were in 2015 with Michigan’s quarterback situation. Harbaugh and his staff could be setting up for a similar breakout by this season’s starting quarterback. And Harbaugh is a coach who is known for his unique approach and for some of his unorthodox practices.
Until a starter is officially announced, however, the Wolverines won’t let it faze them.
“For us, it really doesn’t make a difference,” tight end Jake Butt said. “For other teams, it could, if you’re looking at a pocket passer versus a dual-threat quarterback. But Wilton and John bring the same style of play to the offense. So, for us, we’re just focused on doing our jobs.”
Rachel Lenzi covers Michigan sports for Landof10.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @RLenziAJC