ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan quarterback John O’Korn hasn’t singlehandedly won games this season. He hasn’t lost games, either.
He is not a game-changer for the Wolverines. Instead, he has taken on the role of game manager.
O’Korn has one responsibility three games into his tenure as Michigan’s No. 1 quarterback: Don’t lose games. Get the job done, not by making splash plays or daring runs, but by making decisions that move Michigan’s offense forward.
“What [coaches] want me to do is manage the game, manage the offense,” the fifth-year senior said. “My job is to get in there, execute the offense and put points on the board. I’ve got to do a better job of that this Saturday.”
Michigan plays Saturday at No. 2 Penn State, a different caliber team than Purdue, Michigan State or Indiana.
It’s become clear that Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh wants O’Korn to take the role of being a facilitator rather than a playmaker. Consider some of the play calls in Michigan’s 27-20 overtime win at Indiana, and consider O’Korn’s 3 second-half interceptions in an Oct. 7 loss to Michigan State.
While O’Korn did take some shots down field against the Hoosiers, most of his passes were of the short variety. His 2.9 yards per pass attempt ratio isn’t flattering, and his yards per completion was 5.8. Michigan ran the ball more than 68 percent of the time against Indiana (44 rushes vs. 20 pass attempts).
O’Korn knows he still has room for improvement. He has done some self-evaluation.
“I need to pick it up,” O’Korn said. “There’s no way around it. I’m definitely not up to my own goals and aspirations. I need to pick it up, as simple as that.
“Hit the guys that are open. Run when I need to. Trust the offensive line. Really, there’s a few plays on Saturday where we had guys open and I just need to hit them.”
Michigan is 3-1 in games that O’Korn has played in this season, including starts against Michigan State and Indiana. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh looks at the bottom line when he evaluates O’Korn.
“Winning football,” Harbaugh said. “He’s well-experienced, and able to go in and operate well. He’s throwing the ball … Different game plans. Coming in and throwing in the Purdue game, he played extremely well. This game [at Indiana], no turnovers, it was huge. One hundred percent in the red zone, no sacks, avoided the plays that get you beat. That was an emphasis and I thought he did a fine job of that.”
It was about as optimistic as Harbaugh, a coach who maintains a steadfast faith in his starting quarterback, could have gotten about O’Korn, who threw for 58 yards on 10 completions against Indiana.
Penn State isn’t Indiana, and those improvements O’Korn talked about now need to be made in a matter of days — even in a matter of plays — as O’Korn needs to make a quick analysis of Penn State’s defense.
Yes, O’Korn needs to “pick it up.” But not at the expense of making mistakes. It’s OK if O’Korn doesn’t win games as long as he doesn’t lose them.