ANN ARBOR, Mich. - It doesn't take long to separate the contenders from the pretenders in college football, and with a third of the season in the rearview mirror, it's clear Michigan has the tools to compete at the highest level.
The Wolverines are 4-0 heading into the bye week, and Jim Harbaugh has put together one of the top defensive units in the country.
But it hasn't been all sunshine and roses for Michigan. The offense is inconsistent and the passing game has been borderline awful. Since he stepped on the field against Florida, it's been a roller coaster ride for starting quarterback Wilton Speight
Speight's accuracy issues
It's almost impossible to hide a quarterback's flaws when his first two errant passes are picked off and returned for touchdowns in the opening game of the season.
Speight's back-to-back pick-sixes against Florida came on inaccurate passes that were thrown too high for his receivers. While Michigan came back to win the game, the poor throws gave Florida a chance in a game the Wolverines dominated from start to finish.
Wilton Speight #3 of the Michigan Wolverines is helped off the field after being injured while passing in the first quarter of a game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium on September 23, 2017. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
For a team that's built on defense, special teams and controlling field position, crushing turnovers simply can't happen.
Speight has had plenty of good moments this season. He hit Nick Eubanks in stride later in the opener for a 48-yard game. He threw a similar dime to Kekoa Crawford on the first drive against Cincinnati for a 43-yard touchdown. With the game on the line in the third quarter, he led Grant Perry perfectly across the middle for a 33-yard score.
But the consistency just hasn't been there.
Speight missed several open receivers against Cincinnati, especially in the red zone. While his stats improved against Air Force, he still couldn't get into a rhythm, and the Wolverines didn't have a passing touchdown.
John O'Korn shines at Purdue
When Speight was knocked out of the game against Purdue because of a late hit in the backfield, Harbaugh turned to backup quarterback John O'Korn with the game still very much in doubt.
When O'Korn entered the game, Michigan had punted on its first three drives and the game was scoreless. Well, the fifth-year senior calmly completed all five of his pass attempts as he led the Wolverines down the field on an 85-yard touchdown drive.
INJURY UPDATE: 3 important players injured in Michigan's win over Purdue
O'Korn wasn't finished. In the second half he led three more touchdown drives by taking advantage of Michigan's advantage in the short passing game. O'Korn was comfortable running the offense, and he made almost all the right decisions.
He finished with 270 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception while completing 18 of 26 passes.
Breaking down O'Korn's performance
The statistics are impressive, but they don't tell the full story of how well O'Korn played when Michigan desperately needed him.
John O'Korn #8 of the Michigan Wolverines throws a pass in the second quarter of a game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium on September 23, 2017 in West Lafayette, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
O'Korn excelled in all the facets where Michigan has struggled this season. He was extremely accurate downfield and executed the short, easy throws consistently. O'Korn demonstrated great accuracy when he threaded the needle to Sean McKeon during Michigan's third touchdown drive and on a pair of passes to Zach Gentry.
He also adds a new dimension to Michigan's offense with his mobility, which he uses in two different ways. At times, O'Korn uses his legs to escape pressure, but keeps his eyes downfield as he did when he evaded a sack, rolled out and hit Grant Perry on a huge play that turned a near disaster deep in Michigan territory into the start of a touchdown drive.
O'Korn can also scramble when he has to. His best run of the night was a 12-yard dash in which he got outside, stiff-armed a Purdue defender to the ground and plowed through a tackler to gain four extra yards.
Is it time for a quarterback change?
Speight earned his position as Michigan's starter last season, but it's only a matter of time before some of the big mistakes come back to bite the Wolverines this season. If he comes back fully healthy after the bye week, what evidence is there that he has fixed the issues that have plagued him through four games?
For the first time, Harbaugh has another viable option, and he essentially has to give it a chance.
Harbaugh doesn't ask a lot out of his quarterbacks. They need to execute play action, made the correct reads and complete short passes to open targets crossing the field. On Saturday, that's exactly what O'Korn did.
The Wolverines have the bye week to figure out a timetable for Speight's return, and decide what they'll do moving forward. But Michigan's offense was impressive for the first time Saturday, and it had everything to do with the play of John O'Korn.
Copyright 2017 by WDIV ClickOnDetroit - All rights reserved.