Know Thy Enemy: O'Korn, the Michigan defense and more
Know Thy Enemy is a weekly Q&A where the perspective changes, from the eyes of the Spartans to the eyes of MSU football’s next foe. The State News asks the opposing team's student newspaper a few questions and see football through a different lense.
The Michigan Wolverines look a lot different than their 2016 counterparts. The defense no longer features Jabrill Peppers, Jourdan Lewis and Taco Charlton. Even Wilton Speight isn't going to be on the field after suffering an injury against Purdue Sept. 23.
However, there are still some familiar, dominant players even MSU fans know. The Rashan Garys of the world.
The Wolverine defense is one that should still be feared, as the unit is ranked first in the nation in total defense. The offense is more a question mark as quarterback John O'Korn takes the helm in place of Speight.
Much to the dismay of MSU fans, Michigan's still pretty good. The Wolverines are ranked as the No. 7 team in the nation heading into the primetime showdown.
Q: The Wolverines are young, much like the Spartans are. A big chunk of the defense graduated following last season, many of whom are in the NFL now. However, the defense is still in tip-top shape, arguably better than last season. How has the core played thus far?
A: I think the biggest thing about the defense that we’ve seen is that Michigan can really make strong adjustments in the second half. ... What we’ve seen is that they’ve really been able to put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks and that’s something that’s been huge for them. I think a lot of give there goes to the d-line. You see guys like Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich, two defensive ends have pretty much terrorized opponent quarterbacks so far. They’ve also seen so many different types of offenses too. I think that shows how strong Michigan’s defense really is.
Q: News hit the wave Monday when Jim Harbaugh said Wilton Speight would be out at least a few weeks, meaning John O’Korn will take the reigns at quarterback. How has looked so far and what are Michigan fans’ impression of him?
A: I think John O’Korn’s game really came out against Purdue. I think he uses his tight ends really well, probably a lot better than other QBs maybe. Obviously not having Wilton Speight is detrimental because he earned the starting position, but I think what O’Korn brings to the table is obviously his team seems to trust him really well, as does the coaches. I don’t think you’ll see John O’Korn running around the field as much or at all, really. I do think the way he plays against Purdue, coming off the bench, and completing 70 percent of his passes for 270 yards, that’s better than most people expected. I think Michigan is still in a pretty good position even though they don’t have Wilton Speight right now. A lot of that is because O’Korn played so well against Purdue. I think there are just so many different weapons on offense that there isn’t so much pressure on O’Korn.
Q: Who is the X-factor on both sides of the ball, one from the offense, one from the defense?
A: There’s no one star player on the offense. I think two position groups stand out to me that are going to be pretty crucial. The first one is at running back. Michigan kind of uses its running backs by committee, so there’s three different guys that rotate in for various different sets. Leading the running backs right now is Chris Evans, he had two rushing touchdowns against Purdue, had a really good game. But we’ve also seen guy like Ty Isaac ... he also got his first rushing touchdown last week. Kind of spreading the ball in the run game has been something that’s helped Michigan so far. I also think the tight ends are going to be pretty important. There’s a lot of tight ends Michigan uses. Perhaps most important is a guy named Zach Gentry, he used to be a quarterback and they converted to a tight end when he got here. He had a receiving touchdown against Purdue. I think he’s like 6-foot-7, so he’s a huge guy.
For defense, I think the X-factor is Devin Bush at linebacker. He has just been absolutely phenomenal for Michigan so far. He moves across the field well, goes side-to-side. And ultimately, he’s putting so much pressure on the quarterback which is why Michigan is very high up in passing yards given up. I think as long as Devin Bush continues to do what he’s done so far this season, Michigan’s defense will continue to be very strong.
Q: What is your score prediction and why?
A: I think my score prediction will probably be a low-scoring game. That’s the thing I’m most certain about. From what I know about Michigan State, I know Brian Lewerke has had a pretty decent run so far, he’s done a pretty well connecting with Felton Davis III. I think that connection is going to be pretty big for Michigan State. But I also think that Michigan’s d-line’s going to put so much pressure on Lewerke that he’s not going to have time to connect with his receivers. Similarly for Michigan’s offense, there’s just so many different ways they could score, you don’t really know where it’s going to come from.
Prediction: 19-10 Michigan