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Football: Success of Michigan offense to come down to man under center

Michigan’s Brandon Peters being taken to the locker room after a hit during third quarter action against Wisconsin Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis.Wisconsin won, 24-10. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Michigan is not considered one of the powerhouse offenses in college football.

This season, the Wolverines’ success has largely survived based on the strength of their defense, and any offensive production has come on the ground.

The quarterback play has not been a strength for Michigan. Both previous starters John O’Korn and Wilton Speight struggled through much of their time under center, particularly the former who replaced Speight after an injury earlier in the season.

However, when redshirt freshman Brandon Peters started for the Wolverines, he was serviceable. At least, he was until he was knocked out of the Wolverines’ 24-10 loss to Wisconsin and put into concussion protocol.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said during his Monday press conference that Peters hasn’t been cleared by doctors out of concussion protocol to resume normal practice and said O’Korn will start for Peters should he be unable to play. He added Speight’s status is still up in the air for this weekend.

The quarterback situation for Michigan could dictate how the offense does against Ohio State. The Wolverines do not need a star quarterback to beat Ohio State, but they cannot handle someone like O’Korn starting for them and drastically holding them back.

But they might not have a choice. The saga under center has been an ongoing storyline for Harbaugh and his staff all season long, with the starting signal-caller becoming somewhat of a juggling act due to injuries and inconsistencies.

The Wolverines began the year with Speight as the starting quarterback, who returned to the role after manning it last season. In his four games as the starter, he completed 54.3 percent of his passes for 581 yards. He had three touchdown passes and two interceptions. But an injury against Purdue has kept him off the field after just four games.

His replacement, O’Korn, was far less effective. The backup from last season was a liability in his time for the Wolverines. He completed only 53.2 percent of his passes for 761 yards with just one touchdown to five interceptions. During his four starts in which he completed the game, Michigan posted a 2-2 record and averaged just 19.5 points per game.

In his fifth game starting for Michigan, he was replaced in the first quarter of the Wolverines’ game against Rutgers by Peters after completing just 3-of-6 passes and throwing an interception. Peters was a four-star pro-style quarterback in the class of 2016. The 247Sports composite rankings had him as the 61st-best recruit in the nation and sixth-best pro-style quarterback. The decision to start him was somewhat of a risk given his inexperience, but with a futile option in O’Korn and a season on the ropes, it was worth a shot.

For the most part, Peters made the decision look good. While Peters’ statistics did not jump off the page, he did what he was supposed to do. He passed effectively and provided another threat for Michigan’s offense beyond just the running backs. He only completed 57.8 percent of his passes for 486 yards, but the four touchdowns and no interceptions showed he would not hold Michigan back. But he was knocked unconscious on a hit against Wisconsin and carted off the field, leaving his status for Saturday up in the air.

Against Wisconsin, Peters was on the field for all of Michigan’s 10 points and averaged 4.17 yards per play. After he was replaced by O’Korn, the Wolverines failed to score and averaged just 2.29 yards per play.

Looking ahead to “The Game,” Michigan will need Peters, or at the very least Speight, healthy to be successful. The Wolverines will not need to rely on any of the three quarterbacks as the focal point of their offense. Michigan has held its own running the football. It has the 35th-best rushing offense with an average of 194.18 yards per game and 23 of its 31 touchdowns have come on the ground.

But for Michigan, there has to be some way of making sure Ohio State does not simply stack the box every play. If the Buckeyes can count on an inaccurate quarterback prone to mistakes like O’Korn, they could prepare for the run every play and assume the odds of them being burned through the air are slim to none.

If neither Speight nor Peters can play, Michigan will be forced to rely on O’Korn again. For Ohio State, a team that has often struggled against the aerial attack this season, having O’Korn in could be a blessing. The threat in the passing game is not nearly as significant with O’Korn at quarterback, and a potent rushing defense would be able to hone in on the strength of the Wolverines.

Michigan’s 8-3 record was not built on the back of any quarterback. But O’Korn has not won a game this season against a team with a winning record. And there’s nothing to indicate that might change Saturday should he get the nod.

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