By JERAMY STOVER, Sports Editor
Between two days full of rain and snow, Mother Nature came through and delivered a beautiful night for April football.
The University of Michigan football team concluded its spring practice session with an inter-squad scrimmage in front of nearly 40,000 fans all hoping to get a glimpse of what the team may look like next year.
They certainly were entertained as the Maize team defeated the Blue team 14-13 as the game came down to one final play.
The game was tied at halftime, as each team was only able to find the end zone once in the first two eight minute quarters. On the first possession of the second half, the Maize team drove down the field and scored on a six-yard bootleg run by quarterback Wilton Speight.
Getting in his first action since transferring from Houston, quarterback John O’Korn led the Blue team down the field and rushed for a touchdown from six yards out with just eight seconds left in the game.
With it being a fun exhibition style game, the Blue team decided to go for the win on a two-point conversion. But the Maize team stuffed Henry Poggi before he reached the end zone and earned themselves a steak dinner.
“It feels real good. [There was] a lot of trash talk the last two weeks between the two teams, but it feels good to come out with the win,” Maize linebacker Mike McCray said.
Let’s breakdown some takeaways from both sides of the ball.
One of the main attractions at the spring game was the quarterback battle. Many coming into spring practice pegged O’Korn to be the presumable starter come this fall.
But Speight may have changed a lot of minds after his performance on Friday. Speight completed five passes for 40 yards and added a passing touchdown to his one rushing. He led his team by having a good control of the offense and handled pressure well by making a few key scrambles to keep drives alive.
Senior tight end Jake Butt thought Speight looked very comfortable throughout the contest.
“I think he did a great job coming in there… threw some great balls, got me a touchdown in my last spring game, so I was excited,” Butt said. “I’m excited to see how much he can develop going into the spring and summer and where he’ll be this fall.”
O’Korn completed just six of his 14 passes but led the game throwing for 93 yards. His best throw came early in the game, hitting Drake Harris along the sideline for a 30-yard pass. On the final drive with his team on the six-yard line, O’Korn had Kareem Walker alone near the sideline on back-to-back plays, but failed to see Walker open both plays. It wasn’t a bad performance for the junior transfer, but wasn’t impressive either.
Freshman Brandon Peters also saw game action on Friday, but had a tough time getting the offense going during his time on the field.
The running backs were led by the guys lower on the depth chart. Ty Isaac and Walker both made highlight plays, building their cases to get carries come fall. Isaac had a game high 83 all-purpose yards and made a 30-yard run in the third quarter showing off his speed by getting to the outside and beating the linebackers down the field.
Walker showed off his size by bulldozing over a defensive back near the end of the third quarter. He will have a tough time getting past seniors De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson on the depth chart this season, but he was more impressive than his elders in the spring game.
The receivers who shined during the game were the young tight ends. Ian Bunting led all receivers with a game high 53 receiving yards. Zach Gentry — who converted from quarterback to tight end this off-season — hauled in one catch for 19 yards. Gentry’s 6-foot-7 frame was noticeable when he was on the field. T.J. Wheatley was used predominantly as a blocking tight end and held his own against some of the older defensive players.
Maybe the biggest surprise of the night came when Shane Morris lined up at wide receiver. The first time it happened, he ran a flat route and dropped the pass thrown to him. But the second time, he received a pass behind the line of scrimmage to which he hit an open Drake Johnson in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown.
It remains to be seen if Morris will actually play receiver during the season. He’s never played another position outside of quarterback during his time at Michigan and it is doubtful he will play receiver this fall.
Like in last season’s spring game, the defense essentially “won” the spring game by keeping the offenses quiet most of the day.
The big question mark was Jabrill Peppers and what would he look like in Don Brown’s defense. Peppers will move to the SAM linebacker position, but he won’t play like the traditional linebacker.
“It’s not really a new position. Just in his defense, the nickel plays more kind of like a linebacker. I’m definitely in the box a lot more and I’m definitely blitzing a lot more,” Peppers said. “I guess he’s just trying to get me around the ball… just let my instinct and my awareness take over for me.”
A standout during the game was senior linebacker McCray. After being hurt all of last season, and with the departure of much of linebacking corps, McCray will get his chance to start this season. He led all defensive players with seven tackles.
In the defensive back group, the biggest play was made by senior safety Dymonte Thomas. In the second half, Alex Malzone threw a deep pass towards the end zone that was intercepted by Thomas. The safety ran across half of the field to steal the pass away to get the ball back for his Maize team.
It was tough to read much on the defensive side of the ball since they didn’t show many different formations. Peppers chuckled when asked if today showcased a “vanilla” defense, but continued to say “when Hawaii comes rolling into town, you guys will say, ‘that’s all we’ll keep it at.’”