VanAssche: Despite early hiccups, Michigan may be special

By JACK VANASSCHE, Editor in Chief

It hasn’t been pretty.

Not until the second half of Michigan’s 28-10 road victory over Purdue did this team look capable of competing in a Big Ten that has three teams in the AP Top 10 along with Ohio State lurking just beyond.

It was hard before Saturday night to make the argument that this team was even good enough to finish third in the Big Ten East after floundering offensively against Cincinnati and then again against Air Force.

And then Purdue, a greatly improved team of juco and graduate transfers, were embarrassing the Wolverines in the first quarter.

The Boilermakers didn’t run up the score, because, well, they couldn’t. Michigan’s defense is elite. But Purdue frustrated Michigan by stuffing any attempted movement from its offense to a screeching halt.

Unfortunately, it took an injury to starting quarterback Wilton Speight for coach Jim Harbaugh to give backup redshirt senior John O’Korn a shot under center.

Under O’Korn, the Michigan offense looked competent for the first time in a long time.

Play calling was better, and that’s not a fault of Wilton. But O’Korn moved well in the pocket, showed great vision, and had a serviceable arm. Throwing 18-for-26 for 270 yards and a score isn’t too shabby, and his one interception was a deflected ball.

If Michigan’s offense can thrive without Speight and the injured Tarik Black, it shows that it has an above average offense — a statement that would have been laughed at a week before.

With a defense that ranks tops in the nation, a mid-grade offense is all that may be needed to make this team a legitimate playoff contender.

For example, Penn State is likely going to be the biggest threat for Michigan this season, especially as the Wolverines have to head to Happy Valley.

But if Michigan’s defense locks up Penn State’s explosive offense, all Michigan needs to have is a decent offense to match.

There are still more questions to answer during Michigan’s bye week leading up to a match up against the Spartans on Oct. 7. Who will run the offense if Speight is healthy? Will the offense continue throwing to tight ends? Will Khalid Hill get more touches? Can the defense stay strict against top-tier opponents?

Undefeated at 4-0 is just where the Wolverines would like to be, and with  special teams and defensive units as good as Michigan’s, it is possible that the Wolverines could be an elite team, even with a mediocre offense.