Jim Harbaugh opened his second season as head coach of the Michigan Wolverines on Friday with the team's spring game, won by the Maize, 14-13, on Friday night in Ann Arbor.
Expectations are understandably high for the Wolverines this season. Harbaugh made an immediate impact on the program, leading them to a 10-3 record in 2015, their most wins since 2011.
Harbaugh kept the momentum going in recruiting, with 247Sports ranking Michigan's incoming class as the nation's fifth-best. The biggest question for the team heading into 2016 is what will happen at quarterback with Jake Rudock departing after his senior season.
Transfer John O'Korn, who spent two years at Houston, was tapped to start for the Blue team. He seems to have the inside track on the starting job, earning glowing praise from Wolverines offensive coordinator Tim Drevno earlier this week, per Michigan Football:
It doesn't hurt that O'Korn has shown excellent skills at the college level in the past. He was Houston's starter in 2013 and threw for 3,117 yards and 28 touchdowns in 13 games.
O'Korn did make some excellent throws in the game, including a beautiful sideline pass to Drake Harris after Harris got past Kenneth Sloss.
Garrett Fishaw of Maize N Brew did highlight one area that O'Korn will need to get better at if he wants to be a more consistent passer:
Yet O'Korn's scrambling ability isn't necessarily a detriment. Harbaugh did not have the most dynamic pocket passers in San Francisco with Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick, yet he made things work with his system.
The Wolverines weren't afraid to use some trickery with O'Korn in order to get the Blue team on the board, per Michigan Football:
After being held scoreless until the game's final drive, O'Korn came back to life when the Blue team needed him. He scored on a scramble play, speaking of his legs, with less than 10 seconds remaining to make it a 14-13 game.
The Maize was called for an offside penalty before Blue could get its initial two-point conversion attempt off. Moving the ball inside the two-yard line, the Maize defense stepped up in a big way to secure the win, per Michigan Football:
Junior Wilton Speight was under center for the Maize team. He has limited experience, appearing in just five games last year and completing nine of his 25 attempts, but put together an excellent response drive to tie the score at seven in the second quarter.
Speight and sophomore wide receiver Grant Perry had excellent chemistry on that scoring drive, with both earning praise from Fishaw:
Perry has the potential to be Michigan's breakout star in the passing game this season. He had 14 catches for 128 yards in six games last year, with his best performance coming against a strong Florida defense in the Citrus Bowl (five catches, 51 yards and one touchdown).
Yet when the Maize went for the score, Speight looked to Michigan's star tight end Jake Butt over the middle, per Michigan Football:
Butt's return will be the key to Michigan's offense in 2016. Even with last year's leading receiver, Amara Darboh, back, Butt is the safety net over the middle for the Wolverines quarterback, whomever it ends up being, to look at when the outside playmakers aren't open.
Speight was not afraid to take matters into his own hands when necessary, as he scored Maize's second touchdown of the game in the third quarter to give the team a 14-7 lead, prompting a glowing response from Brandon Justice of Maize N Brew:
While there will be time to focus on the quarterback situation in the coming months, Michigan's defense was the main reason this team had success last year. The Wolverines allowed 16.4 points per game, sixth-best in the nation.
That unit only figures to get better in 2016 with the addition of star defensive tackle Rashan Gary, who did not play but got a superstar ovation from the crowd at halftime, per Dustin Johnston of UMHoops.com:
The defense on both sides looked strong in the spring game, highlighted by the Maize's final stop on the potential go-ahead two-point conversion.
Harbaugh has a clear formula for success, whether at the college or NFL levels. He wants to run the ball, have a quarterback who is capable of making plays without making mistakes and pound opponents into submission on defense.
Friday didn't do anything to suggest Michigan's keys to success in 2016 will be any different. The Wolverines have a loaded roster and are ready to compete with Ohio State and Michigan State for the Big Ten title.
Star defender Jabrill Peppers provided what essentially amounts to Michigan's mission statement for 2016 after the game, per Michigan Football: "We want to out compete, out work and out challenge our opponents. We all want to win."
Speaking about himself, per MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner, Peppers believes he's grown into a more mature football player and person heading into 2016. The safety came into his own last season, recording 10 passes defensed, so it's scary to think how high his ceiling can climb.
On the quarterback battle, running back De'Veon Smith specifically singled out Speight before giving praise to all of Michigan's signal-callers, per Michigan Football: "Wilton has definitely impressed this spring. All of the quarterbacks have."
It's far too early to make any declarations about where Harbaugh, who did not speak to the media after the game, will go with his quarterback. He knows what he wants from the position and will not be afraid to do what is necessary for his team to be as successful as possible in 2016.