The Wolverine

October 2016

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 32 of 75

OCTOBER 2016 THE WOLVERINE 33 he said. "It's sore, yeah, but it's no ex- cuse." Speight, like the rest of the Wolver- ines, welcomed an upgraded challenge in the third game of the season, leading up to Big Ten play. "[Colorado] came out fast," Speight said. "They hit us in the mouth quite a few times. That was big to have that be the third game of the season and have them kind of come out swinging like that — we took a few big blows, but we were able to swing back." The swings aren't going to lessen, with nine conference contests to fol- low. Speight certainly held up early on, but Michigan head coach Jim Har- baugh has also been pleased by how U-M's backups have been performing in practice. Some observers noted redshirt ju- niors John O'Korn and Shane Morris have been pushing hard and looking strong in staying ready. They each got a taste of action in the non-conference slate. O'Korn connected on 5 of 7 passes (71.4 percent) in the opening trio of games, and scrambled for another seven yards. Morris hit on all four of his passes, covering 45 yards. "John and Shane both had an incred- ible camp, statistically," Speight said. "We kept stats every day. It was close for a while, and John would always come out firing, trying to take my spot. Shane would do the same thing. "The best part about it was we were able to be mature about it through the whole process and be loyal friends, like we are. We all handled it very well." If one of them does have to step in at some point, Michigan should be bet- ter off than it was a year ago. While Speight came through subbing for an injured Jake Rudock in the comeback win at Minnesota in 2015, this year's backups possess much more exten- sive game experience than Speight did then. "I think [O'Korn is] more ready than Wilton was a year ago, because John has played 20-something games as a starter," U-M quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch pointed out. "He's gone into games before, started games and won games. Wilton, the only games he'd gone into were high school games prior to last year." OFFENSIVE LINE Michigan's offensive line has blocked for a rushing attack that aver- aged 197.7 yards per game in non-con- ference play. The average found itself bolstered considerably by topping the 300-yard mark against Hawai'i, before falling off considerably thereafter. UCF committed to stopping the run, so Speight torched the Knights through the air in game two, throw- ing for 312 yards and the four touch- downs. It remains to be seen, though, how the Wolverines fare on the ground against the tougher defenses they'll face. They feature plenty of experience up front, with fifth-year seniors Kyle Ka- lis and Erik Magnuson holding down the right guard and right tackle spots, respectively. Like them, junior center Mason Cole is in his third year as a regular starter, although he is just settling in at the tip of the spear for the Wolverines, after moving to center from left tackle in the offseason. In his stead, sophomore Grant Newsome assumed the duties at left tackle. Left guard has been a bit of a revolv- ing door, with fifth-year senior Ben Braden, redshirt junior Pat Kugler and true freshman Ben Bredeson all getting some run at the spot. Braden missed the opener with an undisclosed injury and is still working his way back up to speed, while Bredeson has switched off with him the most, gaining experi- ence throughout the non-conference battles. Head coach Jim Harbaugh regularly reports on how the offensive linemen are grading out. He's not as inclined to level any specific criticisms, but points out the line — like all positions — needs to get better. "Where can we get better?" he said. "Where can we get a mile per hour faster? Where can we improve? "Is there concern? Do you want to use the word concern? Yeah. We're concerned to get better. We're striv- ing to get better. Whichever word you choose to say, it's fundamentally im- portant to us to improve as much as we can as fast as we can do it." A number of analysts have focused on Michigan's struggles to get blockers to the second level on the interior run game, allowing linebackers to make too many plays on the ball carriers. Junior Mason Cole has transitioned smoothly to center after starting at left tackle the past two seasons. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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