Harbaugh: ‘We’re going to regroup’

By Thomas Schlarp

For the Mirror

UNIVERSITY PARK — Michigan quarterback John O’Korn had far from a quiet week building up to the whiteout game against Penn State.

The Huntingdon native, whose mother works at The Naked Egg breakfast restaurant in State College, had to deal with the emotions of returning to his childhood town and playing in an electric Beaver Stadium that he frequented growing up.

Added to the nostalgia of O’Korn’s return to Happy Valley was a myriad of criticism and ridicule for his recent lackluster 58-yard passing performance against Indiana.

Heading into the game against Penn State O’Korn was predicted to be the likely cause of a Wolverine loss. While his 166 yards passing with no touchdowns or interceptions would not be confused as being a spectacular night, O’Korn extended countless plays moving outside the pocket to buy his receivers more time and give the stagnant Wolverine offense a chance at moving the ball against the Penn State defense. O’Korn completed a pass of 24 yards and had the Wolverines’ longest rush of the night with a 14-yarder.

“We just weren’t able to make the big play tonight,” O’Korn said. “We put drives together. The big plays were missing. They made the big plays and we didn’t.”

Instead the vaunted Michigan defense was the culprit for the lopsided 42-13 Nittany Lion victory.

Entering the game the Wolverines owned the nation’s top defense that allowed just 223.8 yards per game. Penn State, however, exploited the Michigan defenders to the tune of 506 yards and scored more points by halftime than the Wolverines had allowed in a single game all season.

“I thought (Penn State’s) offense played extremely well Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Understatement. They were working on all cylinders. The quarterback was hot, the receivers made plays downfield. It was impressive.”

Not helping Michigan’s cause was the Wolverine offensive line. Even with O’Korn dodging and eluding would-be Penn State tacklers, the Nittany Lions managed to sack O’Korn on seven occasions.

“They did a nice job on the edge,” Harbaugh said. “They just beat us a couple times on the edge.”

With a negative media storm likely to engulf the Michigan program in the coming days, O’Korn knows that the team must remain focused and not distracted by outside opinions.

“The fake love is gone,” O’Korn said. “There’s no bandwagon. It’s just us. Whether we’re doing great or doing bad, it’s just all about us. We’ll find out a lot about this team, this program over the next few weeks. We’re 5-2. I think everyone is freaking out outside our four walls. We’ve got a great team.”

Moving forward for the Wolverines who now stand without a legitimate shot of winning the Big Ten, O’Korn and his teammates draw from the 2016 Penn State team as an example of what may lie ahead.

“Last year at this point Penn State was, with me growing up here, I thought that was one of the worst Penn State teams that I had ever seen,” O’Korn said. “But they went on and should have won the Rose Bowl. We can be as good as we want to be.”

Running back Karan Higdon shared his quarterback’s perspective.

“We knew we were going into a dogfight from the start,” Higdon said. “They just capitalized. College football is funky. Crazy things happen. Penn State was in a similar situation last year, but they went on to play in the Rose Bowl.”

Michigan plays at home against Rutgers next week, a likely easier game than the last three gut-wrenching weeks that have seen the Wolverines lose at home to Michigan State, beat Indiana in overtime, and be blown out by Penn State, to regroup before the season’s final stretch.

“We’re going to regroup, refit, retool,” Harbaugh said. “More opportunities ahead.”