WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. - The whole thing started with Levine. And when O’Korn hit Zach Gentry on a 10-yard touchdown pass in the first half at Purdue, he turned to the Boilermaker sideline and started yelling. He doesn’t remember what words he said, just a lot of loud noises.
“It was probably (aimed) in his exact direction,” O’Korn added.
Michigan's fifth-year senior entered Saturday's game in relief duty at Purdue, and walked out of Ross-Ade Stadium with his best performance in a Wolverine uniform during a 28-10 win over the Boilermakers.
The Wolverines (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) will now enter a bye week. Michigan will next take the field Oct. 7 for a home game against in-state rival Michigan State.
O’Korn finished the day 16 of 28 for 270 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He entered the game late in the first quarter after starter Wilton Speight had been knocked out due to what appeared to be an upper body injury. Speight — who walked off the field on his own — was taken to an off-campus facility for X-rays and did not return.
Michigan’s backup, meanwhile, played like a guy who plans on being a starter the rest of the way. Asked directly if O’Korn’s play now reopens the quarterback race, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh laughed and brushed it aside.
“He played great, he really did,” Harbaugh said. “John played a heck of a ball game. Really proud of him. Happy for him. He came into the game seeing things really well right off the bat.”
It wasn’t all gravy, though. After O’Korn led the Wolverines on an 84-yard scoring drive on his first series of the game, the Boilermakers took charge in the second quarter when Elijah Sindelar hit tight end Brycen Hopkins for a 10-yard strike to tie things up with 9:45 to play in the half.
One series later, O’Korn had a pass bounce off Grant Perry’s chest and into the arms of Purdue’s Navon Mosley, who returned the ball to the Michigan 27. Two minutes later, Purdue’s J.D. Dellinger gave the Boilers a 10-7 edge with a 29-yard field goal.
O’Korn's next two possessions were three-and-outs, and the offense basically stumbled into halftime.
After the break, though, things began to turn around.
With Michigan’s defense limiting Purdue to minus-four yards in the third quarter, O’Korn helped Michigan take charge of the game with an 11-play, 86-yard touchdown drive — that featured a terrific third-down sack escape by O’Korn and an even better throw to Sean McKeon for 30 yards. Chris Evans capped it off with a 10-yard scamper to make it 14-10.
“(Our guys) proved they can win in the late rounds and that’s a great thing to learn about your ball club,” Harbaugh said afterward. “You never quite know what the character of your team is when things get tough. A lot of people start groping for alternatives.
“But our guys dug deep. And finished them off.”
Michigan did not look back.
The Wolverines allowed just 10 yards of total offense in the second half, as Purdue finished the game 0-for-12 on third down.
Defensive end Chase Winovich — who finished the game with three sacks — said he and his defensive teammates drew some motivation from comments made by Purdue receiver Gregory Phillips, who claimed earlier this week the Boilers were going to “surprise” plenty of people “when” they beat Michigan.
"It's just crazy to me. It's just like 'why give a team that's already young and hungry locker room banter,' " Winovich said with a smile after the game. "It just seems like common sense to me."
O'Korn -- who, at one point during the game, was spitting out blood after biting his own tongue through his mouthpiece -- capped off his terrific second half with a perfect 25-yard throw down the middle to Gentry.
Purdue's Markus Bailey was flagged for targeting on the play. O'Korn completed the throw anyway. And two plays later, when Ty Isaac rumbled into the end zone to make it 21-10 with 10:36 to play, O'Korn looked back at the Purdue bench.
And let them have it again.
"No hard feelings, (Levine and I) hugged it out beforehand after the game and we texted all week. We're on great terms," O'Korn said. "But I'm a competitor and that meant a lot. If I don't play again the rest of the year, to go out and be able to beat my former coach was a great moment for me."
Call it redemption?
"You can call it whatever you want," he said.
Either way, on Saturday, you can call it a win.
Michigan finished the game with 423 yards of total offense to Purdue's 189. The Wolverines will now enter their bye with plenty of good thoughts.
"Every guy out there," Harbaugh said. "They left it out on the field today."
© Gannett Co., Inc. 2018. All Rights Reserved