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Free Press writers Nick Baumgardner, Shawn Windsor, George Sipple and Jeff Seidel discuss Michigan football the Monday after the loss vs. Michigan State on Oct. 9, 2017.

Michigan’s first serious bout of adversity in 2017 has arrived. And now we’ll see how coach Jim Harbaugh’s football team reacts. 

In the meantime, let’s get back to the mailbag. 

No. 16 Michigan visits Indiana on Saturday (noon, ABC) for its second true road date of the season. Thanks again to everyone for participating this week. 

Let’s get into it. 

Q: What’s more of a problem: The receivers not getting open or the quarterback not finding them? — @NickAKAdad 

A: On Saturday it was probably a combination of both, as Michigan State did a nice job of forcing quarterback John O’Korn into progressions. And when that happened, more often than not, O’Korn bailed and ran himself into problems. 

Coaching decisions with regard to play-calling aside, though, Michigan’s wide receivers have been a big issue for this offense from day one. 

More: Time to see if Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan football culture shows up

Through five games (keeping in mind Tarik Black is on the shelf with an injury), Grant Perry has been the only receiver on this team who has shown an ability to run himself open with a route. More often than not, that’s happening when Perry’s operating in the slot. It’s easier to get open in the slot as you’re not seeing as many physical jams at the line of scrimmage. 

Donovan Peoples-Jones is tackled by Markus Bailey after a catch in the fourth quarter of Michigan’s 28-10 win over Purdue on Sept. 23, 2017 in West Lafayette, Ind. (Photo: Joe Robbins, Getty Images)

Michigan does not have one healthy receiver on its roster right now who has shown an ability to consistently beat jams on the outside and get open without the benefit of motion or help from other players in space. It just isn’t happening. False-steps (chopping your feet at the line rather than sprinting into a route), losing line of scrimmage hand fights, sloppy cuts, unconvincing double-moves, running routes out of bounds — we’ve pretty much seen it all. 

Donovan Peoples-Jones is the most physically-gifted receiver out there right now, but — as I wrote in the summer — he did not come to college with a lot of polish. He had a lot of bad high school habits and is still working his way through those right now. That’s natural, it happens.

Black was more of a polished route-runner when he got here and that’s why he was a starter early. He’s hurt now, though, nothing you can do about that. 

Michigan can’t line four receivers up in the slot or motion every one of these guys open. At some point, someone on the edge is going to have to learn how to get off a release at the line of scrimmage and run himself open. No one is asking them to get completely wide open. 

More: Michigan football at Indiana Hoosiers: Scouting report, prediction

But give your quarterback a chance. Six inches of space would be better than we’ve seen through most of the season. 

I can’t imagine Drake Harris is the answer to any of those concerns, as the staff moved him to defense before the year started. But his move back to offense midway through the season pretty much says it all. 

It’s pretty brutal right now. And before you ask your next question: No, the solution to improving a position filled with youth and inexperience isn’t to throw more true freshmen (Oliver Martin, Nico Collins) at it. Guys just have to get better. Kekoa Crawford, Eddie McDoom, Maurice Ways, etc. … be better. 

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Free Press sports writer Nick Baumgardner takes reader questions on Facebook Live on Oct. 10, 2017 about all things Michigan football.

QWhen will Brandon peters be starting? — @RealCamTaylor

A: More Brandon Peters questions than I could count this week. So, I went with the most straightforward ask. 

So, I suppose we’ll discuss this. 

Brandon Peters will earn Michigan’s starting quarterback job when he earns it. It’s that simple. If he was better than Wilton Speight, he’d have beaten out Wilton Speight. If he was better than John O’Korn, he’d have beaten out John O’Korn. 

What would Jim Harbaugh gain by inserting a player at any position — let alone quarterback — who wasn’t better than the guy he’s replacing? Remember the whole meritocracy stuff? Harbaugh would lose all credibility with the team if he did something like that.

Players are at practice, they see what’s going on. If a guy gets a job over someone he hasn’t beaten day in and day out, other guys see this. And they see it’s ridiculous. 

More: Michigan’s Chris Evans ‘trying to get the juice back’ after fumble

So many questions this week about “why not just go with (freshman X) at (position Y)?” Build for the future, some have suggested. 

What’s that mean? If Michigan tanks, does it get a No. 1 draft pick next season? No? Then think about what this would look like?  

A redshirt freshman quarterback — who might not be ready for any of this — playing behind an offensive line that can’t protect and throwing to receivers who can’t get open. That’s a tried-and-true recipe for wrecking a guy if ever I’ve seen one. 

O’Korn is starting games right now because he’s Michigan’s best option. If that changes, it’ll be based on merit: Either by O’Korn completely collapsing or Peters elevating himself enough to take the job. 

Q: In the last 10 yrs, (since 2008) what is the turnover differential between MSU and Michigan head to head? — @RMcDanielMi 

A: I get the question, as Michigan’s five turnovers on Saturday were the main reason why the Wolverines dropped a 14-10 decision against the Spartans. Michigan shot itself in the foot. MSU took advantage. 

But this has not necessarily been a theme during Michigan State’s 8-2 run over the past 10 meetings. Michigan has turned it over 22 times in those games (including the five on Saturday) to Michigan State’s 14. That number is skewed because of the last game. In the previous nine, both teams turned it over quite a bit. 

Michigan’s biggest problem against Michigan State over the past 10 years has been Michigan State. The Spartans have, with rare exception, shoved their foot down Michigan’s throat. 

Michigan’s offense has been held to 300 yards or fewer seven times in that span and the Spartans have out-gained Michigan seven times over the past 10 years. Seven games with 300 yards or fewer means MSU’s defense has essentially spent a decade shoving your offense into a locker. 

In fact, Michigan’s eclipsed 400 yards against Michigan State one time — 2016 — during this run. The average yardage results over the past 10 years has been Michigan State 394.2, Michigan 277.8. 

So the biggest issue, for Michigan, in this series over the past decade has been Michigan State. 

Q: Regarding to the offensive line … Do you think they will make any changes personnel wise? — @rbfrosty26  

A: It wouldn’t surprise me to see a new right tackle in there Saturday against Indiana, but I’m not sure you’re going to see a massive overhaul personnel-wise at this point. 

Nolan Ulizio’s pass-protection problems have been well-documented by now. Juwann Bushell-Beatty had his issues, too. Surely those two battled during practice this week. And, again, if a younger player — Chuck Filiaga, Andrew Stueber, etc. — was ready to take the job, he’d be in the game. 

The pass protection has been the biggest problem. When Michigan goes to its gap stuff — its powers, counters, power pitches, crack sweeps — things work. The zone concepts have been mostly hit or miss this season. 

We saw Michigan get back to more gap-based schemes on the ground last week to Michigan State and, when the staff wasn’t abandoning the run in a monsoon, it found some success there. 

If anything, I think we could see more of a revert to the way Michigan attacked people a year ago on the ground. Those are foundation concepts. Power. Iso. Counter. Lead sweeps. Blasts. Right now, this seems to be the stuff Michigan executes best. 

So stick with what’s working and dump the rest. It’s time to start condensing things here. 

Contact Nick Baumgardner: nbaumgardn@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickBaumgardner. 

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