27 Sep 2016 05:20 PM EST
-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight attempts pass against Penn State. (Image Source: Tony Ding/AP Photo)
Statistically it wasn’t Wilton Speight’s best game. The Michigan quarterback threw for 189 yards, which were his fewest since he put up 145 yards on 13 attempts in the opener against Hawai’i. His 61.8 completion percentage was solid, but lower than his first two starts (76.9 percent versus Hawai’i; 67.7 percent versus UCF). Speight connected on just one touchdown pass after hitting on three and four in Weeks 1 and 2.
The positives from Saturday’s win at Penn State won’t show up in the box score. Against Colorado, Speight didn’t handle pressure well and was shaky with his decision making. He was a different player against the Nittany Lions.
On Michigan’s first series, facing a third-and-three from the PSU 17-yard line, Speight eluded defensive tackle Kevin Givens, avoided the sack, and connected with fullback Khalid Hill to set up a goal-to-go at the three.
Converting third downs was a theme on Michigan’s next two touchdown drives as well, including a touchdown pass to true freshman tight end Devin Asiasi in the back of the end zone to make it 21-0 in favor of the Wolverines.
What we liked best was how Speight handled pressure. He looked poised and comfortable in the pocket, was elusive, and made good decisions. Speight showed the ability to get away from pressure to extend plays and also live to fight another day by throwing the ball away when nothing was available.
“I didn’t want that hit last week I took to kind of dictate the internal clock I had for the rest of the game, and I didn’t want that to kind of carry over into this game,” Speight said. “I wanted to hang on in the pocket as long as I could… when the opportunity was there, I knew I needed to make plays with my feet and I was able to do that.”
Using his feet is a strength, as Speight moves well for a big kid (6’6”/243 pounds) and he even made a defender miss in the open field to covert a fourth-and-seven on UM’s fourth touchdown drive of the first half.
“It’s something I think I’ve always been able to do,” said Speight. “I don’t like to rely on it. I’d much rather find completions and use my arm. But, when I need to pick up a first down with my feet, I can do that.”
The only time Michigan didn’t score in the first half was a nine-play drive that ended on downs when Jehu Chesson dropped a fourth-and-two pass that would have moved the chains.
What we saw from Speight was poise in the pocket, escapability, the understanding of when to scramble and when to step up in the pocket, as well as the playmaking foresight to keep his eyes down field when he does leave the pocket.
“I think he’s been doing a fine job. That’s one part of his game that’s really improving and ascending,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said after the win. “He’s moving, he’s buying time, he’s finding receivers. He’s making good decisions. He’s not turning the ball over.
“I think he’s getting better and better — and not anything real close to turning the ball over today. He’s protecting the ball and doing a good job.”
After a step back against the Buffaloes in Week 3, Speight took steps in the right direction in the development of a first-year starter at quarterback making just his fourth career start.
Daniel Mogollon is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America. He is also a voter for the Thorpe and the Rotary Lombardi Award, as well as the Latino Sports MVP Awards.
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