ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Eventually, Michigan will play like a real-deal national contender and live up to the mega-sized expectations. The pieces are present for such a run. Through five games, the undefeated Wolverines have all but proven that to be true.
Sure, on paper, a 14-7 victory over No. 8-ranked Wisconsin looks rather uneventful. And really, it wasn’t anything special for the No. 4-ranked Wolverines (5-0, 2-0). Nothing that’d blow away anybody — just a nice one for the resume.
Prior to Saturday, the Wolverines had allowed six conversions during 50 third-down attempts. Wisconsin made good on four of 16 this past weekend. Before meeting the Badgers, the Wolverines had been hit with just four penalties — but they were dinged six times for 45 yards against Wisconsin.
Three missed field goals — two by fifth-year senior Kenny Allen and one by walk-on Ryan Tice — cost Michigan nine points. Inefficiency on third downs — just 3-for-15 — probably robbed the Wolverines of at least another touchdown.
But it was a battle-tested kind of win. Complete with a game-winning 46-yard touchdown connection between redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight and fifth-year senior receiver Amara Darboh in the fourth quarter.
Right now, that’s all that matters for coach Jim Harbaugh.
Make plays: Winning is the bottom line.
One week ago against Penn State, Speight had his most complete start of the season. However, he wasn’t quite as sharp versus the Badgers, who tout one of the top defenses in the country.
Michigan still won both times. Forget the margin. Cite the “W.”
Had Speight and Darboh not played heroes in the fourth quarter, discussion of Speight’s lukewarm showing would probably dominate the postgame landscape. That’s not to say that he wasn’t good — because he was very good… when he had to be very good.
Like during that toss to Darboh, which was a perfectly placed ball meant for a touchdown.
Speight continued to show his fancy footwork, though –and that’s a major plus for the Wolverines. A quarterback who does it with his feet and arm tends to be valuable. One issue to mention: While evading sacks, Speight made at least three errant throws that could have been intercepted.
However, he’s working to tie up those loose ends.
“Absolutely. There was one, I took a sack, and I needed to just throw the ball out of bounds,” said Speight, who completed 20 of 32 passes for 219 yards, a touchdown and an interception. “But, I don’t know… I was just confident in being able to shake off tacklers and extend plays.
When you’re a playing a defense like Wisconsin — who’s that talented and that fundamentally sound — you’ve just got to learn to live another day and not take the risk.”
Risk happens to be part of the reward, at least for Speight. The 6-foot-6, 234-pounder knows he has the mindset to create plays. With that said, expect him to be more careful down the road. He’ll still throw the deep ball. He’ll still flee on foot — but he might think twice before throwing to a receiver.
“I tried to force a couple balls in there today that probably shouldn’t have thrown,” said Speight, who’s thrown just two picks in roughly 140 attempts. “That’s just another thing to learn from on film.”
Speight’s first pass of the game was a 23-yarder to senior Jake Butt. In terms of first-drive comfort, Speight felt the most at ease during his first swipe at the Badgers.
Despite a few seat-of-the-pants moments, Speight impressed Harbaugh, who continued to express ample confidence in his star-in-the-making. Forced throws versus the Badgers? Not really, he said — it was more about the lack of protection.
“I thought his decisions today were good,” Harbaugh said. “There wasn’t anything that was close to being intercepted. I thought he threw a really accurate ball in a very normal, safe place — low, below the waist, to Jake Butt, as he would have been going to the ground…”
Harbaugh mentioned a tip that resulted in a pick for Derrick Tindal of Wisconsin, and a jump-ball throw to the end zone.
“Outside of that, I can’t think of another ball that he forced all day,” Harbaugh said. “One other decision that he could have made: He took a sack in the third quarter when he could have thrown the ball out of bounds. That backed us up, and we eventually missed that field goal — the last one.”
Just three questionable decisions. Not a bad day for a guy who had four starts before taking on the No. 8-ranked team in the country.
Ryan Glasgow had five tackles versus the Badgers, the second-most on his team. Throw in an assist on a sack, and yeah — the fifth-year senior showed up as expected against a powerhouse opponent. Despite finishing with just two tackles for a loss, Michigan’s defense flexed hard against Wisconsin.
One of the biggest reasons? Glasgow, a 6-foot-4, 299-pound monster of a defensive lineman. He’s no twerp.
Wisconsin was just a little beefier, though.
Consider that a passed test for the Wolverines D-liners: Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley, Matt Godin, and among others, Bryan Mone — who made his second appearance of the year after being injured in Week 1 versus Hawaii. All vets. All schooled in the ways of the Big Ten.
“There were some big boys up front… I think they were averaging like 6-6, 320/315…” Glasgow said. “We’re not quite as big up front, but it all comes down to technique and effort on the D-line. I think we played hard. I think we played fast. I think we played with great technique. And all that credit goes to (D-line) coach (Greg) Mattison.
“When I looked to my left and looked to my right, I’d see guys who have been in the program for four, five years — and they really wanted this game up front.
“We accepted the challenge, and I think we did a good job.”