ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Everyone talks about Michigan’s special teams, its defensive line, potential of its secondary, Jabrill Peppers and its freshmen.
Start talking more about the offense, though.
The wideouts and tight ends. The passing game as a whole. The Xs and Os of that. The No. 4-ranked Wolverines haven’t gotten off to a 3-0 start — averaging 53 points per game — due to their running attack, that much has been made clear.
Because of their quarterback, receivers, tight ends and pass-protection, the Wolverines stand a chance to amplify the rest of their assets to a championship-caliber. Still a work in progress, but certainly headed in a positive direction. At this point, throwing the ball appears to be their greatest overall threat.
No surprise there. Look at the numbers.
Wait for Speight
He’s just now revving his engine. He needed to be roughed-up and ridiculed a little bit, though. Now it’s time to move forward.
Give the redshirt sophomore a chance to play in a few high-pressure games before thinking of other quarterbacks leading the way. Despite a shaky first quarter versus Colorado, Wilton Speight has more than earned the No. 1 role — and he has the arm to extend the field and fully utilize the Wolverines’ stock of speed and hands.
As of Sept. 22, Speight was ranked No. 31 in the nation, averaging 13.45 yards per completion, per NCAA.com. Meanwhile, he’s also ranked among the country’s most efficient, touting a rating of 166.8 (No. 18 overall). He’s responsible for 48 points, the 30th-most among quarterbacks.
A kid who’s started three times has found himself at the helm of one of the most potent offenses in college football, averaging 254 yards per game (top 50) — and he’s yet to play up to half of his potential. Not a knock on Speight, just a reminder that the best has yet come from the 6-foot-6, 234-pounder.
Give credit where credit is due. He’s completed 50 of 81 attempts for 686 yards, eight touchdowns and just one interception (his first throw of the year).
Receivers, Ends and Slots
The Wolverines don’t have a top-50 pass-catcher in terms of yardage, but they do have several high-end weapons on the edges, in the slot at at tight end that are capable of piercing any defense.
With 15 receptions through three games, senior tight end Jake Butt sits on the edge of the top 50 in terms of most grabs. Speight’s safety net. Arguably the best tight end in the country. A 6-foot-6, 250-pound elite. By season’s end, Butt — who has 125 yards and three touchdowns — should find himself nominated for numerous awards and in line to be a first-round NFL draft pick.
At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, fifth-year senior Amara Darboh might be the Wolverines’ top aerial threat. During camp, coach Jim Harbaugh said Darboh had hopped Jehu Chesson, another fifth-year senior, as the team’s top receiver. With 10 catches, 204 yards and four touchdowns, the statistics support Darboh’s case in that regard.
Remember how he YAC’d his way past Colorado this past Saturday? Give him a few feet of real estate and a block, and he’s gone. Fast enough to catch a straight line to the end zone and shifty enough to dodge tackles, Darboh has become an invaluable resource for Speight — downfield, in a bubble, whatever.
During the offseason, Chesson dealt with a lower-body injury that led some to question his availability for the season-opener against Hawaii. With that said, the 6-foot-3, 208-pounder saw the field and has played in all three games. With seven catches for 127 yards, Chesson remains one of the Wolverines’ most consistent deep-field targets.
In case you’re questioning Chesson, just remember how he embarrassed Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves during the 2016 Citrus Bowl. That’s top-end Chesson. And for the record, Hargreaves — a first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this past spring — was recently tabbed as the No. 9-ranked NFL rookie by Pro Football Talk. Chesson has yet to return to Chesson status — but once he does, the Wolverines’ set of wideouts will be complete.
Passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch has options. So many options. Young, in-the-middle, and experienced. Sophomore Grant Perry, redshirt sophomore Maurice Ways, a great blocker, freshmen Eddie McDoom and Kekoa Crawford, and up-and-coming redshirt sophomore tight end Ian Bunting are among many other at Michigan’s disposal.
Analyzing pass protection can get tricky, especially with a limited sample size.
Michigan has allowed 1.38 sacks per game, No. 28 overall. OK, so that’s not a flattering statistic — but broken plays, re-engagement of blocks and other subtle nuances seem to be in the favor of Michigan, which, up front, is led by fifth-year senior right tackle Erik Magnuson.
Peppers deserves his time in the sun. The defensive line, special teams and freshmen — as a group — are also worthy of attention. But don’t forget what has fueled Michigan’s point production through the first three games: Speight and the guys who catch his passes.
— Sports in the Mitten (@SITMBigAndKid) September 23, 2016