ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Another week, another challenge. And from this point forward, things aren’t going to get any easier for Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight, who survived the worst start of his career before lifting the Wolverines to a 45-28 win Saturday over Colorado.
Big Ten competition lurks around the corner, starting next week versus Penn State, and the time for young mistakes has gone by the wayside.
Down 21-7 in the first half — Michigan’s largest deficit and the only time it had trailed all season. Speight was on his heels.
And on his back.
Errant throws. And we’re talking too long, too short and too many that nearly landed in the hands of Buffaloes defenders. Things weren’t anywhere near as cushy as they had been during the first two weeks.
But Speight — a 6-foot-6, 243-pound redshirt sophomore — channeled enough of something to endure the negative tilts. Yes, he made youthful errors. But he also faced problems like a veteran during the third and fourth quarters.
He needed a game like Saturday before teeing off against conference opponents. So did Michigan.
“You can’t get angry at yourself. You guys know that I love playing golf, and you can be upset about a shot — but the next time, you’re standing over the ball… if you’re pissed off, gripping your club extra tight because of the last shot, you’re going to hit another really bad shot,” said Speight, who completed 16 of 30 passes for 229 yards and a touchdown.
“That’s kind of my mindset: Yeah, I might have thrown a bad pass here and there, but I can’t be thinking about that when I’m dropping back, saying ‘Oh, gosh… what if I miss this one, too.’ Because I’m going to miss that one, too.”
Just one pass. Just one play. That’s all Michigan needed from Speight.
Amid Colorado’s barrage, Speight cleared his head and found his safety nets, one being senior tight end Jake Butt, who caught seven passes for a game-high 87 yards. At least two of those catches were dump-off tosses designed to establish rhythm for Speight, who was sacked during the first quarter, causing a fumble which led to Dere McCartney’s scoop-and-go for a touchdown.
Trouble was brewing. The Wolverines knew they were in a bit of trouble. But they didn’t scramble. Instead, they rallied behind their quarterback. They also checked themselves.
“We weren’t worried. We weren’t worried,” Butt said. “In fact, we actually talked about it last night as a team. We knew (during) the first two games, we were never really punched in the face. Everything was going so smoothly. And it’s not going to be a fairy tale the whole entire season…”
Several times, Speight threw off his back foot. He looked confused, bewildered and out of sync — a far cry from what he looked like while throwing seven touchdown passes and eclipsing 450 yards through the air versus the Rainbow Warriors and Knights.
“Give credit to those corners,” said Speight, noting blanket-like coverage while looking for the double-move from his receivers. “No. 4 (Chidobe Awuzie) is probably the best we’ve faced all year, and he’ll play on Sundays next year.”
That’s how you respond when the deck isn’t stacked in your favor. Tip your cap and move forward. Speight wasn’t pretty Saturday. But he didn’t need to be pretty — he just needed to be effective and calm when it mattered most.
The Wolverines aren’t going to blow away every team. They’re not going to lead for 60 minutes per game, either. That’s when a quarterback must prove his mettle.
Stones. Heart. Whatever you want to call it.
“There are teams, players, that are front-runners — and that’s the only time that they can play well, when they’re out in front and it’s clean and it’s easy,” said Harbaugh, who noted Speight’s accuracy on crossing routes. “There’s other guys who kind of like getting down in the mud and fighting — in a football-fight type of way. You enjoy that type of test, competitive environment.”