ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight continues to make strides with each passing week.
Whether it’s winning on the road versus Rutgers, or efficiently picking apart Illinois during a 41-8 homecoming win, the redshirt sophomore has done a lot of growing up during the past seven games for the No. 2-ranked Wolverines (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten).
“I think he’s definitely matured a lot,” said fifth-year senior Amara Darboh, who had five catches for 99 yards Saturday. “He’s understanding the offense and understanding the other team’s defense…”
A methodical student of the art of passing, Speight completed 16 of 23 attempts for 253 yards and two touchdowns during his first homecoming victory, taking full advantage of every hole in the Illini defense.
“Like today, on one throw, he had a great throw,” Darboh continued. “It was a Cover-2, but it was Tampa-2, and the linebacker dropped and broke fast — and (Speight) put enough air on it (to complete the throw). It was one of his best throws of the day.”
Earlier in the season, Harbaugh had complimented Speight’s ability to throw the long ball. On Saturday, Harbaugh mentioned that Speight had also improved his intermediate throws, saying that Speight was “on the money” with most of his 35- to 40-yard attempts.
Tic-tac-toe. Speight made it look easy.
And he did it against the wind.
But he had plenty of help versus Illinois.
And he’s had such support from the beginning of the season.
“Everyone’s stepping up big time, across the board,” Speight said. “Jehu (Chesson) and Amara — those guys are older and they know what it’s like to get through a hole season. So, Coach watches their reps throughout the week, that gives opportunities for guys like Drake (Harris), Mo (Maurice Ways), Eddie (McDoom), Kekoa (Crawford), Grant (Perry) — all those guys — to get more reps.”
Bonds were strengthened during the offseason, said Speight, who used part of the bye week to sharpen his accuracy and pad his confidence. Everyone has done so, said Speight, who served as Michigan’s backup quarterback — behind Jake Rudock — during the 2015 season.
Speight hooked up with 11 receivers, with one being Eddie McDoom, a true freshman with speed upon speed. On Saturday, Kekoa Crawford — who started with McDoom — helped out by throwing blocks. Having options, especially young ones, excites Speight.
“Jehu and Amara won’t be here next year — they’ll be playing on Sundays — so it’s good to feel that those guys are stepping up and they’ll be ready when they’re leaders next year,” he said.
They’re “playmakers,” said Darboh. Michigan has a lot of them at receiver, and they’ve all helped Speight — a 6-foot-6, 243-pounder — grow a bit during the season.
“It’s a group of talented guys. I think today they showed what they could do,” Darboh said. “I think for them, the most important thing is to just get comfortable and get ‘that feeling’ when they get into the game — so it keeps getting easier and easier for them.”
The game plan was clearly one geared toward comfort and frequency for Speight, who’s thrown for 1,447 yards, 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions all season.
Harbaugh used that word a couple of times during his postgame press conference Saturday.
It was another mark on Speight’s growth chart, too.