UM’s Speight shakes off early jitters, leads comeback

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Wilton Speight wasn’t used to looking up at the scoreboard and seeing his Wolverines trailing.

And he certainly wasn’t used to the kind of smashing hit he took early in the first quarter, smack dab on the elbow, from an opposing helmet.

“There’s a little shock after that hit, I’m not going to lie. I didn’t see that coming,” said Speight, the Michigan quarterback whose shoulder was packed in ice late Saturday night — that’s routine — and whose right elbow was, too — that’s not routine.

“I didn’t see that coming at all.”

With about 12 minutes left in the first quarter, and Michigan already behind for the first time all season, 7-0, Speight dropped back to pass from his own 28-yard line.

On him like a hawk was Colorado defensive end Chidobe Awuzie, drilling Speight in the elbow before he could unload the pass.

He fumbled, Derek McCartney scooped it up and ran 18 yards for the touchdown and a 14-0 Colorado lead.

“I was just like, ‘Wow, that hurt,’ ” said Speight, a junior. “I’ve never been hit like that before, because it was completely blind. I didn’t see it. I had no idea. I was kind of in shock, too, because I kind of realized what had just happened and looked up and they were in the end zone, dancing.

“No. 4 (Awuzie) is probably the best we’ve faced all year, and he’ll play on Sundays next year.”

Four of Speight’s next five passes were incomplete, and several were almost picked off as he struggled to get into a groove.

He eventually found his way, leading No. 4 Michigan to a 45-28 victory at Michigan Stadium, and a 3-0 start on the season.

At halftime, he was just 9-for-21 passing for 124 yards, much of that on a 45-yard screen for a touchdown to Amara Darboh just before the first half ended. Five of the nine completions were to his old standby, Jake Butt.

By game’s end, though, Speight was 16-for-30 for 229 yards. Again, no interceptions.

“I trust in him that he knows what he’s doing. He’s a confident guy, he’s a great leader,” said Darboh, who said he didn’t make it a point to go up to Speight early in the game and provide words of encouragement.

“I know if he’s struggling, he’s gonna figure it out.”

It looked early in the game, as Speight was throwing off his back foot and missing receivers by a mile and Colorado rolling early, as if senior John O’Korn might get some action at quarterback if things didn’t turn around.

Speight, though, said he never looks over his shoulder, and never felt like he was about to be taken out of the game.

He said he just fed off the words of his coaches — stick with it, slow your inner clock down, trust your reads — got his act together, stopped trying to do too much, and went to some checkdowns to get back in a groove.

All this after a personal pregame meet-and-greet with legendary ex-Michigan quarterback Tom Brady, before Brady addressed the team as a whole.

“You can’t get angry at yourself,” Speight said. “You guys know I love playing golf. You can be upset about a shot, but that 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.

“I can’t be thinking about that when I’m dropping back, thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, if I miss this one, too ...’ ”

Even if there was a little added incentive — and maybe a tad more pressure — with Brady, who was honorary captain, in attendance.

“I actually had the mind-set, well, if he wants me to play like him and he wants me to make him proud, I better go play better than he ever did,” Speight said. “Did I do that today? No. But that’s the mind-set you have to have.” @tonypaul1984