Quest to get better drives Michigan’s Speight

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — No one, apparently, knows how to spend a few days off like Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight.

Michigan was off nine days ago, and during that time before game-week preparations for last Saturday’s 41-8 victory over Illinois, some players went home to visit family. Speight watched films.

Not in the theater. Game films. His game films.

Speight just knows how to kick back and relax.

But at the midpoint of what so far has been an unbeaten season — Michigan is ranked No. 2 and heads to Michigan State on Saturday for the annual rivalry game, which the Spartans have won seven of the last eight — the first-year starting quarterback doesn’t want to miss a way to improve.

The Spartans are 2-5 and have dropped five straight, including a 28-17 loss at Maryland last Saturday.

So Speight watched each of his snaps and took notes on what he found to be glaring issues and little things that could be tweaked. During the off week, he and several receivers went back to their summer routine, throwing and catching while working on routes and technique.

“I can make every throw, in my opinion, but sometimes I would short-arm passes, and when a guy’s open I’d miss him and that’s what I wanted to focus on the second half of the season was eliminating that,” Speight said.

He sat out the second half of the Rutgers game three weeks ago and the fourth quarter against Illinois since both games were out of reach. Against the Illini, Speight was 16-of-23 for 253 yards and two touchdowns, one to tight end Tyrone Wheatley Jr. and the other to tight end Jake Butt.

“The first three drives of the game, and then the entire game, I thought Wilton Speight may have had one of his best games of his career,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “It was pretty windy out there. It was tough to throw. He was throwing the intermediate deep stuff, the 30-yard throws, the 35-yard, the 40-yard throws, just on the money. It was impressive. Sometimes it’s never as good as you think until you look at the tape. I have a feeling that was the best he’s played.”

Speight has thrown 13 touchdowns this season to two interceptions and has 1,447 yards, averaging 206.7 yards a game. That ranks him eighth in the Big Ten in pass-game average, and he’s tied for second with Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett in pass efficiency (150.8 rating).

Henning: Harbaugh cautious now, but wait until Saturday

With the luxury of having Michigan’s top-rated defense, Speight hasn’t been asked to play over his head.

The Wolverines are ranked No. 1 in most defensive categories and lead the nation in total defense, yielding an average of 207 yards a game. They are first in scoring defense (10.0 points per game), passing yards allowed (110.0) and they are fourth against the run (96.0).

Meanwhile, Speight has helped lead Michigan to the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense (48.7 points a game). Michigan State’s defense is ranked No. 54 allowing 388 yards a game, including 225.4 yards passing.

After the Wolverines’ 41-8 victory over Illinois, Speight cracked a smile as he said the team would eat its celebratory ice cream before moving on to focus on the Spartans.

He was not the starting quarterback last year but he still smarts from how that game was lost on a fumbled punt in the final 10 seconds.

“Those last few seconds, we all thought the game was wrapped up,” Speight said. “I was shocked. I remember that night I went home and was with some teammates and we really didn’t know what to say or what to do, because we were all in shock.

“It’s not like we had this game circled. Coach does a good job of making sure the next game is the championship game. This next game is Michigan State so it means a little more since it’s the rival, but it’s just the next game up, the championship game.”

Being motivated for this game, he said, is a no-brainer.

“This is Michigan-Michigan State,” Speight said. “I personally haven’t experienced a win versus those guys, so we’re hungry for that. This is a big game.” @chengelis