Speight flubs first pass, then sparkles for Michigan

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight passes the ball to Michigan wide receiver Jehu Chesson in the first half.

Ann Arbor – Of all the ways Wilton Speight could have imagined how his career as Michigan’s starting quarterback would begin, the way it actually happened was not on the list.

Speight, the redshirt sophomore who won the job over John O’Korn and Shane Morris, threw an interception on the Wolverines' first play of their season opener against Hawaii. That was his only flub in the 63-3 victory on Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

He rolled right and was intercepted by Damien Packer.

“It wasn’t the start I was imagining,” Speight said. “I was rolling to our sideline anyway, so my momentum just carried right into coach (Jim Harbaugh). He just grabbed me and hugged me and was kind of laughing. He was like, 'Don’t worry, we’ll get it next drive. Don’t sweat about that.' And I was able to do that.”

Speight responded by driving Michigan 98 yards on 11 plays and connected on a 12-yard pass to Grant Perry for the game’s first score. Speight made two third-down conversion throws – a 16-yard pass to Jehu Chesson on third-and-7, and on another third-and-7, he and Amara Darboh combined for a 31-yard gain.

Showtime: Speight, Evans, Wolverines romp over Hawaii

Harbaugh, a former Michigan and NFL quarterback, was fascinated to watch unfold how Speight would handle the interception and the next possession.

“I wanted to see what he did on the next series,” Harbaugh said. “It’s very difficult for a quarterback to throw an interception on a series and then come back and lead a touchdown drive the following series. It’s something I’ve always been fascinated in watching quaterbacks, and the really good ones can do that. They can think about, ‘I’m not going to make another bad mistake.’ I mean, that’s what some do, but good ones don’t. I was just excited for that opportunity to see what he was going to do on the next drive.

“And to see him start the next drive on the 2-yard line, that’s as much adversity as you can have for a quarterback starting a series, starting a drive, have thrown an interception on the previous drive, and the very, very first throw of the game.

“But he responded in tremendous fashion to lead a touchdown drive, make big third-down conversion throws, to make as good a corner throw to Grant Perry as can be made.”

Harbaugh said the way Speight bounced back from the interception “bodes well” for his Michigan career.

“He had total command, and it speaks volumes and bodes really well for our team and bodes really well for his career as a quarterback to have done that, to come back off an interception and the very next drive go on a 98-yard touchdown drive,” Harbaugh said. “Now he knows he can do it. And now we can expect him to do it. Good for our team.”

Fullback Khalid Hill, who scored a rushing touchdown in the opener, said Speight rebounded quickly.

“The way Wilton responded: ‘I made my mistake, let me take a deep breath, this is my first game starting,’” Hill said. “It was over. Move on to the next play. We told him, ‘Hey, pick your head up.’ He picked his head up and said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

Driving 98 yards for a touchdown undoubtedly instills confidence.

“To be able to do that the next drive, I think it kind of silenced the critics,” center Mason Cole said of Speight, who finished 10-of-13 for 145 yards, three touchdowns and the interception.

Harbaugh kept silent on publicly naming a starting quarterback. It was not officially revealed until the moment Speight ran onto the field.

“It was not by a wide margin, really, because all the quarterbacks have been playing very well from the first day of camp,” Harbaugh said when asked what Speight did to win the job. “The first day, then the first week, the second week, all the way through, consistently good. Good in practice usually equals good in the games. Wilton was just a little better.”

O’Korn was the second quarterback in the game and was 3-of-3 and directed the scoring drive in which Hill scored late in the third quarter. Morris, the third quarterback in, was 4-of-4 for 45 yards and also led a scoring drive, the last of the game when Karan Higdon scored. Alex Malzone closed out the game.

“All led touchdown drives. All operated the team very efficiently,” Harbaugh said. “All made big throws on third down. I think we were 100 percent conversion on third down, 100 percent in the red zone.”

Harbaugh was asked if O’Korn is the backup.

“We’re going to keep going. It’s a very good positive,” Harbaugh said. “Some of those clichés you hear – if you have three good quarterbacks then you don’t have any good quarterbacks – that’s never resonated with me.

“They’ve all commented how good (the competition has) been, how beneficial it’s been. They’re just pushing each other higher. I think that showed today.”