Heat from MSU? History shows Speight will stay cool
Ann Arbor – Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight knows what it’s like to follow in the footsteps of THE guy and then the next THE guy.
He knows what it’s like to endure the shower of insults from opponents’ fans.
So making his first start at Spartan Stadium on Saturday against in-state rival Michigan State, Speight said he knows what he’s getting into. The second-ranked Wolverines are heavy favorites and will try to snap their three-game losing streak to the Spartans, who have won seven of the last eight in the rivalry.
Speight, a first-year starter, has played on the road once this year, and only the first half in a 78-0 rout at Rutgers. He knows, having been on the sideline in 2014, that playing at Michigan State presents a vastly different experience.
“East Lansing is a hectic environment,” Speight said. “We’ve gotta keep the horse blinders on and worry about what’s going on on the field. We can’t worry about the crowd noise or let what people are saying to us while we’re sitting on the bench affect us. That’s kind of our mindset.”
Speight played for The Collegiate School in Richmond, Va., where quarterback Russell Wilson starred. Wilson was followed at the position by Jake McGee, who now plays tight end for the Chargers.
It was at The Collegiate School where Speight quickly learned to zone in and ignore the chants and the chatter from hostile fans.
“Chants every game, ‘You’re not Russell!’ or ‘You’re not Jake!’” Speight said of his high school days. “And there’s articles, ‘Why can’t he do this or that?’ That’s where I developed (the ability to ignore) and got good at it.”
And then he came to Michigan, redshirted, was largely forgotten, and then even after emerging this spring as the leader at quarterback, was overlooked while most thought John O’Korn would win the job.
“Kind of been written off as the guy by everyone,” he said this week. “Just natural at it now.”
Earlier this season, during a “wise words” session with the team, where a couple of players are asked to speak, Speight brought up the concept of horse blinders. He had been reminded of the blinders during the quarterback competition in camp.
He had used them in high school, and it was important to do so now.
“They don’t worry about what’s going on, what the media’s saying, what other coaches or players are saying on Twitter,” Speight said. “They worry about their own lane, and that was my message to the team.”
Speight is coming off his best game of the season last Saturday against Illinois. The previous week when Michigan was on a bye, he used the extra time to watch clips of each of his throws through six games.
He learned what he needed to improve on, realized he often was aiming instead of trusting and throwing, and said he has kept that in the back of his mind. Against the Illini he felt he was efficient and only missed a couple throws.
Speight says he knows Michigan State has struggled, but, as they always say, it’s a rivalry game. The Spartans have lost five straight.
“I expect a lot of energy, a lot of passion,” Speight said. “It means a lot to them like it means to us. I can’t imagine they’d come out any differently than they did before. They lost a couple games in a row, but they’re going to go out with a plan to win and so are we.”
From film viewing, he’s been particularly impressed with linebacker Riley Bullough.
“That dude’s an angry guy,” Speight said. “He wants to get in the quarterback’s kitchen every play, so I know I’ve got to get the ball out as quickly as possible.”
He has 13 touchdowns to two interceptions, including one on his first play in his first start. Speight, while he knows he has things to work on, has been impressively consistent this season.
“It really starts from off the field and it kind of moves onto the field,” Michigan quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch said. “He’s a guy that does everything you’d want him to do. He wakes up at about the same time every day, he goes to bed at about the same time every day. He has a very consistent schedule.
“He’s told me that weekends haven’t really changed his schedule anymore. He’s kind of programmed his body and himself, starting in training camp. What time he woke up in training camp is still the same time he still wakes up now. He probably lives a very clean, consistent life and because of that, I think it’s kind of parlayed into his football.”
And Speight doesn’t get emotional about each and every game, maintaining that steely focus, the one he honed while brushing off “You’re not Russell!” and “You’re not Jake!” chants.
“It’s the biggest game and the biggest start of my life,” Speight said of MSU, “because it’s the next one.”
Consistent, as always.