When redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight dropped back to throw on third-and-7 in the first quarter, the No. 4 Michigan football team showed a sense of urgency to redeem an early deficit.
Instead, down 7-0 already, the Wolverines’ fate was about to get worse. Speight took a jarring hit to the right elbow from Colorado defensive back Chidobe Awuzie, fumbled the ball for a Buffaloes scoop-and-score. Now, just over three minutes into the game, it was 14-0, and Speight had to slowly climb back up from a hit that kept him crumpled on the ground long enough that he didn’t see the touchdown.
“I was just like, ‘Wow, that hurt,’ ” Speight said. “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 kinda realized what happened and they were in the end zone dancing.”
Though Speight did get back and played the rest of the game (minus one play on the following drive when redshirt junior John O’Korn was under center), he was shakier than he has been all season. He threw 16-for-30 for 229 yards, but came close to throwing a few interceptions as well.
After the game, he said he needs to work on his throw-aways by making sure they’re “100-percent thrown away.” But from the looks of it, his biggest issue was getting hit.
“Wilton is a true competitor, and he’s a tough guy,” said offensive coordinator Tim Drevno on Wednesday. “I think anybody who plays the quarterback position has got to be a tough guy. You have to take hits you don’t want to happen — we don’t want (it) to happen. But it’s how they respond. That was a tough hit on him and he bounced back up and led us the rest of the game and took us back from (being) behind and I’m just really pleased with what he did.”
Speight was only one problem in a shaky offense on Saturday. Some of Speight’s issues were due to occasional lapses in the offensive line, and Drevno said that he needs to work with the line to make sure the blockers have strength to finish. Despite a few missteps, Drevno was pleased overall. Because the offensive line places a high intrinsic value on making the correct decisions throughout the game, the group has a high ceiling.
“It’s important for them to be right, not to be wrong,” Drevno said. “They take it really, really personal when it’s not right. Really personal. Which is neat, that’s the neat thing as a coach. They take pride in their work.”
On top of rocky pass protection, the Wolverines’ two best receivers, fifth-year seniors Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson, were hardly able to get open. Darboh had just two catches, one being the 45-yard touchdown that gave Michigan the lead heading into halftime. Chesson didn’t have any receptions, though three of Speight’s passes were intended for him.
Senior tight end Jake Butt ended up being Speight’s go-to guy, but even then, Butt was able to lead the game with just 87 receiving yards. Because the passing game wasn’t up to speed during the first quarter, most of the Wolverines’ big plays came on the ground.
After struggling against Central Florida, averaging just 2.9 yards per run, the running backs were able to help out on the ground with 168 yards and three touchdowns.
Despite the increase in rushing efficiency, Drevno would like to see a more holistically stable offense overall.
“I think it’s just, there’s different things,” Drevno said. “Protection was one issue, and you saw that. You know, maybe just a missed throw, maybe not the right position timing on the route, not being in the right spot. But you know, I’m pleased. Week before, we threw for 312 yards. There’s no finer throw than Wilton throwing the deep ball in college football. That’s hard to do.”
Luckily for Speight, he has some expert coaches in his corner. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch both come from the NFL, where there’s no other choice but to fix the passing game so that deep ball can break free.
“They understand the expectation level, and we’re going to get the passing game fixed,” Drevno said. “We will. With Jedd and Jim and myself, we’re going to make sure we get everything back up to speed.”