When explaining the competition to his quarterbacks, passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch used a racing analogy.
“Wilton had the pole position after spring,” Fisch said. “He kind of had a little bit of an edge. The race started, and the green flag was waved, and people were trying to pass people, but he just kind of never got passed. He just continued to play better. Coach Harbaugh always says, ‘Iron sharpens iron,’ and I think what happened was John and Shane started playing better and so did Wilton.
“It was just one of those deals where nobody lost a job, it was that Wilton, going into the opening day, had won the job.”
And after seeing Speight start for the first time Saturday, Fisch is happy with his decision, saying he couldn’t have asked for too much better.
As far as Fisch is concerned, Speight’s biggest mistakes were his three missed passes. On one incompletion, he threw up a deep ball for fifth-year senior wide receiver Amara Darboh, but it was underthrown. On another, Fisch says, Speight got turned around on a flat route.
The first mistake, the one that kicked off Speight’s career as a starting quarterback, was an interception. Speight was rushed, and Fisch says that even though senior tight end Jake Butt didn’t run a great route, the ball should have never left Speight’s hands.
When it came time to talk to his quarterback on the sidelines following the interception, Fisch never considered disciplining him.
“The school that I was from is you coach ’em as hard as you want on Sunday through Friday, and then on Saturday — I mean, you gotta be their advocate on game day,” Fisch said. “Because they’re the only ones who are really going through the war on that game day situation. To second guess and question things on game day and to be overly critical on game day, I don’t know where the value is.”
After the game, Speight said that he laughed off the interception with Harbaugh. He went 10-for-12 following the pick, looking settled and confident, checking out of the game in the third quarter to get some rest after throwing for three touchdowns.
The leap in his level of play from a year ago has shown, especially compared to where he was in last year’s camp.
“He’s had a big jump, there’s no question about that,” Fisch said. “From this point in time, going into the game one of last year, between that and about 75 reps in all of camp, then to where he’s at at this point in time, yeah, it’s a huge jump, and I give him a lot of credit for it.”
Part of his growth, Fisch said, can be attritubuted to playing behind Jake Rudock and knowing he was only one play away from entering the game.
“We expect certain things from every one of our players,” Fisch said. “We expect them to call the play in the huddle the same way whether they’re the first quarterback or the fifth quarterback. Their cadence should sound the same way if they’re the first quarterback or the fifth quarterback. And I think that what (Speight) realized is that’s the standard we’re going to have here and because of that, hopefully your only option is to improve.”
After that realization, Speight did progress — at least slightly faster than his competitors — and ended up with the starting job. Now, Michigan fans will wait to see what he does with it.
“It’s a different Wilton nowadays,” Fisch said. “It’s definitely a more confident guy.”