Redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight and passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch both agree: Speight’s performance against Illinois was his best yet.
He led the Michigan football team to its seventh win of the season in dominating fashion, completing 16 of 23 attempts for 253 yards and two touchdowns. He made short passes and long passes, and only seemed to falter on a handful of plays.
Speight, who spent time during the bye week reflecting on his first six games, came out and didn’t miss a beat. He attributes part of the success to simply throwing and not aiming.
“It’s just like baseball with pitchers; sometimes you’re thinking too much and you’re trying to put it in a certain spot when you’re thinking about not following through,” Fisch said. “It's just different than, ‘I’m going to go out and rip it,’ so to speak.”
To non-quarterbacks, aiming might sound like a good thing. It should be part of the recipe, along with arm strength and decisiveness. But at the college level, it could break the quarterback.
“When you aim it, it’s sometimes when you start overthinking,” Fisch said. “I think that’s kinda what he was thinking about. That it was more of, ‘Do I take a little bit off of this’ or, ‘Do I not follow through as much?’ rather than just go out there and play loose.”
As Speight gets more comfortable throwing the ball, he’s noticeably getting better at making last-second decisions on the field, too.
In the first quarter, when the Wolverines were already up by two touchdowns, Speight displayed some of that patience. He took the snap on Illinois’ 16-yard line, and senior tight end Jake Butt and freshman wide receiver Kekoa Crawford ran downfield.
But neither player was able to get open, and Speight saw his chance to rush down the right sideline for 10 yards. Michigan scored again three plays later, putting the Wolverines up 21-0 over the Fighting Illini.
“I think it was a nice step the other day when he took off and ran for about nine yards when there wasn’t anyone to throw it to,” Fisch said. “I think they’re understanding when it’s time to cut your losses, so to speak, and know that you’ll live another play and have another opportunity.”
Speight isn’t a scrambling quarterback, but now opponents know that they can’t just worry about his throwing game. If he’s comfortable with tucking the ball in and running with it, he’s much more of a threat.
Of course, he wouldn’t be so confident if he didn’t trust himself to make good throws, too.
This season, Speight has thrown 182 passes. Fisch said that the quarterback has learned from every single one of them, which also helps the coaches find the best ways to use him.
“It’s kind of hard to explain, but you just drop back and you don’t say, ‘Oh gosh, I need to put it right here or else it’s going to be incomplete,’ ” Speight said. “No college quarterback is in college playing football because they aimed the ball growing up and playing quarterback their whole life. You just let it rip, and that was my focus.”