Two days after fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock led the Wolverines to their 41-7 victory over Florida, passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch texted the quarterbacks who would be taking over in Rudock’s absence.
Fisch’s message came in loud and clear: it was going to be the most intense battle that the quarterbacks had ever been in, but it would also be the most rewarding.
Exactly four months after the Citrus Bowl came to its close, redshirt sophomore Wilton Speight confirmed after the Spring Game that Fisch was right. It has “absolutely” been the most fierce competition he’s ever been in.
Last season, Speight didn’t even play in the Spring Game. He was out with a groin injury and watched from the sidelines as Shane Morris headlined the competition.
This year, he took the first snap for the Maize team, leading his teammates to a 14-13 victory over the Blue team. He was responsible for both of the Maize team’s touchdowns, completing a 13-yard pass to senior tight end Jake Butt for one and running into the end zone off a 6-yard bootleg for the other.
Though Speight dealt with early nerves on the field, he expected to get any anxiety out of his system in his second play. He knew that he was going to throw a “launch ball,” and with that pass, he planned on ridding himself of extra adrenaline and restlessness.
On that second play, he overthrew sophomore Grant Perry, who was able to catch the ball, but was a yard out of bounds. After that, Speight completed the rest of his passes, going 5-for-6 for 46 yards.
His renewed confidence partially stems from his performance at Minnesota last season, where he led a game-winning touchdown drive when Rudock left the game with an injury.
“(Playing against Minnesota last season) was huge,” Speight said. “Not that you live in the past, you never want to do that, but to go out there and say that, ‘Well I’ve done this on the road in a hostile environment, why can’t I do it in Glick (Fieldhouse), or why can’t I do it in a Spring Game, or why can’t I do it next year versus Hawaii?’ It’s big and it’s kept me calm.”
He also gets a sense of calm from Fisch, who has kept the quarterbacks composed throughout the spring season.
Redshirt juniors John O’Korn and Morris showed that sense of calm at times on Friday night as well, combining on a trick play for the first touchdown of the Spring Game.
O’Korn started under center for the first snap of the game and led an impressive drive that included a 30-yard deep ball to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Drake Harris, who got one foot in at the 11-yard line. A few plays later, Morris lined up at receiver. O’Korn pitched the ball to Morris, who completed a nine-yard touchdown pass to fifth-year senior Drake Johnson for the first score of the game.
During the second quarter, Morris proved that he was capable of leading a drive, completing consecutive passes to Joe Hewlett and Drake Harris for five and eight yards, respectively, and then following up with a 15-yard run of his own. But shortly after, the quarterback tailed off. As shown in previous seasons, Morris has a cannon, but he overthrew his next three targets. On 4th-and-10 with six seconds to go until halftime, Morris flung the ball into the air, but senior safety Dymonte Thomas intercepted the ball in the end zone.
While all three competing quarterbacks can scramble, O’Korn proved that he could move under pressure. In the final seconds, O’Korn dove into the end zone for a touchdown. The Maize team attempted a two-point conversion on the final play of the game, but the Blue team stuffed redshirt junior fullback Henry Poggi.
Speight watched the final play next to Butt on the sidelines.
“We were able to stuff them and then we just had fun just clowning around, running around on the field and stuff,” Speight said. “It was a cool feeling.”
Though winning was nice, proving his ability might have been better.
“(This spring camp) has really just been so fun for me,” Speight said. “Last year, I tore my groin, and the year before that, I was an early enrollee and didn’t know what was going on. It really wasn’t enjoyable. But this spring, I was healthy and getting reps with the ones and doing well and enjoying the game of football.
“It was so nice to get back to that kind of feeling.”
The Spring Game doesn’t count for much except for bragging rights, but after the game, the winners were rewarded with steak and the losers sat down to spaghetti.
The quarterback battle is far from over, but Friday night, Speight headed back for steak. O’Korn and Morris had spaghetti.