ANN ARBOR, Mich. — If it was up to Wilton Speight, he may have kicked those three field-goal tries that his Michigan football team missed in Saturday’s 14-7 win over Wisconsin.
After all, the redshirt sophomore quarterback shouldered part of the blame for the Wolverines missing out on those nine points.
A day later, given the status quo of Michigan’s kicking game, Speight may have a chance to audition for the kicking job. Following the fourth-ranked Wolverine’s win at home, competition for the most scrutinized facet of Michigan’s special teams has officially been re-opened.
To recap Saturday:
Kenny Allen missed second-quarter attempts of 31 and 43 yards.
Ryan Tice missed a 40-yard attempt in the third quarter.
And Speight fell on his sword.
“That’s not on the kicker,” said Speight, who completed 20 of 32 passes for 219 yards with a touchdown and an interception. “That’s on me, as a quarterback, and on the offense, to get the ball in the end zone. We’d been efficient all year once we got to the red zone.
“On a windy day like this, to put that much pressure on the kicker, that’s not fair. We’ve got to hit the film and figure out how to put 6 or 7 on the board, instead of just three.”
That’s considerate, but …
Michigan (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) could be looking at game film of a 23-7 win instead of a squeak-it-out 14-7 win against the No. 8 Badgers (4-1, 1-1), as Michigan left nine points on the board. If it wasn’t for Speight’s 46-yard touchdown pass to Amara Darboh midway through the fourth quarter, those nine points would have been even more vital to the Wolverines in one of its closest contests this season.
When asked about the state of the kicking game, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh tried to cushion the blow by focusing on the win and not the particulars in the body of work. But then he made a declaration.
“First of all, talking to the team, we’re celebrating a win, a great win for our team,” Harbaugh said. “But there was a lot of things we did really well. Obviously, we left nine points on the scoreboard, and you’ve got to put those points on the board. Points on the board really matter. We’ll have a little kicking competition this week and it’ll be an opportunity for Ryan Tice. Yeah. See who can make them next time.”
There’s a reason why they call special teams “special.” For many football programs, playing on special teams is a certain apprenticeship, as players do the grunt work in order to climb the ladder and earn playing time. Those are the guys we don’t hear about.
But the players we do think of when we hear “special teams”?
It takes a certain skill set to block on a kickoff. It also takes a certain skill set to field a punt, then attempt to carry it as far as one can while cutting through a tangle of defenders.
Or to kick an oblong orb through a pair of uprights from a certain distance.
Maybe Allen is, in fact, overworked. The fifth-year senior is handling kickoffs, punts, field goals and point-after kicks for Michigan, and Harbaugh finally acquiesced when asked about his workload.
“I never thought it was ideal to have Kenny do the punting, the kickoffs and the field goals,” Harbaugh said of Allen’s multiple responsibilities. “It’s a lot. It’s probably too much. This will be an opportunity for Ryan Tice to step up this week and carry that duty.
“I’m confident he will. I think it would probably be better for our overall kicking game to have somebody that can do one of those phases.”
In 1997, Adam Sandler immortalized the kickers with a Bruce Springsteen-type anthem.
Now, Michigan needs to find itself one as it prepares for Saturday’s game at Rutgers.
Let the competition begin.
A statistical look at Michigan’s kickers, through five games:
Field goals: 4-8
Extra points: 24-24
Field goals: 0-1
Extra points: 6-6