ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Michigan football team will stick with Wilton Speight as its quarterback.
Speight will continue to be the starter, despite outside noise that seeped into the well-sealed vault that is Michigan football after its win Saturday against Cincinnati.
Speight became a target for Michigan’s shaky second and third quarters against the Bearcats, which led to some in the fan base to call for Brandon Peters to take over Michigan’s starting quarterback duties.
Michigan won’t take the advice of its unsatisfied fan base. Nor will third-year coach Jim Harbaugh, who is clearly keeping his faith in Speight.
“Wilton’s the starting quarterback, and we’re forging on,” Harbaugh said during his press conference Monday at Schembechler Hall. He said it without hesitation.
When asked where Speight can improve, Harbaugh gave another brief answer: “I think he’s doing fine.”
So, there’s no question: Speight will continue as Michigan’s starting quarterback when No. 7 Michigan (2-0) hosts Air Force (1-0) at noon ET Saturday at Michigan Stadium on Big Ten Network.
‘I couldn’t imagine being in Wilton’s shoes’
Speight didn’t publicly doubt himself after the team’s win against Cincinnati. He said he simply needs to adjust to the game speed.
“It’s definitely slowing down with each game,” Speight said after Michigan’s 36-14 win. “Some defenses are faster than others. I might be throwing more exotic looks than others, but at the end of the day it’s just football and I continue to tell myself that every Saturday. Things are slowing down, windows are opening up. It’s faster in my mind. I’m seeing things sooner. Hopefully, moving forward, it keeps trending in that direction.”
While Speight finished 17-for-29 passing for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns, he struggled with his footwork, lost a fumble on a botched handoff to Kekoa Crawford and sent several high passes that were out of the reach of Michigan’s receivers.
Still, Michigan’s fans showed they have little patience. They revolted against Speight, to the surprise of fifth-year defensive lineman Maurice Hurst.
“I couldn’t imagine being in Wilton’s shoes,” Hurst said. “It’s really tough for a quarterback to receive death threats or have someone say you should kill yourself or something like that. It’s ridiculous, to the point where it’s like, you guys are supposed to be our fans? You shouldn’t be saying that type of stuff.”
Wait. Did Speight get death threats?
“I assume so,” Hurst answered. “I remember that punt thing [against Michigan State in 2015], yeah.”
It’s college football. Not life versus death.
It’s about perspective
Right now, Michigan’s players probably have the most grounded perspective on a so-called quarterback controversy that’s already arisen, going into the third week of the season.
Tight end Zach Gentry explained the quarterback is the game manager, the main decision maker on the field and, essentially, Michigan’s coach on the field. The relationship with Speight, he said, is a valuable relationship that Michigan’s players need to not only assist but maintain.
As a former quarterback, Gentry has a stronger level of empathy for Speight.
“It’s so tough,” Gentry said. “People don’t understand just how tough it is. When somebody makes a mistake as a quarterback, there’s a lot of things within that mistake that people don’t realize happen. It could have been a wrong route or a missed assignment.
“People are maybe a little too harsh on quarterbacks, sometimes.”
Hurst thinks as much of what Speight has done on the field — he singled out Speight’s relief appearance in 2015 that helped lead Michigan to a win at Minnesota — as what he does off the field. And he humanizes Speight.
“He’s a friend, more so than anything else,” Hurst said. “Being a quarterback, he’s a friend and someone you care about. You trust him and outside of football, I’ve seen him do amazing things. … You never forget the games that he’s led you to wins, and he’s always been reliable.”
Michigan center Patrick Kugler has one reason to keep the faith in Speight.
“He’s the quarterback,” Kugler said. “He’s our leader. I’ll follow him.”