ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Wilton Speight has clearly found his rhythm at quarterback. Now, it’s simply about refining it.
Each week, Michigan’s quarterback puts up similar yet consistent numbers; in his first eight games, the redshirt sophomore averaged 211.4 yards a game.
Saturday, however, he threw for a season-high 362 yards in the 59-3 rout of Maryland. There was some irony in the rout — Michigan did it against Terrapins coach D.J. Durkin, who was Michigan’s defensive coordinator in 2015.
But when it comes to making a vital connection each week, Speight finds a different option. Last week at Michigan State, it was Amara Darboh.
This week, it was Jehu Chesson.
Chesson had a season-high 112 yards on five catches, including a dazzling catch with about 5 minutes left in the first quarter on a trick play that involved Jabrill Peppers.
What will @JabrillPeppers do today?
How about this?
That will do!
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 5, 2016
“I’d seen Jehu deeper all week, but I’d never thrown it,” Speight said. “They doubled Kekoa (Crawford) and I was able to rip it deep. With Jabrill, when he has the ball, everyone thinks it’s going to stay in his hand, but for him to turn around and throw the ball back to me was big.”
Chesson wasn’t made available to the media after the win, but it’s safe to let his statistics speak for themselves. Afterward, Speight said he and passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch keyed in on Chesson this week as a strong option
“All week, we saw on film that there were some defensive backs who wouldn’t be able to hang with him, speed-wise,” Speight said. “And we wanted to expose that.”
Smart play, strategy and consistency helped Chesson became another beneficiary of Speight’s continued production.
But what has helped Speight himself continue to be so consistent?
“It’s probably just experience,” said Speight, who was 19-for-24 passing with two touchdowns. “Every week is another game under my belt. I say every week that I watch the film, I learn from it and move on, and that’s what we’ve been able to do.”
The yeoman-like attitude has become characteristic for Speight. He continues to deflect attention each week, despite somehow being the center of it — the quarterback, after all, is the highest-profile position on a football team.
Speight’s teammates know this, yet after another successful outing, they heaped him with praise.
All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis, for example:
My quarterback is an All- American, omg.
— Jourdan Lewis (@JourdanJD) November 5, 2016
Additionally, Speight set a Michigan record with 292 passing yards in the first half against Maryland.
“That was statistically, just the eyeball (test), that’s the best half of football I’ve ever seen a Michigan football quarterback play,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Moving and throwing and accuracy, and extending plays.
“I don’t know how you play a better than what Wilton did. I think he had maybe one bad throw, but other than that, it was a perfect game.”
As a former Michigan quarterback, Harbaugh knows.
Harbaugh took it a step further, though, putting Speight in the same conversation with dynamic teammate and Heisman Trophy hopeful Peppers.
“You might want to look at the quarterback, too,” Harbaugh said. “The way he’s been playing all season. I think it’s time to throw his hat into the ring.”
That might be a bit of hyperbole on Harbaugh’s part; Speight only eclipsed the 2,000-yard passing mark for the season Saturday afternoon (Speight has 2,053 yards), and the nation’s leading passer, Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, has 3,519 yards in the Red Raiders’ first eight games.
Even Speight sort of shook his head when told of Harbaugh’s Heisman hype.
“Jabrill deserves to be in New York,” Speight said.
But, he added of his own Heisman contention, and of Michigan’s final month, “that doesn’t happen unless you go undefeated in November. Maybe it was Dabo Swinney or someone who said, ‘The fans and the voters remember what goes on in November,’ so this is a pretty good first step, but there’s a lot left to go.”
Until it’s over, Speight has work left to do. And more receivers to find.