ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Something special is brewing in Ann Arbor between Wilton Speight and the cadre of receivers at his disposal.
However, the Michigan quarterback and his fleet-footed, sure-handed crew didn’t attribute their early-season success to any magic potion or a secret trip to a local fortune teller.
Instead, Speight and his receivers are sticking to the fundamentals of preparation. It’s all about passing, catching and running — and doing it often — they say.
“Just throwing routes and working our tails off,” Speight said. “Since January, after the bowl game. There’s no special recipe or secret, just working hard.”
In a 51-14 win over Central Florida on Saturday at Michigan Stadium, Speight completed 25 of 37 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns against the Knights.
That production came out of necessity, because UCF contained Michigan’s ground game. No. 5 Michigan (2-0) finished with only 119 rushing yards on 41 carries — a measly 2.9 yards per carry — and it was fullback Khalid Hill who ran for both of Michigan’s rushing touchdowns, not any of the flashy tailbacks.
“They were bringing a lot of people in,” Speight said. “That was a result of success in the play-action game. When we knew where to hand the ball off, they were coming hot, so that was with the defense. We knew we were going to run play-action and take a lot more deep shots this week than go with the run game.”
Meanwhile, Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson and Jake Butt took matters into their own hands against the Knights (1-1). Literally.
Darboh led all receivers with five catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Butt, Michigan’s All-American tight end, had seven catches for 86 yards and a pair of first-half touchdowns. Chesson added four catches for 84 yards. The trio combined for more than three-quarters of Michigan’s passing output.
Like Speight, Butt insists there’s no secret to what has helped the group achieve a particularly high level of chemistry.
“It’s the same thing we did with Jake (Rudock) last year,” Butt said. “We worked our butts off all spring, all winter. It’s just been something we’ve been working on. There’s really no secret to success, other than that. It’s just hard work, repetition and preparation.”
Darboh, who had three catches for 42 yards in last week’s win over Hawaii, also towed the receiving corps line.
“Throughout time — the spring game, summer ball and fall camp — we’ve practiced a lot to build that chemistry,” Darboh said.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh pointed out Speight’s personal development as a key to his success against UCF.
“When he has something to work on, he works on it,” Harbaugh said. “His improvement was made really fast. He’s a smart guy that’s very dedicated to getting better at something. Anything we’ve given him, Jedd (Fisch, Michigan’s passing game coordinator) or I, on improving his play, he’s been all ears and goes right to work on it.
“When he focuses on something to get better at, he goes right to work on it and gets better every day.”
In the 2008 New York Times bestseller “Outliers: The Story of Success,” author Malcolm Gladwell said that 10,000 hours are “deliberate practice” in order to achieve mastery in any field.
Speight, Darboh, Chesson and Butt didn’t have that kind of time between Jan. 2 and the beginning of September.
What time they had to practice, they maximized it.
“All these plays that we’ve run today, all these routes that we’ve run today, we’ve repped them, throughout the summer, probably a thousand times,” Butt said. “I’m not even exaggerating. We’ve repped post routes, corner routes, little digs and stuff probably a thousand times during the summer.
“We get out here and we’re playing a different team, whatever team it is on Saturday. It’s not a mystery to us. We’re ready to go.