ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Wilton Speight may have reached for a bottle of ibuprofen or a few extra ice packs Sunday morning. Less than 12 hours prior, Michigan’s quarterback took yet another physical pounding in No. 4 Michigan’s 14-7 win against No. 11 Wisconsin.
“There’s some bumps and bruises, but nothing major,” said Speight, who was 20 for 32 passing for 219 yards and a touchdown against Wisconsin.
Monday afternoon, though, he downplayed the fact he got sacked four times by the Badgers. By comparison, in Michigan’s first four games, it had given up only five sacks.
Granted, Michigan hasn’t had obnoxious numbers in the “sacks against” statistical category since 2013, when it gave up 36 sacks — including seven in a 29-6 loss at Michigan State. That number has gotten smaller each season, but protecting the quarterback as the 2016 season wears on will become a priority for Michigan, because four of its next five opponents have at least 11 sacks this season — including Rutgers.
Michigan (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) faces Rutgers (2-3, 0-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, N.J., and needs to firm up its offensive line. The Badgers didn’t just exploit the unit, they forced Michigan to reshuffle it.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh announced Monday that starting left tackle Grant Newsome will miss the rest of the season with an unspecified knee injury, and Juwann Bushell-Beatty is “Plan A” to replace Newsome. If center Mason Cole moves to left tackle — his original spot on Michigan’s offensive line — Pat Kugler will fill in at center.
The reshuffling, though, will have to be done quickly prior to meeting the Scarlet Knights. And the corrections will need to be made, especially when it comes to protecting Speight. Defensive lineman Julian Pinnix-Odrick leads Rutgers with four sacks.
“(Wisconsin) got us on the edge a few times with speed and strength, speed and power,” Harbaugh said. “They were effective in run-throughs. Shoring up the edge and the linebacker run-throughs, we can do a better job.”
In particular, Wisconsin outside linebacker T.J. Watt menaced Speight on Saturday. In addition to sacking Speight in the second half, Watt also rushed Speight on third-and-8 from the Wisconsin 25-yard line midway through the second quarter, as Speight threw a pass intended for Jake Butt. Even that became a learning experience for Speight.
“I should have thrown it away,” Speight said. “That was evident. I was trying to find Jake or (Devin) Asiasi and make a play that wasn’t there. That’s something I learned from. If you don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel, sometimes the best thing is to throw the ball out.”
Speight also will take it upon himself to help his unit rectify its protection problems. He explained Monday that he has to take more ownership of what he sees on the field prior to the snap in order to better evaluate what unfolds around him.
The offensive line, he said, is doing its job. And with the ease of a veteran quarterback — though he is only five games into his tenure as Michigan’s starting quarterback — Speight made a declaration.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” he said.
The hard hits, Speight insists, haven’t shaken his confidence. “Never too high, never too low,” Speight said. “I just want to keep moving on in the journey.”
That begins with Michigan’s first road game Saturday, in New Jersey.
Sacks by Michigan’s next seven opponents — through games of Oct. 1
Michigan State: 5
Ohio State: 10
Source: Big Ten football statistics