Wilton Speight, Chris Evans provide answers for Michigan in season opener
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Coming into the 2016 season, Michigan looked like a loaded football team that had very few flaws. But when you looked closely, there were still a few things to be concerned about, especially the uncertainty at two critical positions, quarterback and running back.
Those are marquee positions on a marquee team. On any team, really.
They’re vital to the Michigan offense, of course. But after a 63-3 win over Hawaii at Michigan Stadium, those questions appear to have two very specific answers.
- At quarterback, Wilton Speight showed immediate resiliency.
- At running back, Chris Evans simply stuck to what got him to Michigan.
For the Wolverines, Speight and Evans became the answers to some of the few questions they had.
Speight’s big day didn’t start well. On Michigan’s first play from scrimmage, Hawaii defensive back Damien Packer intercepted the redshirt freshman at the Wolverines’ 38-yard line, and Speight went back to the sidelines, greeted by what appeared to be an enraged Jim Harbaugh.
Harbaugh, Speight insisted, wasn’t angry.
“I was kind of rolling to our sideline, so that momentum carried me to Coach,” Speight said. “He grabbed me, hugged me and was kind of laughing. He told me, ‘Don’t sweat that, we’ll get ’em next time.’ ”
Speight took those words to heart. When he returned to the field, he steered the Wolverines through an 11-play, 98-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Speight to Grant Perry, the first of his three touchdown throws.
All Speight needed was one good throw to get that confidence.
“Once I saw my first completion to Jehu (Chesson) on a slant, I felt settled in, a weight completely off my shoulders.”” said Speight, who finished 10-for-13 passing for 145 yards.
A regular quarterback may have wilted. But not Speight. And that’s what Harbaugh wants to see out of his quarterbacks, that confidence, that resiliency.
“Its very difficult for a quarterback to throw an interception and lead a touchdown drive on the next series,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve always been fascinated by watching that … and the really good quarterbacks can do that.
“I was just excited for that opportunity, to see what he can do the next time.”
Then, Harbaugh sat back and took a few seconds to consider what Speight did.
“To start the next drive on the 2-yard line? That’s as much adversity a quarterback can face,” Harbaugh said. “But he responded in tremendous fashion.
“It bodes really well for our team and for his quarterback career to have done that. Now he knows he can do it. Now he knows we can expect him to do that.”
While many anticipated Speight as Michigan’s starter, they got a surprise in Evans, a true freshman running back from Indianapolis. With De’Veon Smith sidelined with a rib injury, Evans took on the role of Michigan’s No. 1 running back and scored touchdowns in the second and third quarters, including a 43-yard run 1:16 into the third that gave Michigan a 42-0 lead.
“I’ve seen the Big House roar, but I ain’t never seen them roar for me,” said Evans, who finished with 112 yards on eight carries. “It was a totally different feeling. It was crazy.”
Evans didn’t get wrapped up in the roar of more than 110,000 people — something that would be easy for someone just a few months removed from high school.
Yet even before Saturday’s game, Evans proved he was a take-charge sort of guy. When the Wolverines met Friday with NBA legend Michael Jordan, Harbaugh said Evans was the first player to ask a question of the iconic sports figure.
His question, Harbaugh said, was simple: “What was it like to play in your first college game?”
“He wanted to do everything right,” Harbaugh said of Jordan’s response. “He didn’t want to make mistakes.
“He told them, ‘Trust your training. That will carry you.’ ”
“In my mind, I was kind of under the radar a little bit,” Evans said. “In my mind, I knew I could do this, what I did today, but I stayed humble about it. I just wanted to see everybody succeed on my team. When I got my shot, I got my shot.”
Rachel Lenzi covers Michigan sports for Landof10.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @RLenziAJC