The Michigan QB Battle That Never Was

By Will Burchfield @Burchie_kid

It was much ado about nothing.

The great Michigan Quarterback Mystery of 2016, which confounded the masses all summer long, was solved back in April.

All the excitement about Houston transfer John O’Korn? Just bluster. The hope for senior Shane Morris? Mostly a mirage.

Wilton Speight was QB-1 all along, prepared to march out for Saturday’s season opener well before the team began game-planning for Hawaii.

“I finished spring ball last year on top and I was told going into camp that I would start there and it was my job to lose,” Speight said after Michigan’s 63-3 dismantling of the Rainbow Warriors. “So I made sure to stay there. I didn’t really worry about them naming the starter or what day it happened.”

The Speight era didn’t begin smoothly. The junior from Virginia was picked off on his very first throw of the season, rolling out to his right and all but handing the ball to an appreciative Hawaii cornerback. But Jim Harbaugh didn’t waver. In fact, the Michigan coach hugged his quarterback and laughed, encouraging him to turn the page.

“He was like, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get it on the next drive,’” Speight recalled.

That show of support helped Speight settle his nerves. He knew Harbaugh was in his corner. Turns out, he’s been there for a while.

“There was never a time heading into the game or after that first interception where I was looking over my shoulder,” Speight said. “Coach has played the position. He knows that if a quarterback doesn’t perform at a high level he’s always worried about being replaced after one bad play. So I knew he was going to be cool about it.”

Though Speight led the quarterback race from the get-go, both he and Harbaugh clarified it was always close. Had Speight stumbled, both O’Korn and Morris would have been quick to step in.

“John and Shane both had an incredible camp statistically. We kept stats on it every day and it was close for a while,” Speight said. “John would always come out firing, trying to take my spot, and Shane would do the same thing.”

Harbaugh spoke to this same competitiveness.

“It was not by a wide margin because all the QBs have been playing very well, from the first day of camp. From the first day to the first week to the second week all the way through, consistently good. Wilton was just a little better,” Harbaugh said, raising his hands for comparison and holding them all but level. “It was convincing that he was the best guy.”

Speight put a stamp on his coach’s decision, finishing 10/13 for 145 yards and three touchdowns. Harbaugh was most impressed by his ability to rebound after a dreadful opening statement.

“I think it speaks volumes and bodes really well for our team and bodes really well for his career as a quarterback to have done that, to have come back off an interception and the very next drive go 98 yards for a touchdown. Now he knows he can do it and now we can expect him to do it,” Harbaugh said.

Speight was lifted midway through the third quarter on Saturday with Michigan ahead 49-0. That allowed O’Korn and Morris to get in the game, much to Speight’s satisfaction.

They were his challengers throughout the summer, but his teammates first.

“The best part about it is we were able to be mature throughout the whole process and be loyal like the friends we are,” Speight said. “And they were able to go and show what they can do today, so it was awesome to see those guys play.”

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