By: Will Burchfield
It was an issue versus Florida and it was an issue on Saturday versus Cincinnati.
It’s been an issue, really, throughout Wilton Speight’s time as the starting quarterback for Michigan.
He has a tendency to uncork wild overthrows, often times to wide open receivers. It’s the most obvious flaw in Speight’s game.
Against Florida it led to two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns. Speight was spared against Cincinnati, but a better defense would have made him pay.
He sailed more than a couple throws in Michigan’s uninspiring 36-14 win over the Bearcats, including one, targeted for Donovan Peoples-Jones, that would have picked up a big chunk of yardage.
Speight acknowledged the problem after Saturday’s victory.
“What it comes down to is when there’s something going on in my face, when I avoid the pressure and what not, I’ve got to keep my base. (Passing game coordinator) Pep (Hamilton) is big on keeping my base, staying loaded,” said Speight. “Sometimes when I move around the pocket I get a little sloppy with my feet, which causes the ball to sail or go a little low.
“That’s just something I’ve been working on every day and I’ll continue to do so.”
Said Jim Harbaugh, “There’s different ways that people throw, you can go with the usual buzzwords. I can think of one that sailed to Donovan on the deep crossing route. He had a nice throwing lane — see the lane, see the throw and make the throw.”
Harbaugh has backed Speight since he became the starting quarterback at the beginning of last season. He even championed his Heisman candidacy after a particularly impressive run of play in October and November. Though backups John O’Korn and Brandon Peters were given a chance to win the starting job this offseason, that mostly felt like a matter of procedure.
It was little surprise when Harbaugh trotted out Speight versus Florida. And it will take more than a few overthrows for the head coach to make a change.
As Harbaugh pointed out on Saturday, Speight still had a pretty solid game.
“You’re not going to be perfect. 17 of 29 (passing), 58 percent with a couple throwaways — not bad, can be better. And we’ll keep striving for that perfection,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know exactly what his mechanics were on the (overthrow to Peoples-Jones), but people throw how they throw. He’s done it enough where he’s going to hit most of them, in my mind.”
The one area in which Harbaugh voiced some frustration with Speight was his ball security. The junior quarterback fumbled twice on Saturday — on back-to-back drives, in fact — and Harbaugh suggested the second incident was a long time coming.
Speight botched a handoff to receiver Kekoa Crawford on a fly sweep simply because he was careless with the ball.
“He’s taking the other hand off the ball and trying to do a one-hand (handoff),” Harbaugh said. “I’ve been telling him, ‘It’s a matter of time until it slips out of your hand.’ Today was the day. Today was the day that it just slipped right out of his hand. It’s a bad habit, keep working hard to break him of that. Got us today.”
Harbaugh went on to say the snap was late and that Crawford may have been too tight with Speight at the time of the exchange.
“I think it was the culmination of three things that went wrong with that play, and we’ll get more time on task on it…Quarterback’s gotta handle the ball. Belt to belt, seed it in there with your eyes,” said Harbaugh. “Keep working.”
Speight agreed that the offense sputtered at times on Saturday, but is confident in his ability to clean things up.
“Obviously there were times where maybe we weren’t all on the same page or that fumbled exchange with Kekoa, but those are simple fixes and we’ll look at the film. I’ll look at the film a couple times tonight, watch it again tomorrow and get those things fixed. But I think overall it was a positive step forward from last week,” Speight said.