Dienhart: How good are Wilton Speight, 2-0 Michigan?
The points kept coming for Michigan on a bright September afternoon in Ann Arbor. When the Wolverines looked at the scoreboard at the final gun, they had subdued Central Florida, 51-14.
So, if you are keeping track at home, Michigan has won its first two games by a combined total of 97 points after crushing Hawaii, 63-3, in the opener the week before.
How good is this Michigan squad? I’m not sure. But, I’m eager to find out. Alas, the schedule doesn’t provide many big tests early. That’s too bad.
Colorado comes to the Big House next week. And Penn State arrives the following week. No doubt, the Buffs and Nittany Lions will provide the best tests yet. But the big push will come Oct. 1 when Wisconsin comes to Ann Arbor to finish a run of five home games to open the season for the Wolverines. In fact, six of the first seven Michigan games are in the Big House, as a trip to Rutgers looms Oct. 8 followed by a visit from Illinois on Oct. 22 after a bye week.
Add it all up, and the Wolverines could be 7-0 to start the 2016 season as they head to Michigan State on Oct. 29 for what could be a huge game. Who knows? Maybe both teams will be unbeaten in what could be another epic battle in this rivalry. Will this schedule have Michigan battle-tested enough? We shall see.
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Instead, let’s savor what we have seen from Jim Harbaugh’s second squad, which looks every bit as good—if not better—than his first one that won 10 games and capped the season with a bowl win vs. Florida.
Entering this season, the big question for Harbaugh and Co., was quarterback. Who would replace Jake Rudock? Well, Wilton Speight looks more than competent. He may be better than Rudock. On this day, Speight looked like an All-Big Ten player, hitting 25-of-37 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns.
“I would not be going out on the limb to say he’ll be our offensive player of the week,” Harbaugh said.
“I thought he was exceptional. There was definitely drives we don’t get points on the board without the extra effort he was making out there.”
What’s uncanny is Speight’s ability to throw the deep ball. He missed one deep shot in the end zone and another to Grant Perry, but Speight connected with Jehu Chesson on 35-yard pass and also tossed a nice aerial to Amara Darboh for a touchdown. Wait. There’s more. The 6-6, 243-pound junior also was spot on to Jake Butt, as he was on target to Butt all day. What a combo that is. Bottom line: Speight looked calm, cool and collected for a guy making just his second start.
Throwing to Butt makes Speight’s job easier, as Butt is the top tight end in the Big Ten—if not the nation. He caught two scoring grabs today and finished with seven receptions for 86 yards. And, it was a good thing, as the Michigan rushing game wasn’t hitting on all cylinders.
“We think he’s the best tight end in the country,” said Speight, who hit Darboh five times for a team-high 111 yards and two scores. “He makes our job easy as a quarterback and receivers.”
On this day, Khalid Hill provided a spark in the rushing game with two rushing TDs as De’Veon Smith (38 yards) and Chris Evans (35) failed to get traction as the Wolverines ran 41 times for only 119 yards (2.9 ypc) with a long run of 18 yards.
You know this run game will round into form, as the line may be the best for the school in a decade. And the defense? It continues to be impressive even without corner Jourdan Lewis out for a second straight game with according to reports a back injury. The Wolverines were also without defensive linemen Taco Charlton and Bryan Mone, as expected. And Michigan also played without freshman corner David Long, who sat out due to an undisclosed injury. When this unit is at full strength, it has few peers.
We will just have to wait to see how good this Michigan team really is.