Why QB Wilton Speight is still best option for Michigan football
Jim Harbaugh ultimately sticks with Speight after pair of interceptions
It's not easy to be a starting quarterback at the University of Michigan. Expectations are high, competition is fierce and few mistakes go unnoticed.
Wilton Speight got off to a rough start in his second season as the starter, completing just 11 of 25 passes for 181 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions that were returned for scores.
Any way you look at those numbers, they aren't pretty. Even Speight's touchdown pass was about as easy as they come, after Florida's secondary completely forgot about freshman receiver Tarik Black in the middle of the end zone.
Speight's opener was defined by back-to-back passes that were picked off and returned for touchdowns by Florida defensive backs in the second quarter, but those weren't his only poor throws. He missed high on several other passes that soared out of bounds or landed just out of his receivers' reach.
With a chance to seal the game early in the fourth quarter, Florida's secondary left a receiver alone downfield once again, but Speight's pass to Kekoa Crawford sailed harmlessly into the Gators' sideline as the Wolverines settled for a long field goal attempt.
It was a bad game for the second-year starter, but that doesn't mean Speight should be in danger of losing his job, and Jim Harbaugh and Michigan fans know it.
Here are some of the reasons why.
Few other options
If Michigan had lost its opener against Florida, would the narrative surrounding Speight be so forgiving? Maybe not, but Speight was part of the reason that didn't happen.
Harbaugh loves competition, and Michigan fans know every year the best players are going to play the most, regardless of seniority and past accomplishments.
When Speight trotted onto the field Saturday with the rest of the offensive starters, the message was loud and clear: He is Michigan's best quarterback right now. After watching practice and workouts throughout the entire offseason, Harbaugh determined Speight is the best quarterback on the roster, and that says something.
John O'Korn was Speight's counterpart during the fall competition, but the gap between them is clear. When O'Korn came into the game, with Michigan trailing late in the first half, Harbaugh was reluctant to let him throw the ball. During his first possession, the Wolverines ran three straight passing plays. The following drive, O'Korn threw the ball once.
Brandon Peters and Dylan McCaffrey are the two most talented passers on the roster, but they need more time to mature and get comfortable in the offense.
Florida's strong defense
Speight missed some open throws Saturday, but some of his struggles have to be credited to Florida's defense.
The Gators were one of the top defensive units in the country last season, and ranked 14th nationally with 16 interceptions and 38th with 31 sacks. Florida sent multiple players to the NFL, but those players were replaced by more strong defenders, similarly to Michigan's turnover.
Michigan boasted the best pass defense in the country last season, but Florida was a close second. The Gators allowed just 148.5 passing yards per game, and nobody allowed fewer passing touchdowns in the nation.
Florida allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 45.1 percent of their passing attempts, second only to Michigan, which allowed a 43.6 percent completion rate.
Michigan fans who remember how dominant Don Brown's defense was in 2016 can appreciate how formidable Florida is on that side of the ball.
You couldn't tell on Saturday, but Speight's greatest strength in 2016 was taking care of the football.
In his first nine games, Speight threw for 15 touchdowns and only three interceptions while averaging 228.1 yards per game. The Wolverines won all nine games, and the offense was one of the most efficient in the country.
Late in the season, Speight did a full 180, partially due to a shoulder injury he sustained against Iowa. In his final three games -- all losses -- Speight threw three touchdown passes and four interceptions, including a costly pick-six at Ohio State.
Speight hasn't made many big mistakes during his college career, but when he does, opposing defenses have made him pay dearly. If he can get back to the Speight we saw throughout the first two-thirds of 2016, the offense will be in very good hands.
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