Michigan didn’t get a chance to throw the ball downfield in the season-opening rout of Hawaii on Sept. 3. This week, the Wolverines offense made sure to let new starting quarterback Wilton Speight air things out early.
Speight completed passes of 35, 32 and 45 yards on Michigan’s first three scoring drives to open up a comfortable lead against UCF. The offense cooled off in the second half, and Speight finished with with 312 yards on 25-of-37 passing and four touchdowns. He left the game after giving the Wolverines a 51-14 lead early in the fourth quarter, a score that would hold up.
All three of those deep balls were longer than his longest throw against Hawaii, when the first-time starter didn’t throw many balls farther than 15 yards downfield. Michigan’s playcallers stuck to the run while racking up 306 yards on the ground against the Warriors a week ago.
“I think (it was) the nature of the game at that point,” passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch said earlier this week when asked if they were trying to ease Speight into his new position. “We didn’t have to throw the ball downfield. I don’t know what that would have really done for us or anybody to just start launching balls the way the score was.”
Michigan’s offense took until late October last season to start regularly stretching the field with former quarterback Jake Rudock under center. Rudock eventually developed a downfield chemistry with receivers Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh, but Michigan completed only 15 passes of 30 or more yards during the 2015 season. Speight has four of those already despite mostly avoiding playing in the fourth quarter in his first two starts.
"It’s a different situation," Fisch said. "It’s a different deal, it’s a different quarterback, it’s a different team."
Speight looked Chesson’s way twice on fly routes on his first three pass attempts Saturday, finding him for a 35-yard pass that set up Michigan’s first score. They connected again for 32 yards on the next drive before Darboh got behind a UCF defender for a 45-yard touchdown to make the score 21-0 late in the first quarter.
If the Wolverines are able to keep their passing attack in sync throughout the season, that should help add a layer of versatility to the offense. The offensive line struggled to consistently open up holes in the UCF defense for a group of backs that averaged 2.6 yards per carry while the starting offense remained on the field intact on Saturday.
Michigan plays Colorado at home next weekend before beginning the Big Ten schedule with visits from Penn State and Wisconsin.