Tom VanHaaren, ESPN Staff Writer 92d

Back to fundamentals for Michigan's Wilton Speight to fix accuracy issues



ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Entering the season, it was easy to think that Michigan might struggle on defense after losing nearly every starter from last season. Through two games, though, it's the offense that requires further examination.

Junior quarterback Wilton Speight's accuracy issues and tendency to overthrow receivers have garnered the most criticism. And sent him back to basics.

"What it comes down to is, when there's something going on in my face, I've got to, when I avoid the pressure, I've got to keep my base," Speight said.

Facing blitzes, Speight completed just over 33 percent of his throws, as opposed to completing 61.1 percent with no pressure. On the season, he's completing just over 51.9 percent of his passes, with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

The main concern has come from passes that have sailed over the heads of Speight's receivers. In the game against Florida, those overthrows landed in defenders' hands and were turned into two pick-sixes.

Those overthrows persisted against Cincinnati on Saturday, when Speight missed Donovan Peoples-Jones in the first quarter. It happened again when Speight tried to connect with Peoples-Jones in the third quarter, after the wide receiver found a pocket on second down, but he couldn't reel in a pass that flew over his head.

Despite the 2-0 record, the concerning thing for the Wolverines is that these problems become the blueprint for disrupting Michigan's offense. Blitz Speight or force him out of the pocket and you can beat Michigan's offense.

Through two games when Speight is passing in the middle of the field between the numbers, he has completed 76.4 percent of his passes for 396 yards. Outside the numbers on the left and right side of the field, when out of the pocket, Speight only has completed 10 percent of his passes for 6 yards.

The Michigan coaches think Speight can fix these issues with fundamentals. By keeping his feet steady, underneath him and in a stable throwing position, Speight can be on target with his throws.

"Coach Pep [Hamilton] is big on keeping my base loaded," the junior quarterback said. "Sometimes I just, when I avoid or move around in the pocket, I get a little sloppy with my feet, which causes the ball to sail or to go a little low."

Speight wasn't bad overall against Cincinnati, completing 17 of his 29 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns. He hit his receivers on the numbers several times, including on a 43-yard touchdown pass to Kekoa Crawford early in the first quarter, and he avoided the turnovers that hurt him in Michigan's first game against Florida.

Speight's inaccuracy wasn't all that led to a sputtering performance against Cincinnati. Crawford fumbled a handoff on a fly sweep in the second quarter, and the team suffered several special-teams gaffes.

But Michigan is 2-0, and head coach Jim Harbaugh doesn't seem too concerned with the mistakes the offense has made. As for Speight's mechanics and overthrows, Harbaugh brushed it off as something that will work itself out, with Speight eventually finding his way.

"You're not going to be perfect," Harbaugh said. "Could be better, and we'll keep striving for that perfection. I don't know exactly what his mechanics were on that, but people throw how they throw; he's done it enough where he's going to hit most of them, in my mind."

That's fine for now. Speight just might need to hit on a few more passing attempts, and accurately, when it's time for the Big Ten's powerhouses.

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