Michigan’s top two quarterbacks will likely be on opposite ends of the comfort spectrum when they suit up for practice Monday afternoon.
Fifth-year senior and starter Jake Rudock is recovering from a shot to the ribs that sidelined him for the final 20 minutes of Saturday’s win at Minnesota. Harbaugh said he expects Rudock to be sore and limited during his first time back on the field.
The understudy, redshirt freshman Wilton Speight, is feeling anything but sore after leading a fourth-quarterback comeback and throwing a game-winning touchdown pass in his first significant college playing time.
“I don’t know who else has done something like that,” Harbaugh said Monday afternoon. “It’s really going to benefit him, be great for his confidence. I imagine when we go to practice today that No. 3 will have a pep in his step. They’ll be a bounce to him.”
Harbaugh told reporters immediately after Saturday’s win that he thinks Rudock will be healthy enough to play against Rutgers this week, but that’s still a wait-and-see situation. The coach said Rudock’s health doesn’t have to be at 100 percent, and he doesn’t have to practice a certain amount during the week to get on the field Saturday. He needs to feel good enough to play better than Speight, and he needs to be healthy enough that he’s not risking injuring himself further by playing.
“Those are the two criteria,” Harbaugh said. “How good does he have to be play? He’s not going to injure himself worse, and he gives us the best chance to win.”
If Rudock can’t go against Rutgers, Speight will take his place. The 6-foot-5 quarterback completed three of his six passes in relief at Minnesota, improving not only his own confidence, but his teammates confidence in him as well. After missing on his first few attempts, Harbaugh pulled Speight aside and pounded on his shoulder pads to try to get him settled into the game.
Senior Jehu Chesson, who caught a 14-yard pass from Speight in the end zone to give the Wolverines a 29-26 lead, said the rookie quarterback commanded the huddle during the game-winning drive. Tight end Jake Butt, who caught Speight’s first college completion earlier in the drive, said he saw him get more comfortable in the fourth quarter.
“I think he was a little shaky on that first snap, which [is understandable because] you’re getting thrown into a hostile environment” Butt said. “As the game went on, I think he completed that first pass to me ... and that was a beautiful ball on that touchdown, you could tell the confidence was growing.”
Speight officially passed junior Shane Morris on the team’s depth chart this week, although Harbaugh said he had been slotted at QB No. 2 in the coach's mind for the past few games. Morris was Rudock’s main competition for the starting job in August. When Rudock won the spot, Morris and Harbaugh decided together keep the junior on the sideline this season, if possible, in the interest of preserving a year of eligibility.
Morris played in each of his first two seasons at Michigan, which would leave him with two more years to play starting next fall. Rudock will be gone in 2016, but Morris will still have to compete with Speight, Houston transfer John O’Korn and several other candidates to win the job if he remains in Ann Arbor.