After a hot start to begin the season, expectations for Wilton Speight have quickly simmered down. Saturday’s win over Wisconsin was the third straight game where the junior was less than awe-inspiring, again just throwing for one touchdown. The concerns with Speight are not so great that people are seriously questioning his starting ability, but his perceived ceiling has been rapidly diminishing. However, this sort of reaction may be a little premature.
Without a doubt, Speight was more exciting to watch to begin the season. After his first-play interception against Hawaii, he amassed seven total touchdowns and no more turnovers against the Rainbow Warriors and Central Florida. His next three games were much more pedestrian, totaling just three passing touchdowns against Colorado, Penn State, and Wisconsin. But the bigger sticking point revolves around his completion percentage and yards per passing attempt during these three contests, figures that have both dropped off after the first three weeks.
An exaggerated decline
|Defense||Speight Pct.||Average Pct.||Speight Y/A||Average Y/A|
After starting the season lights-out, Speight has struggled to maintain his passing accuracy against recent opponents. Though he still sits at a respectable 63 percent on the year, many were hoping that this number could be much higher after seeing his start to the season. Still, his completion rate figures may be a bit deceiving.
While Speight did see a drop-off in his own numbers during Weeks 3-5, he actually performed better than average on the whole. Adjusting out the defenses’ matchups against Michigan, Speight has been more accurate that the average quarterback against every team he has played except Penn State, when he was only slightly below the mark. Overall, Speight has been over eight points better than a defense’s average allowed completion percentage this season.
Likewise, Speight’s yards per attempt have been in a decline, but the raw numbers are blind to opponents’ schemes and defenses. When considering how these teams have faced other opponents, Speight’s numbers are far more understandable. Just like his completion percentage, he has only underperformed in yards per attempt on one occasion, and he has averaged almost two yards better than the opposing defenses have faced in other quarterbacks.
Not only has he been above average in both areas, but Speight has also been doing what he needs to do when he needs to be doing it: his completion percentage is over 72 percent in the second half of games and his yards per attempt is over two yards higher.
Completion percentage and yards per attempt are not the absolute rubric of quarterback performance, but Speight has shown his competency through these two areas this season. Through these metrics it becomes clear that his decline has less to do with a deterioration of his skills and more to do with the difficulty of Michigan’s schedule. This is no excuse for the quarterback, as the schedule will only get tougher and the pressure will only build, but it should set some minds at ease.
Speight certainly does has room to grow in many areas of his game; he made a few questionable passes against Wisconsin that did not help his completion percentage, and the deep ball threat has been mostly absent since the first two weeks. However, the numbers show that he is an adequate quarterback at the very worst, and if anything he is expected to move in the positive direction.
The tempting measuring stick for Speight would be Jake Rudock’s 2015 season. Rudock recorded a 60 percent completion rate with 10.7 yards per attempt through his first five games last year before turning those numbers into 66 percent and 12.9 yards per attempt over the next eight. Speight and Rudock are different players with different circumstances, but it would not be unreasonable to believe that Speight could enjoy a similar improvement like his predecessor.
Of course, the desire is always for Speight to transform into one of the country’s elite quarterbacks, but he can still be effective without achieving that level. Despite public sentiment, the quarterback Speight has been in the last three weeks is not that different than the player he was during Weeks 1 and 2. It would be great to see him improve in both consistency and accuracy as the season progresses, but complaints about Speight’s demise have been heavily exaggerated and are ultimately without much base.