By: Darren Bennett
Fans like to play the blame game when something doesn’t quite go their way. Even though football is a team sport, we still like to point the finger at a unit or player after a loss. The criticism that Speight is receiving after a disappointing finish to the 2016 season seems to be at full force right now from a lot of fans. Although I think SOME of it IS justified, much of it (I think) is unfair and overblown by a lot of fans. So, what better way is there to evaluate Speight’s QB play than to take a snippet from the classic Clint Eastwood western, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” For those not familiar with this film, Blondie (The Good) is a professional gunslinger who is out trying to earn a few dollars. Angel Eyes (The Bad) is a hit man who always commits to a task and sees it through, as long as he is paid to do so. And Tuco (The Ugly) is a wanted outlaw trying to take care of his own hide. I saw the good, the bad and the ugly come to life in Speight’s game last year so let’s break it down Clint Eastwood style:
THE GOOD: EARNING HIS BUCKS
What most fans seem to focus on when it comes to Speight’s play last year is the last quarter of the season but let’s not forget the guy played well enough to beat #17 Colorado, #7 Penn St and #9 Wisconsin and racked up a combined 108 pts against them. Those are three legit teams that were fighting for a playoff spot the last two weeks of the regular season and went a combined 32-10. Take a look back at the Colorado game when our defense was banged up and we couldn’t stop Sefo Liufau. Speight managed the game and kept pressure on Colorado’s defense and threw for 229 passing yards. Not bad for his 3rd game as a starter. He completed 62% of his passes against PSU and threw for 189 yards in complete domination. Sure, PSU was banged up on defense but he still managed to put 49 pts on the board against the eventual B1G champions. Oh, and he also completed 63% of his passes against Wisconsin, who finished top 15 in total defense last year and threw for 219 yards.
Even in the heartbreaking loss to OSU, Speight looked downright brilliant at times making accurate throws in tight windows against a top 5 defense. Trust me, I’ll get to the bad and ugly later but right now let’s look at what he did right in that game. He completed 64% of his passes for 219 yards with 2 TD’s on the road in a hostile environment. The fumble on the 1-yard line was definitely a mistake but if you look at the sequence that followed that play, an OSU fake punt fail put us nearly in FG range in which Speight rose up, drove down and scored within the next 5 plays so really no harm no foul on the fumble. Momentum shifted back into our favor and we went up 17-7. Same score it would’ve been had we scored on the 1-yard line. Only thing lost was time. Point is, Speight stepped up and made up for his mistake on the next drive.
THE BAD: PAYING THE PRICE
I’ll get to the ugly later (hi Iowa game) but let’s look at the bad first. Staying with the OSU game, the pick 6 was definitely costly. Speight made some nice throws prior to this and really started to get into a rhythm. Bad field position backed us up close to our own goal line, a play action was called, Deveon didn’t pick up the inside blitz, the ball got tipped and sailed right into the hands of Malik Hooker for OSU’s first TD of the game. (insert SMH gif here). Bad play all around. Bad play call, bad pass protection, bad decision to try and get the throw off. Just bad. Speight should have tried to escape the blitz and just tuck it and run around the end or inside. All we needed was to stay out of the end zone to avoid the safety. The throw was off balance and a hand was in his face. Option two, throw the ball away or even take the safety. 2 pts is better than 7. Even though you could say this was bad on Speight’s part, I can see why it played out the way it did. Had Deveon picked up that blitz and bought his QB more time, it may have turned out differently. Had the play been something other than a play action in his own end zone, it may have turned out differently. Had the ball not been tipped, it may have flown over Malik’s head, avoiding the pick.
Of course, there was more bad in that game than just the pick 6. The fumble on the 1-yard line was really bad. The ball clearly went into Speight’s hands and he just dropped it. There’s really no excuse for it but as I alluded to it earlier, Speight stepped up and scored on the next drive to get the momentum back. The second pick was also really bad. Good protection, plenty of time to throw and the ball just sailed. No excuse for it and it was at a pivotal point in the game so it hurt that much more.
THE UGLY: OUTLAWED AND OUTPLAYED
The Iowa game to me stings hard because it was against a clearly inferior opponent and had we won, it would’ve STILL put us in the College Football Playoff conversation with a 2OT loss to OSU. It was your classic trap game and all the pieces fell into place to make it an all-around disaster of a game. Let me be clear: Speight deserves the criticism for the Iowa game. He completed only 42% of his passes for only 103 yards with zero TD’s and 1 pick. To put this in perspective, Minnesota, PSU and Nebraska all had statistically a better defense than Iowa. To play this bad against a mediocre defense in your 10th game is frankly unacceptable. I remember watching that game feeling utter disgust. It was just ugly. Speaking of ugly, first half of the FSU game was also ugly. 6 pts in the first half against again a mediocre defense is ugly. Speight completed only 55% of his passes with another pick. Ugh.
With all that said, I STILL think the amount of criticism that Speight is getting from fans is a little unfair. A lot of fans like to call him out for how he played vs Iowa. I’ll level with you there. There’s zero excuse for how he played. It was just an all-around bad, ugly, nothing good to say game. BUT, if you dissect the OSU game like I did, the pick 6 should not be all on Speight’s shoulders. It was just a bad play all around and it’s unfair to put all the blame on him (as I explained above). The fumble at the 1-yard line was a mistake but again Speight stepped up and scored on the next play. He didn’t fold like a lawn chair, he answered the bell at a critical point in the game and changed the momentum back into Michigan’s favor. You could say he didn’t do enough to put us in position to win. He did make some great passes against the best defense we played and for the most part, made pretty good decisions under pressure. I would argue 2 of the 3 turnovers Speight committed should not get the criticism that they are getting so that really leaves one pick that is justifiably on Speight’s shoulders that was not redeemed. Let’s keep in mind that we are talking about Ohio State. The team that is year in and year out on a similar level as Alabama. To walk into OSU, a hostile environment as a first-year starter and commit 1 true/costly pick isn’t as bad as some are making it out to be. I believe Speight DID put us in position to beat OSU but a few bad calls, unlucky plays and 1 bad spot (#JTwasShort) was the difference in the game. Not to mention, the OL/Run Game and play calling was absolutely terrible late in the Iowa and OSU games.
I know I’ll probably get reamed for this but I’m pulling out the injury card. I’ve seen on a few boards that Speight was definitely not 100% in the OSU and FSU games so is it really fair to criticize him if he wasn’t healthy in those games? Would you have rather seen JOK in their vs OSU and FSU? I wouldn’t.
So, let’s look at Speight’s first season as a whole. He won 9 games, lost 3. Had one bad game for sure vs Iowa, arguably 1 turnover against OSU should solely be on Speight’s shoulders (he made up for his fumble; bad play call/no pass protection on pick 6), he made some really nice passes (64% comp), kept us in the game despite no run game (remember, we were winning 17-14 until OSU kicked a last second FG to tie), and some really questionable calls (#JTshort, #OSUrefs), and played injured. Does that sound like a guy that should be getting heavily criticized?
It may be an unpopular opinion but I really think Speight can improve a lot this year with Harbaugh’s direction and development. He has some things for sure to fine tune, especially how he handles pressure in the pocket, his overall accuracy and throwing long balls. Many fans are already calling for Peters to take over. My reaction: You’d rather see a freshman with zero experience go in there instead of a guy that won 9 games and was one bad call away from winning the B1G East/Going to the CFP? A guy that beat Colorado, PSU and Wisconsin in his first year? Unless something catastrophic happens, expect Speight to start and lead this team in 2017. Harbaugh has confidence in him and we all should too. In Harbaugh We Trust. GO BLUE.
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