ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) – Wilton Speight faked a handoff and delivered a strike to Tyrone Wheatley Jr. for a 21-yard touchdown as the tight end when from right to left. Later, he drilled the ball to Amara Darboh, putting it where only the receiver could catch it between a couple defenders as he zipped from left to right.
He was so sharp and his team was up by so much that he didn’t even have to play the whole game.
Speight threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns in three quarters before watching No. 3 Michigan finish off Illinois 41-8 Saturday.
Taking advantage of last week’s bye, Speight spent a lot of time studying himself.
“I watched all the six games, every snap, and took a lot of notes,” he said.
The Wolverines (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) were leading 34-0 in the fourth quarter when Jim Harbaugh put backup quarterback John O’Korn in the game and rested Speight.
Speight, who completed 16 of 23 passes, threw a 3-yard pass to Jake Butt to score the first of four straight TDs to open the game.
“May have had one of his best games,” Harbaugh said. “It was windy out there. It was tough to throw.”
The Fighting Illini (2-5, 1-3) found that out as they were relegated to starting their third-string quarterback with a familiar name.
Jeff George Jr., son of the former Illinois and NFL quarterback, was 4 of 15 for 95 yards with a TD, an interception and a fumble in his first start. He played because Wes Lunt and Chayce Crouch are injured.
“It’s tough, but everybody has to have a start,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith said. “The running game could have helped him and other people had to play better.”
Illinois ran for 77 yards as a team – 113 below their previous average – and gained just 3.3 yards per carry.
After Michigan botched a fake punt near midfield in the fourth quarter with a 34-0 lead, George threw a 43-yard TD pass to Malik Turner on the next snap and followed with a 2-yard conversion pass to Zach Grant.
Karan Higdon scored on a 45-yard run on the ensuing possession and finished with 106 yards rushing on just eight carries for the Wolverines.
Illinois: George got off to an awful start, but bounced back with some good throws. He was 0 for 7 in the first half with an interception.
“At one point, I looked up and there was zero yards passing,” Harbaugh said.
George fared better in the second half. He perfectly lofted a 43-yard pass to Turner in the third quarter and dropped another long pass to him just over safety Delano Hill early in the fourth for a TD. George’s father attended the game and gave his son a pregame pep talk.
“He told me to get my mind right and get my emotions in check,” the freshman said. “He said I belong out there.”
Michigan: The Wolverines seemed to let up in the second half for the first time this season. They were up big, leading 31-0 at halftime, but didn’t continue to score at will as they did in other lopsided wins. Speight acknowledged that the team has to learn how to not “give the opponent any sense of life” after building a big lead.
The Wolverines will likely stay ranked No. 3, their highest spot in The Associated Press poll since 2006.
JUST KICKING IT
Michigan’s Kenny Allen made two field goals from 23 and 27 yards after missing his previous three attempts.
Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron accepted Harbaugh’s invitation to be the team’s honorary captain, giving him a chance to visit his granddaughter, a student at Michigan. Aaron flipped the coin before the game.
Illinois: The Illini return home to host Minnesota.
Michigan: The Wolverines play at Michigan State, a game they’ve been looking forward to since a botched punt led to a stunning loss a year ago.
“Those last couple seconds are still boiling ,” De’Veon Smith said. “We still taste it in our mouth.”