Wilton Speight arrived at UCLA as a graduate transfer from Michigan seeking one last chance at college glory. He began the season as the starting quarterback and lasted less than a half before getting hurt. Ever since, he’s played only as an injury replacement.
Somehow, Speight hasn’t let falling behind a true freshman in the quarterback rotation bruise his psyche.
“One thing I learned from coach [Jim] Harbaugh was just to build a callus and not let things that are not in your control affect you,” Speight said Saturday night after his latest fill-in performance, “and the only thing I’ve been able to control the past couple of weeks is my attitude and I’ve just tried to be as positive as I can and let that kind of glow a little bit so my teammates can see it.”
Speight didn’t start the Bruins’ 42-21 loss to Oregon at Autzen Stadium but finished it after starter Dorian Thompson-Robinson left the game with an unspecified injury midway through the third quarter.
UCLA trailed 28-7 when Speight came onto the field for the first time. He completed three of four passes on his initial drive, which ended with tailback Joshua Kelley’s 25-yard touchdown run.
The Bruins got the ball back after a punt and reached Oregon’s 31-yard line before Speight threw three consecutive incompletions, leading to a botched field-goal attempt.
The Ducks scored two plays later to go ahead, 35-14, but Speight helped the Bruins respond by completing all four of his passes on the next drive, including an 11-yard touchdown to Theo Howard.
Oregon tacked on another touchdown with just under six minutes to play to put the game out of reach. Speight’s final pass, on a fourth-down play, fell incomplete. He finished having completed 13 of 25 passes for 147 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions.
Speight showed better accuracy than Thompson-Robinson, who slipped a sack on an impressive 23-yard run but completed only nine of 23 passes for 135 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly said Thompson-Robinson had started the game based on his play in practice last week and his having fully recovered from the shoulder injury that forced him out of the game against Arizona on Oct. 20. Speight finished the game against the Wildcats and started the following week against Utah with Thompson-Robinson still sidelined.
Kelly intimated that Speight could play on Saturday when the Bruins travel to face Arizona State.
“It was positive when Dorian went down that we could turn to Wilton in that situation,” Kelly said, “because I think he did some things out there that hopefully we can build upon.”
Speight said he takes the approach that he’s going to start each game because he knows he’s an injury away from playing even if he’s not given the starting nod.
His three injury-plagued seasons under Harbaugh taught him that things aren’t always going to work out even with the best intentions and preparation. And so a player who said he wants to leave UCLA in a better spot than he found it forges ahead, unsure how many more opportunities he might get to do so as a Bruin.
“I don’t let stuff like this faze me,” Speight said, “because I know what I’m capable of and I know what I do on the field and how my teammates see me and I just want to finish my season out as strong as I can, these last three games, and then get to the next level.”