The Wolverine

October 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 64 of 67

OCTOBER 2018 THE WOLVERINE 65 A s junior quarterback Shea Patterson hurled the football through the air, Wolverines fans in Michi‑ gan Stadium and throughout the world held their breath and crossed their fingers. It was just past the midway mark of the second quarter of U‑M's contest against Western Michigan Sept. 8. Those fans, though, were not holding their breath and crossing their fin‑ gers because of that pass's im‑ pact on the final result. The game was essentially al‑ ready over. The Wolverines held a 28‑0 lead at that point after hav‑ ing scored touchdowns on each of their last four possessions, and they were well on their way to a 49‑3 beatdown of the Broncos. Those fans were holding their breath and crossing their fingers because none of those previous four Michigan scores had been a touch‑ down pass to its wide receivers and, astoundingly, U‑M had not thrown a touchdown pass to one of its wide‑ outs in 12 straight games. That is not a typo. Prior to that Pat‑ terson pass being released, the last time the Wolverines had managed to connect with one of their wide receiv‑ ers for six points was on Sept. 9, 2017, when Wilton Speight hit Grant Perry for a 33‑yard score against Cincinnati. It had been almost an entire calendar year without a U‑M wide receiver hauling in a touchdown — the lon‑ gest such drought in the country. Even Army, a triple‑option team that completed just 20 passes all of 2017, had tossed a touchdown pass to a wide receiver more recently, which spoke to U‑M's futility of flight. During this 12‑game drought, U‑M's passing offense nosedived into the toilet. The Wolverines delivered just six passing scores, five of which went to tight ends Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry and the other to run‑ ning back Chris Evans, and had more passes intercepted (seven). They failed to record more than 250 passing yards in all but one contest and averaged less than 7.0 yards per attempt in all but two contests. They completed less than 60 percent of their passes more often than they didn't. They landed only four passing plays of 40 yards or more total. Due to shaky quarterback play, a leaky offensive line and inexperienced wide receivers, Michigan's passing offense could not get vertical, and the whole unit crumbled into pieces. Michigan fans had been waiting for a sign — anything — that would provide them with a glimmer of hope that the Wolverines could finally end this horrid, embarrassing drought. It came in the form of Patterson's aforementioned pass against West‑ ern Michigan. After hanging in the heavens, the football gracefully fell into the waiting hands of sophomore wideout Nico Collins, who had snuck past WMU's coverage on a double move for a 44‑yard touchdown. The drought was finally over, and the jokes would finally stop. The Wolverines had finally rediscovered their wide receivers, and have not forgotten about them since. In their two games against West‑ ern Michigan and SMU, the Wol‑ verines slung six touchdown passes to their wide receivers. After the touchdown heave to Collins, Patter‑ son has guided sophomore wideout Donovan Peoples‑Jones to the end zone four times. Patterson threw a strike through a tiny window to Peoples‑Jones on an out route for a five‑yard score against the Broncos, and then the sopho‑ more wideout had a breakout performance with three touch‑ downs against the Mustangs, showcasing his speed and body control in the process. Even backup redshirt fresh‑ man quarterback Dylan McCaf‑ frey got in on the action, tossing an 18‑yard score to walk‑on wideout Jake McCurry in the fourth quarter against WMU. By reconnecting with its wide‑ outs, U‑M's offense has looked much more in sync and recorded two of its best passing days of the Jim Harbaugh era. Their quarterback ratings against SMU (232.3) and WMU (212.3) were the second best and third best of Har‑ baugh's tenure, respectively. With the aerial attack humming, U‑M scored more than 40 points in back‑to‑back games (49 versus WMU and 45 against SMU) for the first time since the middle of the 2016 season, and U‑M's offense shot up to 38th in S&P+'s offensive rankings. The caveat, of course, is that Mich‑ igan did this against two Group of Five teams whose pass defenses are far from stellar. Neither Western Michigan nor SMU is ranked in the top 100 in defensive quarterback rating, and their pass defenses will likely be picked apart all season. Nonetheless, Michigan needed to prove that its wide receivers could be a threat against these subpar defenses before they could be a threat against the elite defenses soon approaching. Whether U‑M's pass protection will continue to give Patterson enough time to find his wide receiv‑ ers streaking down the field remains unanswered. However, the next time when he does fling that ball into the clouds, Wolverine fans will know that their wideouts can bring it down. ❏ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT U-M (Finally) Rediscovers Its Wideouts Sophomore wideout Nico Collins' touchdown reception against Western Michigan ended a 12-game span of a U-M wide receiver failing to make a scoring catch. PHOTO BY BRANDON BROWN Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett.

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolverine - October 2018