Michigan football: Wolverines need Peoples-Jones back to round out WR corps
Michigan had three explosive touchdown passes in the season opener against Middle Tennessee. New offensive coordinator Josh Gattis is hoping to see even more as the season rolls on.
Senior quarterback Shea Patterson had long touchdown throws to wide receivers Tarik Black (36 yards) and Nico Collins (28 yards), plus a 28-yard scoring connection with tight end Sean McKeon. That kind of high-octane offense is something that the Wolverine faithful have been waiting on.
Scoring 40 points in the season opener was a good sign, especially since the Michigan started a bit slow in the 40-21 win. Once they got rolling, the passing game was unstoppable.
And that was all without senior wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, who missed the game with a foot injury. He was seen in a walking book during the game, but is hopeful to return to action on Saturday when No. 7-ranked Michigan hosts Army. (Noon ET; TV: Fox)
“All three (Peoples-Jones, tackle Jon Runyan and defensive tackle Donovan Jeter) have a chance to play this week,” Harbaugh said.
Staying healthy is critical for Michigan this season. And if Peoples-Jones can get back soon, the Michigan receiving corps could be among the best in the Big Ten East. Peoples-Jones has 69 career catches, the most on the team. Collins (44 career catches) is next, followed by Black (19) and Ronnie Bell (10). Those 142 total careers catches are nowhere near the top in the Big Ten East.
Right now, it’s Ohio State and Indiana who can brag about having the best returning groups on the outside. Ohio State has the most career catches (268) by their top-four wide receivers, just one better than Indiana’s group (267). IU’s Nick Westbrook, Donovan Hale, Whop Philyor and Ty Fryfogle have the most career yards (3,688), a bit ahead (3,524) of Ohio State’s talented foursome of K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack and Chris Olave. Michigan’s foursome has only 2,024 yards.
How the totals play out this season would be helped greatly if Peoples-Jones can get back out on the field soon. It will be interesting to see if Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh takes the conservative approach and keeps him out for another week, because the Wolverines have an early bye week on Sept. 14 before playing at No. 17 Wisconsin on Sept. 21. That early start to the Big Ten season, especially on the road against a ranked team, means it would be best to see all hands on deck.
If we see Peoples-Jones sit against Army, it will also be interesting to see what happens with the quarterbacks. Patterson got dinged up a bit in the opener and Dylan McCaffrey got a good bit of playing time. He may see even more on Saturday against Army.
That’s fine with him. He’s like to play more, obviously, but he’s also all about winning.
“At this point of the season, you really gotta be just working with each other,” McCaffrey said. “I support Shea with everything I’ve got, because right now, everyone in this building, everyone in this program wants to win football games. I know he wants that just as much as anyone, and he comes here, he grinds every single day, so that’s good to see.
“I’m trying to prepare just in case something happens or they call my number, and I know he’s doing the same. Right now, it’s very supportive because everyone here just wants to win football games.”