Jim Harbaugh discusses Michigan’s blowout win over Indiana, says team is riding Shea Patterson’s play, Nov. 23, 2019.
Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Josh Uche says everyone associated with Michigan football knows, and has known, what Nico Collins is capable of.
The Wolverines have seen the junior receiver make plenty of plays, both during practices and games. He was the team’s leading receiver last season, and he has been the biggest play-maker this season, leading the team in yards per catch and receiving touchdowns.
And that talent — coupled with plenty of opportunities — led to a career-best game in Saturday’s 39-14 win at Indiana.
“Man’s a beast,” Uche said. “Everyone in the organization, we knew that. Anyone can be a practice All-American. But to see it come to fruition on game days is magical. Knowing what somebody’s capable of doing and seeing them execute, it’s just great to see.”
The Hoosiers were allowing an average of 176 passing yards per game. Collins nearly eclipsed that number, catching six passes for a career-best 165 yards and three touchdowns.
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Of the seven targets he received, only one didn’t lead to a reception — and that was an overthrown pass on which Collins cleanly beat his defender for what would’ve been a long touchdown. He even drew another pass interference penalty — his ninth of the season, the most in the nation, according to Pro Football Focus.
Michigan receiver Nico Collins catches a touchdown against Indiana defensive back Raheem Layne during the second half at Memorial Stadium, Nov. 23, 2019. (Photo: Marc Lebryk, USA TODAY Sports)
It’s no surprise that Collins was a handful for Indiana’s secondary. He is for most teams. But he has never had a game like Saturday’s. His previous career-high in yardage: 91, against Ohio State in 2018.
“Running game’s been lacking,” left tackle Jon Runyan Jr. said, “but with Shea (Patterson), Nico and the rest of the receivers on the page like that, there’s really no one that can stop us. It’s really awesome to watch.”
Against the Hoosiers, Michigan made it a priority to target Collins. And it paid off almost immediately. He caught three passes for 61 yards and a touchdown on Michigan’s go-ahead drive. Then he took a skinny post for a 76-yard touchdown, and caught a 19-yard jump ball in the end zone after the defense recovered a sack fumble.
“It was good to get Nico on some crossing routes, some slant routes, some deep ins,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He’s very good at it, he’s a big target, a big catch radius, and his assortment of routes that he’s running has picked up quite a bit. And he’s coming through.
“He’s high-pointing the ball as well as you can. He’s doing a tremendous job on the posts … He’s getting separation. He’s just doing a lot of great things as a receiver.”
Michigan receiver Nico Collins watches as a pass falls incomplete against Indiana at Memorial Stadium, Nov. 23, 2019. (Photo: Marc Lebryk, USA TODAY Sports)
According to Collins, his increased usage in the pass game was the result of in-game adjustments. Offensive coordinator and receivers coach Josh Gattis asked the players what they were seeing on the field, and which plays were working. Collins told Gattis that he was facing single coverage on the outside.
“(Gattis) trusted in us, and that’s what we did,” he said. “He made the adjustments and we went out there and executed the plays.”
Despite Collins’ prodigious talent, he had never broken the 100-yard mark before Saturday. Last season, the Wolverines didn’t throw the ball all that often, and certainly didn’t attack downfield as much as they are now. Earlier this season, the pass game seemed to be out of sync as they continued adapting to their new offense.
Now Patterson and Collins seem to be on the same page. And that’ll be crucial considering next week’s game is against No. 2 Ohio State, which boasts the nation’s top defense and has two potential high draft picks at cornerback in Jeff Okudah and Shaun Wade. If the Wolverines are to pull off an upset, they’ll likely have to connect a few times with their big-play receiver.
Saturday night, though, Collins was focused on the game he just played. He made sure to credit his quarterback and offensive line. He didn’t say much about his own performance — but he didn’t have to.
His play did it for him.
“Just Nico being Nico,” Patterson said.