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Finally assertive, Roundtree bails out Michigan

Teresa Mathew/Daily
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By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 10, 2012

The Michigan football team had practiced this play. Thursday, actually, they ran the play they would call if they trailed late in the game and needed a miracle.

Junior quarterback Devin Gardner would drop in the pocket for as long as he could, step up and, if it was there, heave to fifth-year senior wide receiver Roy Roundtree running a deep post route. Roundtree would be the deep man. The target.

He’d just need to go up and get it.

They practiced that play for the same situation Michigan faced Saturday, Gardner said, trailing by three points to Northwestern with just 18 seconds to go. Michigan needed a miracle. Before the play, Roundtree found his quarterback.

“I told (Gardner), like, ‘Just put it up there. I’m gonna get it,’ ” Roundtree said.

It wasn’t a demand. But for Roundtree, that’s about as close as it gets.

Roundtree has plodded through much of this season with little to show for it. He entered Saturday’s game with just 15 receptions for 239 yards — hardly the numbers of a No. 1 receiver.

For a while, there hadn’t been much progression at all. The coaches have continually praised Roundtree’s attitude and downfield blocking, but as a receiver, Roundtree sputtered then stagnated. It took him three games to find the end zone, and coming into Saturday’s game, he had gone another six weeks without scoring. It took him five weeks to reach 10 total receptions. It took him an additional week to break 100 total yards for the season.

Freshman tight end Devin Funchess had been a more preferred target. Redshirt junior receiver Jeremy Gallon was the main threat for several games. Drew Dileo hauled in more crucial receptions than Roundtree. Even Gardner himself was more impactful before he moved back to quarterback last week.

Though Roundtree remained the No. 1 receiver, he never commanded attention. Perpetually laid back, perpetually smiling, he never demanded the ball.

Then senior quarterback Denard Robinson got injured against Nebraska two weeks ago. Gardner, who just one week prior had been a member of the receiving corps with Roundtree, would need to convert back to quarterback against Minnesota. That left Michigan without one of its better targets, and there was almost no semblance of a running game to rely on.

But against the Golden Gophers, Roundtree bailed out Gardner on a long heave, a difficult catch in double-coverage

Against Northwestern this week, Roundtree said, “I told (Gardner) all game, just put the ball up there and I’m gonna go get it for you.”

Roundtree finished the first half with just one reception, but the long catch and run set Michigan up on Northwestern’s 29-yard line. Then, Roundtree drew a pass interference penalty in the end zone, which led to a Michigan touchdown.

After a quiet third quarter, Roundtree caught four passes for 107 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime. Two receptions on a drive in the fourth quarter ultimately led to a Michigan touchdown. On that drive, Roundtree made a tiptoe grab near the Michigan sideline. At other times, he attacked the ball, beating defensive backs on 50-50 throws.

“Roy really, I think on a couple balls today, really had great focus and great intensity in what he was doing,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke.

Roundtree finished with five receptions for 139 yards. It was his first 100-yard receiving game since 2010 and his most yardage since Nov. 6 of that year, when he recorded 246 yards in a slugfest against Illinois. For Michigan, Roundtree was the first receiver to break the 100-yard plateau since Gallon in week one. (Funchess, the tight end, also broke 100 yards in week two).

But after a Northwestern touchdown and a Gardner interception in the fourth quarter, the Michigan offense had time for only one or two heaves. The Wolverines took over from their own 38 with 18 second remaining. They knew which play they would run. Gardner chucked and Roundtree waited.

After Roundtree’s catch, the Michigan sideline would erupt. Roundtree’s teammates would sprint to the line to spike the ball, as Funchess dove across the sideline to get off the field in time. Dileo would salvage a bad snap to get a good hold for the tying field goal.

In overtime, Roundtree would have another big reception, and Michigan would win, 38-31. His teammates would tackle each other in the end zone and chase each other in celebration and Robinson would search the field for Roundtree yelling “Tree!” and smiling wide.

But in the moment as the ball came closer, Roundtree had a defender draped over his back. He jumped, received a bump and tipped the ball up. As Roundtree fell, the ball did too.

Roundtree attacked it.

“My mind said, ‘I gotta go up and make this play,’ ” Roundtree said.