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Receiving corps steps up when needed most

Marissa McClain/Daily
Fifth-year senior wide receiver Junior Hemingway led the Wolverines in receiving yards against Northwestern. Buy this photo

By Kevin Raftery, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 9, 2011

EVANSTON — Entering Saturday night’s game against Northwestern, Michigan redshirt junior wide receiver Roy Roundtree had as many receptions this season as he did games started — five.

After one half against the Wildcats (0-2 Big Ten, 2-3 overall), Roundtree was nonexistent on the stat sheet yet again. The Wolverines trailed 24-14 and were in desperate need of a spark heading into the second half.

Roundtree, Michigan’s receptions leader last season, was the catalyst of an eight-play, 80-yard drive out of the break that helped spark the Wolverines’ 42-24 victory.

On the opening drive of the second half, No. 11 Michigan (2-0, 6-0) was faced with a 3rd-and-11 from its own 19-yard line. Junior quarterback Denard Robinson dropped back in the pocket, looking for a receiver.

He found Roundtree cutting left down the middle for a 17-yard gain to keep the drive alive and keep the dynamic Wildcat offense off the field.

Just two plays later, Robinson found Roundtree again — this time for a 57-yard bomb. On play action, Robinson rolled right and noticed Roundtree streaking down the field in single coverage. Robinson lofted the ball up, and Roundtree beat the Wildcat defender on the jump ball at the Northwestern three-yard line.

“We were working all summer on stuff like that,” Robinson said. “That’s what he does. Our wide receivers can get big like that.”

The catch set up the Wolverines’ first touchdown of the half, but maybe more importantly, it immediately deflated the Wildcats’ confidence. In the first half, Northwestern intercepted Robinson three times and held the potent Michigan offense in check.

“When you’re working so hard to stop an offense and you do it consistently on a play-by-play basis, and then they hit a big one on you, it really hits you hard,” said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald.

“It kills you.”

Roundtree wasn’t the only Michigan receiver who had success on the jump ball.

On just his second pass attempt of the game, Robinson spotted fifth-year senior wide receiver Junior Hemingway streaking down the middle of the field and launched the ball high into the seasonably warm autumn air, allowing Hemingway just enough time to adjust his body and come down with the 48-yard reception.

“I looked back, I saw (Robinson) moving up in the pocket,” Hemingway said. “I was wondering, ‘I wonder if he’s gonna run?’ He threw it and I thought, ‘Oh man, yes!’

“I just went up and made a play on it, because I knew we needed it.”

Robinson wasn’t surprised Hemingway came down with the ball.

“I mean, Junior’s always going to make big plays,” Robinson said. “I think he’s one of the best receivers in the country.”

Hemingway and redshirt sophomore Jeremy Gallon led the Wolverines with five receptions each, and Roundtree was third on the team with three for 83 yards. The Wolverines’ 19 total receptions were the most in a game this year.

Michigan was a season-best 14-of-17 on third downs — a huge part of that success came from the receivers’ ability to make plays when the Wolverines needed them most.

And that ability was a big reason Michigan was able to come out of Evanston with its first road victory of the year.

“Just doing what we’re supposed to do,” Hemingway said. “Executing our plays, making the blocks when we’re supposed to make them.”

But it’s what doesn’t show up on the stat sheet that keeps receivers like Roundtree on the field when they’re struggling to make receptions.

“Football’s not just, as a receiver, ‘I’m gonna catch the ball, and if I’m not catching the ball I’m unhappy,’ ” said senior running back Michael Shaw. “(Roundtree) blocks his butt off every play. Catching is what he does well, but blocking is also what he does great.”

It’s always nice to get receptions, but for Roundtree and this Michigan team, they don’t care about who does what — and that may be the biggest reason for the Wolverines success so far this season.

“(Roundtree) keeps working the same way in practice no matter what, and that’s why I think we win, because we’ve got a lot of unselfish guys,” Shaw said. “Things might not go their way, but they keep grinding it out because you never know when your number’s gonna be called.

“And when it’s called, you have to perform.”