Chemistry between Rudock and Chesson hits boiling point
Jehu Chesson remembers when he first met Jake Rudock.
Rudock hadn’t even finished unpacking after his move from Iowa City, let alone gotten to know his new teammates, but the fifth-year senior quarterback had secured a summer job in his new city Ann Arbor.
For Chesson — a redshirt junior wide receiver who had spent much of the past decade working side jobs to make ends meet — that was the best first impression he could have hoped for.
“It says something about his character and his willingness to serve others,” Chesson said over the summer. “You want that kind of guy at quarterback.”
Living across the street, the two quickly connected. Chesson invited Rudock to join a number of teammates at regular games of Monopoly to get to know the team, and it took Rudock less than a week to ask Chesson to run routes.
Given Rudock’s status as the newest Wolverine, many would see the advances as forward. But Chesson is the fastest player on the team — he didn’t mind moving quickly.
“He was just always there, always ready to work,” Chesson said. “Other people might see that as weird, but that’s something I noticed and respected right away.”
Though the quarterback-receiver relationship didn’t take long to begin, it took months for it to blossom on the field.
Through seven games, Chesson had just 190 yards receiving and no touchdowns in the air. Rudock was mulling through below-average numbers in the Big Ten — primarily relying on short passes to tight ends and running backs. The pair had all the skills and connections to make big plays, but in the game, the ball would fall a foot short, or Chesson would miss by a couple steps.
After mustering just 23 points as an offense and narrowly missing several big plays in a loss to Michigan State, the pair entered the bye week with a mission.
“The coaches don’t sugarcoat anything,” Chesson said. “They told us we needed to track the deep ball better.”
So the two reignited their summer pastime of route running after practice.
Others joined, of course, but it was clear that the speedy Chesson and Rudock, whom Chesson said makes “full-speed decisions,” had a special connection.
The connection heated up against Minnesota and Rutgers, as Rudock showed marked improvement and Chesson secured three receiving touchdowns.
Then, in a shootout against Indiana, five months’ worth of work reached a boiling point.
In the 48-41 win, Rudock set a school record with six touchdowns and 440 passing yards. Chesson was at the receiving end of 207 of those yards and four of those touchdowns, tying a school record set by Derrick Alexander in 1992.
Both efforts were historic, and it was only fitting that the two shared Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors.
“Sometimes it could just be a matter or inches or feet,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “What does water boil at? 212 (degrees)? 212 it boils, 211 it doesn’t. 213 is the magic number. … I would agree it’s been close, and now it’s boiling. It’s good. Bodes well for us.”
With the surge in productivity, Harbaugh has noted that both are playing at a level that deserves NFL consideration. Chesson and Rudock had relatively quiet careers before this season, but Harbaugh feels that with the deep ball finally connecting, their games are becoming complete.
“It was just the constant improvement in all phases of his game,” Harbaugh said of Chesson on Monday. “I think the one thing he is improving at, the final piece, is tracking the deep ball. You watch him run, you watch him catch, you watch him block, cover kicks, the way he plays in all phases and now the deep ball. … You see that improving, and I think that’s the final piece that he’s acquiring.”
Rudock and Chesson are no longer just bonding over summer jobs, but over their outputs on the field. With arguably the two toughest defenses Michigan will face this season still remaining on the schedule, the deep-ball connection that started months ago is finally clicking.
And for the quick-running Chesson and the quick-thinking Rudock, it couldn’t come a moment too soon.