Michigan utilizes connection between Peters, tight ends

Junior tight end Zach Gentry led Michigan with three receptions for 63 yards and one touchdown in a 35-10 win over Maryland.

Junior tight end Zach Gentry led Michigan with three receptions for 63 yards and one touchdown in a 35-10 win over Maryland. Buy this photo
Arnold Zhou/Daily

 

Saturday, November 11, 2017 - 7:43pm

Just last week, Sean McKeon was on one end of a missed connection.

The sophomore tight end was wide open across the middle of the field. His quarterback, though, was busy taking a crushing sack — a hit that left him slow to get up. So McKeon ran over, and as good friends do, had some fun with Brandon Peters.

“... I was just mad because I was open on a crossing route for the first down,” McKeon recalled, grinning, after Michigan’s 33-10 win over Minnesota. “I was like, ‘Man, were you going to throw it to me on that crosser?’ (Peters) was like, ‘I was about to, but then I got hit.’ I was like, ‘Aw, man. That’s alright.’”

The two wouldn’t miss the same opportunity against Maryland on Saturday afternoon. In the second quarter, the Wolverines called a play-action pass on 1st-and-goal from the three-yard line. Peters rolled out, McKeon sprinted across the formation into the flats and the two hooked up for as easy of a touchdown as they’ll have all season.

Of course, Peters and McKeon are no Hall and Oates. But there’s still a burgeoning connection between the two classmates — and between Peters and his other favorite tight end target, Zach Gentry.

“Sean McKeon, heck of a football player, Zach Gentry’s blossoming, heck of a football player,” said Jim Harbaugh. “... I think we’re doing a very good job at the tight end position. Blocking, catching, assignments are good, no penalties, we’re not turning the ball over. Kind of football we like.”

Before Maryland, Michigan’s tight ends had just two touchdowns on the season. Now, they have double that after McKeon’s three-yard snag followed a 33-yard bullet down the seam to Gentry on the previous drive.

Peters hasn’t thrown all that often when he’s played. But when he does, chances are he’s looking for his biggest and burliest pass-catchers. McKeon led the team in receptions and receiving yards against Rutgers and Minnesota. He’s in the midst of a seven-game catch streak, longest on the team, and is first on the team with 25 receptions and second with 256 receiving yards.

On Saturday, though, his teammate took over the spotlight. It was Gentry who led the team in both receptions and receiving yards with three for 63.

Gentry’s score may have been easier than McKeon’s. It was the first play following a failed fake punt. Maryland stacked the box with eight, Peters read the defense and Gentry found himself celebrating his second touchdown of the year.

“Yeah, so the one over the middle, their safety was just playing way back side and the seam just popped,” Peters said.

Added Gentry: “I thought it was a good play call. I knew there was a chance I was going to get the ball. Brandon did an excellent job reading the defense — read the safety, who went away from me, and it just opened up.”

Peters said Michigan uses the tight ends “a lot” in the passing game and that they’re “always working” on releases and route timing. The extra effort has clearly paid off. Whereas Michigan’s receivers have stalled, recording just nine catches for 59 yards with no touchdowns over the past three games, the tight ends have flourished.

Yet Gentry didn’t think there was any particular emphasis on throwing to the tight ends. To him, his position group’s success has been simple: a product of both Peters and how opposing defenses have lined up.

“I don’t know if there’s anything really different that we do with Brandon where he’s targeting us more,” Gentry said. “I just think that he’s making some good reads and the secondary just gave us a good look.”