As soon as Tarik Black heard the question, a contagious smile took over his face.
He had just been asked about his week one touchdown — his first since a nearly-identical one in his Michigan debut two years earlier. That was back when Black was the future of the Wolverines’ wide receiver corps, the promising freshman who tallied 149 yards in his first three games.
Then, just as soon as his career had taken off, he broke his foot, sidelining him for the season. Less than a year later, it happened again — same thing, different foot.
“I knew exactly what it was,” Black said of his second injury. “… I simply just ran a route and I guess the way I broke, the way I planted, my foot didn’t like it.”
By now, Black’s injury-related struggles have been well-documented. He returned to play three games late last season, but was never 100 percent. He finished the year with just four receptions for 35 yards.
In the meantime, conversations with his mom helped him get through it all. When a reporter asked him Tuesday whether he considered quitting football, an automatic “absolutely not” shut down the question.
Because now — for the first time in two years — Black is ready to move on.
“I’ve never been hurt playing football in my life,” Black said. “So it was kind of something new for me and I kind of got a little PTSD from it coming back. But now I think I’m out of that phase, just past that and ready to move forward.”
With the injury behind Black after his week one touchdown, Michigan’s new offensive era was beginning, even with Donovan Peoples-Jones temporarily sidelined.
Everything, it seemed, was falling into place. Then the Wolverines nearly lost to Army as that offensive promise floundered in a game that went to overtime tied at 14.
“Our guys have made some plays and I wish we had some big plays that we’ve missed cause they’ve been big plays,” said offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. “But we’ve just got to continue to work on … the timing, the speed of routes, releases. When we have guys wide open, we’ve got to cash in on those. So our kids understand it and we’ve gotta make those plays.”
And Black, despite his seven receptions and 104 yards in two games, knows it. Through two games, Michigan has just nine self-described “explosive” plays — passes of 16-plus yards or rushes of 12-plus. The Wolverines have repeatedly been within inches of breaking games open with big plays. Instead, balls have bounced off receivers’ hands or just beyond their reach and the big-play potential of their receiving corps has only fleetingly come to fruition.
“I think we can go way up from here,” Black said. “If you watch the film, there’s a lot of plays that we can make going forward. And I think you guys will see — trust me, you’ll see — that this offense is going to be crazy.”
Black stands at the center of the Wolverines’ offensive dichotomy. When Michigan’s offense was at its best in its 27-point first half against Middle Tennessee State, he was its standout performer, notching 80 yards before halftime. Late in the second quarter, he missed a drive with cramps — a product of not having a full workload in two years. Since then, he has just 24 yards on three catches.
Conditioning is one of the key areas that Black says the Wolverines’ current bye week will help with. Continued familiarity in Gattis’ offense is another, as is Peoples-Jones potential return to health.
And maybe Michigan’s offensive promises won’t have to be promises anymore.
“I want our play to do the talking for us,” Black said. “And I think moving forward, you guys will see that we are a really good group of receivers and we’re going to work our tails off to do whatever we can to have our team win.”