It was almost a year ago now — when then-freshman Andrel Anthony had one of those coming out games against in-state rival Michigan State.
After not registering a single catch in his four prior games, Anthony exploded for six receptions, 155 yards and two touchdowns.
Afterward, Anthony continued to produce, but nowhere near the level he had on that one afternoon in East Lansing — and that streak has continued into this season.
Was Anthony simply stepping up to the occasion in a rivalry game? Possibly. But there was something else contributing to that huge performance:
Michigan State’s horrendous passing defense.
While the Spartans passing defense is better this year, that’s only because the bar was so low to begin with. This season, they rank T-110th in the nation in passing yards allowed, 122nd in team passing efficiency defense and 105th in total defense — not great.
That puts the onus on Michigan’s passing attack to exploit Michigan State’s secondary once again. And while Michigan wide receivers coach Ron Bellamy wasn’t willing to give up the game plan on Wednesday, it’s easy to understand the subtext of what he was saying.
“We just want to be balanced,” Bellamy said. “We want to be able to run the football, we want to be able to pass the football and we feel like we have playmakers that can do both.”
A lot of those playmakers are in Bellamy’s position room. Players like Anthony, graduate Ronnie Bell, senior Cornelius Johnson and junior Roman Wilson all can make a difference whenever the ball is in their hands.
But with an offense like the Wolverines’, one that prides itself on running over opposing defenses rather than beating them through the air, those opportunities are fewer and further between. Receivers, though, can contribute in more than just the passing game, and Michigan’s group knows that well.
“Take care of your brothers, whoever has the ball,” Bellamy said. “ We want to make sure that we’re executing our assignment. We’re doing it to the best of our ability and, and most importantly for us that mentality is to take care of your brother.”
Many of the Wolverines’ receivers take pride in their blocking ability. Of course, that aspect of the matchup doesn’t show up on a stat sheet like receptions and touchdowns, but its impact is seen on almost every running play.
Receivers are inherently a skill position — a group known for dazzling feats of athleticism and highlight-reel catches. So why is it that Michigan’s receivers have bought into this aspect so well?
Bellamy says it’s culture.
“Harbaugh does a phenomenal job of talking about that all the time, just taking care of each other,” Bellamy said. “If 11 people can do their job on any single play, any given play, chances of you having success is going to be very high.”
That chance of success just gets even higher against a secondary like Michigan State’s. Whether or not that comes to fruition, though, is a question for the game itself.
Maybe there won’t be another performance like Anthony’s come Saturday night. Maybe the Wolverines will try and pound the rock down the Spartans’ throats. Maybe they won’t even need to air it out like they did last year. But there is one thing is for certain:
Michigan’s receiving core will play a large part in whatever happens.