BLOOMINGTON — Nico Collins took his time walking off the field Saturday night. Helmet off, Collins peered up at a cluster of visiting Michigan fans. He heard a few “Let’s go Blue” chants mixed in with “Beat Ohio,” a smattering of yells rendering both incoherent.

Collins looked up and pointed his right arm at the fans. They responded in kind.

It was the final act — disappearing into the locker room shortly after — on a night Collins likely won’t forget any time soon. One in which the talents that have been plainly apparent to any casual fan finally met the expectations that came with them, when potential fused with production and became a tantalizing reality.

“Nico was just ridiculous out there today,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “Great game for Nico Collins.”

As Collins and senior linebacker Josh Uche sat down to speak to the media following Michigan’s 39-14 drubbing of Indiana on Saturday, Uche grabbed hold of the stat sheet, gestured to Collins and pointed to what could only have been Collins’ line. 

As he saw it — six catches, a career-high 165 yards and three touchdowns — Uche’s eyes widened in excitement. Collins shook his head and smiled.

It’s a smile that the junior has worn through questions about targets and opportunity, frustration and struggles. One that’s stayed steadfast as he’s been handed the mantle of explaining the inexplicable: How a 6-foot-4 receiver with All-American-level ball skills had just 66 career catches coming into Saturday.

There will be no such questions any longer.

“Man’s a beast,” Uche said. “I been know that. Everyone in the organization, we knew that. But it’s like, anyone can be a practice All-American. But to see it come to fruition on game days is magical. Knowing what somebody’s capable of doing and seeing them execute, it’s just great to see.”

For Collins, it wasn’t a night that seemed preordained for anything out of the ordinary — at least, at first. His outsized performance began, in earnest, in the middle of the second quarter, shortly after he and his unit had made some tweaks.

“As the game went on, we found ways to attack the defense. And that’s what we did,” Collins said. “It was kind of just, like, going to the sideline, (offensive coordinator Josh) Gattis asked us, ‘What do we see out there? What plays are working?’ And we told him. 

That gave Collins the chance to vocalize what he saw: Frequent one-on-one coverage with scant safety help over the top. Against an overmatched Hoosiers’ secondary, Collins knew what he could do if given the chance.

“I was like ‘The cornerback, I’m left one-on-one. (There are) back-side opportunities,’ ” Collins recalled saying. “(Senior quarterback) Shea (Patterson) believed in me, and I believed in him.”

He and Patterson subsequently connected on a 24-yard touchdown, leaping over a cornerback after a simple “go route” into the end zone for a 21-14 lead. 

But he was just getting started.

Late in the third quarter, the game teetering for Indiana, Collins darted over the middle on a slant route. Patterson delivered a bullet before the safety could cut it off, and Collins did the rest, galloping 76 yards for the knockout blow. 

“It was good to get Nico on some crossing routes, some slant routes, some deep ins,” Harbaugh said. “He’s very good at it, he’s a big target, a big catch radius, and his assortment of routes that he’s running has picked up quite a bit. And he’s coming through.”

His third and final touchdown came on a play that has become a staple in Michigan’s red zone arsenal, with Collins running a post over the middle, posting up like a power forward and using his big body to box out the cornerback. When executed, there are few cornerbacks that can win that battle one-on-one.

This particular instance — the exclamation point on the night — was a 19-yard connection to extend the Wolverines’ lead to 39-14, where it would end a quarter later. Collins stood up and flexed both arms. He walked to the sidelines, where he’d remain the rest of the night. Collins’ 165 receiving yards spearheaded a receiving corps that accounted for 366 in total.

Things won’t come nearly as easily next week against Ohio State, perhaps the nation’s best team. But as the Wolverines try to pull off a feat few expect, facing a challenge that requires the best performance of the season and then some, there is one main source of hope.

“Shea’s going through the reads, finding all the receivers,” Collins said. “That’s pretty much it. He’s just going through the progressions, finding the open receiver. He’s giving us a chance.”

Saturday, Nico Collins took his chance. Next Saturday, Collins will be instrumental in helping his team take theirs, too.

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