Shea Patterson faked the handoff, rolled to his left and threw to tight end Sean McKeon in the flat. Ahead of McKeon was sophomore wide receiver Ronnie Bell, who plowed into an unsuspecting defensive back and knocked him down. With mostly open space ahead of him, McKeon gained an easy 19 yards.
Bell’s block was perhaps the best example of improved blocking from Michigan’s wide receivers over the past month or so. While blocking isn’t nearly as glamorous as catching passes or scoring touchdowns, it’s equally important, and the Wolverines’ receiver room has taken that message to heart.
“That’s been a really good thing for our team,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh on Monday. “I’d say probably four or five weeks ago, it just — we were at a point early where it wasn’t that good and that’s an area we really value. Really gotten better. Really improved steadily and it was at its best in the past game. That’s been a real focus for us and how to get yards after contact, tackles will get guys blocked. If you don’t have the ball, to me you’re a blocker on a down or play and that was big this week.”
When Bell was young and still learning the game, his dad gave him a word of advice: If you can’t block, you can’t play. So Bell has made blocking into something personal, and the message has spread.
“Every receiver’s just blocked their tail off this year,” Bell said. “And it’s been a lot of fun to watch it on film.”
Johnson on his first touchdown
With 2:33 left in the Wolverines’ 44-10 win over Michigan State on Saturday, freshman wide receiver Cornelius Johnson found himself wide open.
Like, wide open.
As Patterson took the snap, Johnson bluffed a block, pursuing his man briefly before breaking free downfield. Patterson found him around the 25-yard line and, with no one in front of him, Johnson coasted into the end zone.
“I was not surprised how open I was because that was the design of the play,” Johnson said Tuesday. “So I was definitely expecting the ball on that play. That was the playcall.”
In the moment, Johnson wasn’t thinking about the rivalry or the hundreds of thousands of fans in the stadium. All he focused on was the ball, and it paid off. The 39-yard reception was Michigan’s second-longest of the day.
“I was just like, ‘Now’s my opportunity,’ ” Johnson said. “I knew what I was doing, I’d practiced it so many times and everything. Just, now’s my opportunity and you gotta focus.”
Bell still seeking first score
This season, Bell leads the team with 621 yards on 37 catches, but he still hasn’t found the end zone despite several close calls — including one on Saturday when he was tackled at the 3-yard line.
After Saturday’s game, Johnson joked around with Bell, asking, “Who’s got more touchdowns?”
Of course, it was all in good fun. Whether or not he has a touchdown to his name, Bell has been one of the Wolverines’ most productive receivers. Still, the numbers don’t lie, and Bell admitted: “He got me.”
“I thought that was funny,” Johnson said. “It was like my fourth catch. Ever.”
Bell’s teammates haven’t lost any trust after Bell dropped the potential game-tying reception at Penn State last month. In that moment, Bell felt he had let everybody down. But the team lifted him up and made it clear that he wasn’t the reason they lost the game. After being limited against Notre Dame and Maryland due to injury, Bell continued his status as Patterson’s favorite target Saturday, with nine receptions for 150 yards.
Now, the Wolverines have truly hit their stride on offense, scoring 30 or more points in the three games since, and Bell has been as big a part of that as anyone.
“It was just funny cause technically I got more touchdowns, but obviously he has like the most yards and catches on the team,” Johnson said. “I’m happy for Ronnie. He’s gonna push it. He’ll get tons of touchdowns for sure.”