Chris Evans stood beside Brandon Peters as the redshirt freshman quarterback called for the snap.
The two were on a single wavelength. The sophomore running back took off sprinting to his right before the ball even hit Peters’ hands. It didn’t stay in his hands for very long, either.
Evans burst through the open space, using his standout speed to leave the defensive lineman assigned to pick him up in the dust. Peters took a short hop and then launched a pass right over the shoulder of the Rutgers defender, who wasn’t even looking the right way when Evans corralled the ball in his grasp and landed in the end zone.
“I saw man coverage, a one-on-one with Chris,” Peters said. “I just read it out, gave him a chance on the play. He made a great catch.
“… It was a great playcall, and it worked out good.”
Evans jumped to his feet and pumped his fist in the air in celebration. The gesture was a mixture of excitement and relief for Michigan.
With 23 seconds left in the first half, the Wolverines finally had some breathing room against the Scarlet Knights in the form of a 21-7 lead. The 20-yard score was Evans’ first touchdown — and Michigan’s first passing touchdown — since the Purdue game on Sept. 23.
“I thought Chris made a heck of a catch on it,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “Thought Brandon saw it well — good protection — and Brandon put it a little short, but Chris adjusted well to the ball and made a nice catch.”
In Saturday’s 35-14 win, the Wolverines targeted 10 different receivers in an effort to jumpstart their struggling passing game. Evans was the only one who came away with a touchdown. If not for sophomore tight end Sean McKeon, who caught two more passes and finished with 11 more yards, Evans would have been Michigan’s leading receiver.
It may have only been one catch, but until the game wound down in the fourth quarter, Evans only had one carry as well.
In the Wolverines’ three-back rotation, Evans has occupied the third spot, behind junior Karan Higdon and fifth-year senior Ty Isaac. Saturday, he fell to fourth, behind redshirt freshman Kareem Walker.
Walker earned six carries and gained 34 yards against Rutgers, including a 13-yard touchdown — the first of his Michigan career — before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a sprained ankle. Though it hasn’t been announced if the injury will force him to miss any time, Walker’s emergence could diminish Evans’ role in the rotation even further.
But that touchdown catch demonstrated how much Evans still has to offer the Wolverines on the field. With freshman Tarik Black’s season-ending injury and sophomore Kekoa Crawford sitting out Saturday’s game for undisclosed reasons, Evans could become a receiving threat despite limited touches in the ground game.
Michigan’s wideout options still include junior Grant Perry and sophomore Eddie McDoom, as well as McKeon and redshirt sophomore tight end Zach Gentry. But Saturday, he topped nearly all of them with one contortion of his body.
Though the Wolverines gained 137 yards in the air, the total still fell far short of the ground game’s 334-yard outing. While that is a good sign for the running backs rotation, it isn’t for Evans, who wasn’t needed in the backfield.
With Peters taking over under center for the foreseeable future, the redshirt freshman will need reliable targets in order to breathe life into Michigan’s passing game.
He and Evans showed they already have a connection.