The No. 8 Michigan football team (3-0) will be without its leading receiver when it begins the Big Ten season this weekend at Purdue.
Freshman wide receiver Tarik Black suffered a foot injury against Air Force and will need surgery, said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh on Monday. Black has a crack on the outside of his foot, and Harbaugh said he does not know if the receiver will return this season.
However, later Monday evening, Black posted a photo on Instagram with a caption that suggested he would be out for the remainder of the year.
In his first three games for Michigan, Black made 11 catches for 149 yards and one touchdown, leading the trio of starting receivers that also includes junior Grant Perry and sophomore Kekoa Crawford.
“Tarik is a big time player,” said fellow receiver sophomore Eddie McDoom. “He can take it downfield, he’s a fast guy, very good in his routes and he’s very smart. For him being that young, he’s a very good player.”
Added senior offensive lineman Mason Cole: “A kid that’s that talented and putting in so much work to perform that well as a true freshman — to see him get hurt and miss a lot of time, it’s tough. You feel for the kid. … He’s a tough kid. He’ll pull through just fine.”
Other Wolverines hoped to give Black their advice. Fifth-year senior linebacker Mike McCray couldn’t play his junior year due to injuries, but felt that there were still positives he took away from the experience on the sideline.
That season, McCray spent ample time watching film and learning from older guys on the team. He hasn’t talked to Black yet about the injury, but when he does, he’ll have words of encouragement. He hopes the young receiver takes time to grow his knowledge of the game.
“Don’t let this deter you,” McCray said. “I know it’s hard. You want to be out there, but trust the process. You’ll eventually be back. Just grind, and you’ll be the same player as before, or even better.
“…Outside of football, it kind of makes you think about your future. It’s one thing I thought about.”
Filling in for Black will be two candidates: the aforementioned McDoom and freshman receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Peoples-Jones made two catches for 52 yards against Air Force, and notably made the biggest impact last Saturday with his 79-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Peoples-Jones fits the same mold as Black. Both excel when they line up out wide, and it seems likely that he’ll replace Black as the starter. McDoom brings his own strengths and spoke with media Monday about his role.
McDoom didn’t win the starting job this season, and so far has notched just two receptions for 14 yards and three carries for 10 yards.
Despite a lack of regular playing time, he has become a fan favorite. McDoom endeared himself to fans with jet sweeps last year met with roars of “Doooooom” from the Michigan crowd. Though outside of running jet sweeps from the slot position, McDoom hasn’t had a major receiving role to this point in his career.
“I take what I’m given,” McDoom said. “If I get a jet sweep, I’ll make the best out of it. If I get a route, I’ll run that route and get open.”
With Black’s injury, McDoom may be forced to line up outside more often. Even though he mainly plays out of the slot, he said that he doesn’t have any preference regarding where he lines up.
“On the outside, you can go over the top, and on the inside you can slide through the safeties,” McDoom said.
Wherever Harbaugh decides to utilize him, McDoom’s speed will be his biggest threat.
He plays for three special teams units — kickoff, punt return and punt defense — and when he is on offense, he usually gets handed the ball in motion. Few opponents have had an answer for when McDoom comes flying across the field.
And Michigan’s next opponent, Purdue (3-0), will have to prepare to see more of McDoom than it may have initially expected. He finally has the chance to take on a larger role, but McDoom still wished his teammate Black the best of luck in recovery.
“It’s sad to say (Black) had this injury,” he said. “I hope he returns very soon, but we have a game to play this week and we’re going to prepare for it.”