With Michigan’s top two tight ends sidelined on Saturday, Carson Butler got his long-awaited chance to shine.
And the redshirt freshman proved he was ready for the spotlight.
In just his second start (and first in a single-tight-end set), Butler nabbed three catches for 42 yards, both career highs. All of Butler’s receptions came in the second quarter, which made him the Wolverines’ leading receiver at halftime.
“I take my hat off to Carson Butler because as a young player, you’re always wanting to play more,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “Three or four weeks ago he was frustrated because he wasn’t playing. . I’ve tried to tell him on a week-to-week basis, ‘Look, your time is going to come.’ “
Butler’s start likely came sooner than either he or Carr expected. Michigan’s starting tight end, Tyler Ecker, injured his right ankle against Minnesota three weeks ago and hasn’t suited up since, which moved Butler into the No. 2 spot behind Mike Massey.
Then Massey hurt his shoulder on a first-quarter catch against Penn State last week. The junior refused to take himself out of that game, but he missed Saturday’s contest while nursing the injury.
All of a sudden, Butler’s time had arrived.
“When guys go down, everyone has to step up his game,” Butler said. “It’s a great opportunity. I’m just having fun out there.”
Massey said Butler “knew all week that he was going to be the guy.” So the Detroit native stepped up his effort in practice to make sure he’d be ready for Saturday.
His hard work paid off. On Michigan’s first drive of the second quarter, Butler caught a pass near the Iowa sideline and then stretched for extra yards as he was pushed out of bounds, giving him a 13-yard reception, the longest of his career.
That personal best didn’t last. Butler grabbed a 17-yard pass on the Wolverines’ next offensive series, one of two receptions he contributed to their first scoring drive.
“(Butler did) nothing I didn’t expect him to do,” Massey said. “He played well. He didn’t get nervous or uptight. . I think he just played his game, which is going pretty well right now.”
Butler wasn’t the only tight end who had to step up with Ecker and Massey out of the lineup. Fifth-year senior Brian Thompson also earned some of his most extensive playing time of the season.
Even though Thompson didn’t record a catch, the former fullback made his presence felt. Left tackle Jake Long said both tight ends excelled in run blocking this weekend.
“(Butler and Thompson) were very physical in the blocks I had with them,” Long said. “I could definitely tell they were blocking hard and working hard. . They’re both great players, and they’ll do whatever they need to do to help the team.”
That might include cutting back on false start penalties, which have plagued Michigan’s tight ends, especially Butler, all season. On Saturday, Butler was whistled for his third false start of the year.
Both Massey and Butler attributed their false start woes to lack of focus, though neither seemed to doubt their ability to fix the problem.
If Butler could wait for his chance to carry more of the offensive load, then he should have no trouble waiting for Henne to snap the ball, too.