After Michigan?s 45 point offensive outburst against SMU Saturday afternoon, there were two clear offensive stars.
They were, of course, quarterback Shea Patterson and wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones.
The two combined for three touchdowns ? and each was beautiful. Peoples-Jones gave the Wolverines their second touchdown of the game by hurdling into the end zone, Patterson threw a perfectly executed back-shoulder fade five minutes later, and the duo sealed the game with a textbook 41-yard touchdown on the next drive.
But between the 20s, Michigan had another key cog in the passing game who managed to slip under the radar postgame.
Believe it or not, the Wolverines leading receiver was not Peoples-Jones but tight end Zach Gentry.
“(Gentry) is really becoming a complete player,” Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said following Saturday’s game.
Gentry posted 95 yards on four receptions but that does not describe his value to Michigan on Saturday. While Peoples-Jones made highlight reels with the flash connections, Gentry was Patterson?s safety valve when he desperately needed a completion.
It was a stark contrast to a week ago, when he posted just one reception for 10 yards but it appears to be a recipe for success for the Wolverines passing attack.
The connection first flashed on Michigan?s first big play of the game, a 32-yard play action gain over the middle. That was Patterson?s favorite play all afternoon so it?s no surprise he used it to find Gentry.
The tight end really began to show his value to the offense on his next reception. An SMU linebacker blasted through the Wolverines? offensive line untouched on a blitz and Patterson looked like a sitting duck for a sure sack.
Then, as he was being speared to the turf, he unleashed a tight spiral over the middle of the field. It appeared to be a poor decision at first, throwing the ball into a danger zone rather than taking a sack.
But, of course, Gentry was there. Patterson?s willingness to throw that ball showed a special willingness and trust that typically takes years to develop. On Saturday, he and Gentry had it with just two games under their belts together.
?(Our rapport) has grown a lot,? Gentry said on Monday. ?It feels good to just spread the ball around and make plays in the passing game. ? I think it?s improved every week since camp started.?
A quarter later, a similar situation arose, with Patterson?s offensive line collapsing on him. This time, he used his legs and football sense to brilliantly evade the pressure as he has so many times this season.
That?s only step one of the puzzle. For step two, he needed to find a receiver ? and quickly ? or the defense would have been able to catch him up and bring him down.
And once again, Gentry slipped beneath the defense?s eye into the flat to provide his quarterback the target he needed.
That versatility is part of what makes Gentry so valuable. He can go up for a contested ball or use his cageyness to find holes in the defense.
?It?s hard guarding a big tight end like that,? said wide receiver Grant Perry. ?He?s Gronk-esque. He?s a 6-foot, 8 tight end, people are gonna be focused on him and it?s gonna leave some other people opportunities to get open.?
Harbaugh, as always, sees room for improvement.
?Really blocking well. Really becoming a complete player,? Harbaugh said. ?False starts, he needs to be better at. But physically, he?s really excelling. The only times you can say there was an exception to that is when he blocked the wrong assignment. Very close to being a complete player.?
For Michigan, that could be just as big of a development as Peoples-Jones? growth.