Ten minutes into Michigan?s matchup with Northwestern on Saturday afternoon, the Wolverines? offense desperately needed a spark, as they found themselves down 10-0 with just one first down from three drives.
Jim Harbaugh dialed up a play action pass from midfield, Shea Patterson dropped back in the pocket and launched a deep bomb for junior tight end Sean McKeon. For a split second, 47,000 fans inside Ryan Field thought the game had turned on its head.
But in a microcosm of the opening quarter for Michigan, the ball dropped incomplete through McKeon?s hands, and two plays later, the Wolverines turned the ball over on downs.
With the deficit down to 17 on its next possession, Michigan again needed an offensive catalyst. So Harbaugh drew up the exact same play, with his tight end running a crossing route 25 yards downfield. Again, Patterson hit his tight end in stride. This time, though, that tight end was junior Nick Eubanks, who came up with the catch to take the Wolverines down to the 29.
?It was a spark to our offense,? Eubanks said. ?We never had our head down, we just needed that big play to happen and I got called on and I made the play and then we went from there and the offense started going.?
Eubanks only grabbed one more reception for the rest of the day but it was a 24-yarder that put Michigan at the Northwestern 12 and set up a field goal that made the difference in the final score.
With McKeon not getting a single target after his drop, Eubanks kept the Wolverines? tight end-heavy offense rolling alongside star senior tight end Zach Gentry.
?I believe all of us can play,? Eubanks said. ?We have a group of tight ends that can get involved in the passing game and running game.?
Michigan often runs three tight end sets but Eubanks? role comes primarily as a blocker ? so much so that he only had one reception on the season and three for his career before Saturday.
Eubanks will be the first to admit he?s not quite at Gentry or McKeon?s level as a receiver. He came to Michigan as a wide receiver out of high school but, after working with the Wolverines? strength coaches, developed his body and found a niche as a blocker.
?When I came here, I already knew I could catch the ball and stuff like that, get open, create separation,? Eubanks said. ?One thing I needed to (improve) was blocking and that?s one of the reasons why I get a chance to play now is because of my blocking.?
Added tight ends coach Sherrone Moore: ?His physicality, especially in the run game as really excelled and he?s taken a lot of ownership in that.?
On Saturday, though, Eubanks was able to get back to his roots and provide Michigan with a spark as a pass-catcher.
?I?m getting there,? Eubanks said when asked if he?s reached McKeon and Gentry?s level. ?I wouldn?t say I?m quite there yet but I?m getting there and it?s starting to progress.?