On Saturday afternoon, the Michigan football team might not have expected to rewrite a chapter of the program’s record book. But in Bloomington, that’s exactly what they did.
Coming off three consecutive wins by margins of 30-plus, Michigan waltzed into Memorial Stadium and promptly routed Indiana, 39-14. Even before the blowout win, the Wolverines were feeling as confident as they have all season.
On the U-M pregame radio show, senior quarterback Shea Patterson made that much clear.
“We’re no longer going out to win,” Patterson said. “We’re going out to dominate.”
The reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week meant business. In an encore of last week’s 384-yard, four-score effort, he racked up 366 yards and five touchdown passes against the Hoosiers. In doing so, he became the first player in school history to throw at least four touchdowns in consecutive games.
At the receiving end of his historic day, Nico Collins stood front and center. The 6-foot-4, 222-pound junior wide receiver enjoyed a career day, racking up 165 yards and three touchdowns on six receptions.
His first touchdown didn’t come until five minutes remained in the opening half, when he beat his defender up the sideline to score from 24 yards out. A quarter later, he hauled in a crossing route over the middle in stride and beat Indiana’s defensive backfield up the opposite sideline for a 74-yard touchdown.
By that point, he’d already shattered his previous career-high in receiving yards and tied his personal-best scoring mark with a pair of touchdowns. But only a few minutes after his second touchdown, linebacker Josh Uche recovered his own forced fumble following a big hit on Hoosiers’ quarterback Peyton Ramsey. Already with a three-possession lead, the Wolverines took over in the red zone.
The drive lasted one play, and it started and ended with Patterson finding Collins in the end zone for a 19-yard strike — their third touchdown connection of the day.
“It’s good to get Nico on some crossing routes, some slant routes, some deep ins,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “He’s very good at it, he’s a very big target to throw (at) — a big catch radius — so his assortment of routes he’s running has picked up quite a bit, and he’s coming through. (On) a lot of the deep balls, (defenses) are grabbing him pretty early. He’s high-pointing the ball as well as you can, … he’s getting separation. He’s doing a lot of great things at receiver.”
Even when Collins wasn’t hauling in touchdowns, he made his presence felt by drawing the most attention — usually in the form of pass interference flags — from the Hoosiers’ secondary. By commanding shadow assignments and double-teams, Collins opened the door for other receivers like Donovan Peoples-Jones, who recorded five catches for 73 yards and a touchdown.
Perhaps Harbaugh put it best.
“Nico was just ridiculous out there today,” said the fifth-year head coach.