Southern Methodist coach Sonny Dykes — from his days at Louisiana Tech and Cal until now — has been, let’s say, an offense-first/defense-optional coach. During his time in Berkeley, his defenses ranked no higher than No. 88 nationally.
Despite this, his Mustangs dug deep in Saturday’s first half at Michigan, holding the running game under 3 yards a carry and ending a scoring threat with an end zone interception.
Jim Harbaugh probably hoped his Wolverines could just plow their way to an easy victory, but with Dykes’ defense loading the box, he turned to Shea Patterson’s arm. The tide quickly changed.
Pep Hamilton conservatively deployed Patterson early in the game, as the junior completed just 4-of-6 passes for 58 yards, including the pick at the goal line.
The next two drives before the half, he started throwing over the stacked Mustang front to the tune of four straight completions, totaling 72 yards and the above toss to Donovan Peoples-Jones.
While only slinging it eight more times in the second half, he finished 14-of-18 for 237 yards and three scores. This brings us to the emergence of Peoples-Jones, the recipient of all three of those scoring tosses.
Touchdown, Michigan!— Evan Petzold (@EvanPetzold) September 15, 2018
Shea Patterson hits Donovan Peoples-Jones for a seven-yard score. Michigan takes a 28-7 lead over SMU with 9:07 left in the third quarter. pic.twitter.com/stcwJK4FM5
Going into Saturday, the former in-state 5-star only had 10 catches for 69 yards with a lone touchdown on the year. He erupted for three scores on his first three catches, a feat no Michigan receiver has accomplished since Mario Manningham against Notre Dame in 2006.
He concluded the afternoon with four grabs for 90 yards. After a few weeks of struggling, Peoples-Jones may have turned the corner just in time for conference season.
With replacement starter Nico Collins emerging in the first two weeks, Peoples-Jones hitting another gear Saturday and Tarik Black possibly coming back later this season, Michigan is building an aerial arsenal for Patterson.
While competition caveats apply, the Wolverines needed to prove they possessed an offense that can attack in multiple ways. With gritty defenses such as Wisconsin and Michigan State on the horizon, Saturday’s passing performance may be the moment that versatility became real.
The other obvious game-changing play was Josh Metellus’ interception return right before halftime. Von Lozon has you covered on that.