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Michigan football's talented wide receivers not living up to preseason hype

Dropped passes doom Michigan at Penn State

Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines is seen during the second half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on October 12, 2019 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – As the college football world speculates about what's wrong with Michigan, it's time to point out the wide receivers -- considered the strength of the offense coming into the season -- have been part of the problem.

Most of the blame this season has fallen on the shoulders of quarterback Shea Patterson, the offensive line and the coaching staff. All parties deserve partial blame, but the wide receiving corps no longer has immunity to criticism.

In Michigan's heartbreaking loss to Penn State, no position group struggled more than the wideouts. Yes, Michigan got off to a slow start. Yes, the defense allowed far too many big plays. Yes, the offense struggled to run the ball.

But the Wolverines would have overcome all those issues if the receivers just caught the ball.

In terms of raw talent, there's no foursome better than Michigan's combination of Nico Collins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Ronnie Bell and Tarik Black. Peoples-Jones was the No. 1 receiver in the 2017 recruiting class, Collins and Black were four-stars and Bell was a hidden gem with a wealth of talent.

They've all shown signs of greatness when healthy, but there's a sense that this group has never quite put it all together, and with only five games left in the 2019 season, there's an increasing possibility they never will.

Injuries have been a factor, no doubt. Peoples-Jones missed the first two games of the season and was clearly not 100% his first game back. Collins missed the Illinois game and has battled various ailments throughout his career. Black lost his first two college seasons to foot injuries.

Saturday was one of the few times Michigan had all four on the field healthy. The offense was the best it's looked under Josh Gattis, but the dropped passes ultimately doomed Michigan.

The most obvious example was Bell's drop in the end zone on fourth down. Bell has been the top receiver on the team this season and doesn't deserve the social media backlash he received after the play. But there's no sugarcoating the on-field result: The drop cost Michigan a chance to tie the game.

Garrett Taylor #17, Lamont Wade #38 and Jaquan Brisker #7 of the Penn State Nittany Lions celebrate a fourth down stop in the final minutes of the game against the Michigan Wolverines on October 19, 2019 at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania. Penn State defeats Michigan 28-21. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

His wide receiver brethren weren't any better, though.

Giles Jackson dropped a pass on the very first offensive play of the game. Peoples-Jones dropped the first two passes thrown his direction. Collins dropped a pass on a crossing route that would have been a big play. Zach Charbonnet dropped a pass on a simple dump-off route.

Patterson was on target most of the night and finished with 276 passing yards, completing 24 of 41 attempts. But in reality, he should have completed at least 30 of those passes for well over 300 yards and at least one touchdown.

All season, Patterson has shouldered the blame for Michigan's struggling offense, and for good reason. He dealt with inaccuracy, happy feet in the pocket and misreads on option plays -- but he put it all together against Penn State.

But his receivers dropped the ball.

Donovan Peoples-Jones celebrates a touchdown catch with Nico Collins while playing Maryland on Oct. 6, 2018, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Bell leads the team with 24 catches for 432 yards this season. Collins is right behind him at 19 catches for 358 yards and two touchdowns.

Black has 18 catches for 241 yards and a touchdown. Peoples-Jones has 17 catches for 175 yards and two touchdowns since returning from injury.

The numbers are fine considering the inconsistency of the offense, but these receivers are supposed to be extraordinary.

After their worst game as a unit, they've got half a season to live up to the hype.

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