Young tight ends show promise in Michigan football's win over Florida
Nick Eubanks, Sean McKeon combine for 5 catches in opener
Saturday's season opener between No. 11 Michigan football and the No. 17 Florida Gators was dominated by the defense of both teams, but there were positives to take away from the Wolverines' offensive performance.
One of the overlooked aspects of Michigan's 33-17 victory was the offensive production of its tight ends, who entered the season with almost no meaningful experience at the college level.
The offseason was filled with praise for Michigan's new core of wide receivers, and rightfully so, as talented true freshmen Tarik Black, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Oliver Martin and Nico Collins joined the likes of Kekoa Crawford and Eddie McDoom.
But after the departure of Jake Butt, who graduated and moved on to the NFL, the tight end situation became a huge question mark.
Butt's backup, Ian Bunting, and matchup nightmare Tyrone Wheatley Jr. were largely expected to carry the load at tight end this season, and while they played their part against Florida, it was a pair of under-the-radar players who contributed most in the passing game.
Sean McKeon made two catches for 10 yards as a freshman last season, but beat both of those totals Saturday with three catches for 25 yards. McKeon made his first two catches on back-to-back plays in the first minute of the second half, converting a second and 10 with a 10-yard catch and following up with a reception for 5 yards.
On both plays, McKeon broke open for quarterback Wilton Speight while coming across the middle. Speight often looked for Butt last season on those types of routes when Michigan needed to convert on third down.
His final catch was for 10 yards on a second and nine early in the fourth quarter, so two of McKeon's catches turned second and long into a first down.
McKeon wasn't the only tight end to contribute in the passing game. Redshirt freshman Nick Eubanks made two catches for 61 yards, finishing second on the team in receiving yards.
Eubanks made his first career grab midway through the third quarter, catching a Speight pass for 13 yards on the first play of the drive.
Two drives later, Speight hit Eubanks over the top of the defense for a 48-yard gain to the Florida 8-yard line.
McKeon and Eubanks are nowhere near the weapon Butt was at the end of his college career, but both are 6 feet 5 inches tall with good hands. McKeon looks like a solid option in the short passing game, while Eubanks proved he can make a play downfield.
Speight struggled when he was asked to throw the ball to his wide receivers, throwing a pair of pick-sixes and missing high with a few additional passes. If he can develop strong connections with his young tight ends, he can cut down on the risks and make the Michigan offense much more dangerous.
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