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ANN ARBOR -- Michigan's leading pass catcher, Junior Hemingway, would need 14 more receptions just to be in the top 100 in the country. Hemingway has taken in 28 passes for 557 yards. Roy Roundtree, who caught 72 passes in 2010 for 935 yards, has just 16 for 291. Shorter guys like Martavious Odoms and Kelvin Grady, aren't only putting up small numbers. They're hardly playing.
And yet the group is still making an impact -- by knocking defensive players to the ground. You won't see them listed on any stat sheet, but knock downs by receivers -- an unofficial category that the Wolverines count during film study -- are paramount to the success of No. 20 Michigan, whose offense is 13th nationally in rushing and 89th in passing.
The knock down goal per game, according to Hemingway is 16 or 17, which they've reached about every other week. Trying to blast defenders onto their bottoms is a way for the receivers to stay involved in an offense that renders them an afterthought because of the running prowess of quarterback Denard Robinson and tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint.
"It's been pretty even throughout the whole season," Hemingway said Tuesday of the knock down distribution among the receivers. "Some games, I might have three and somebody else might have two. Some games, everyone will have two. There's been a list the whole season."
Hemingway and his blocking buddies were lauded after a recent win by coach Brady Hoke for "blocking down field like it was nobody's business." Michigan hosts Nebraska Saturday featuring teams with identical marks of 8-2 and 4-2 in the Big Ten.
Last week's 31-14 win at Illinois was an extreme example of receivers doing dirty work in the run game. Because the defense was dominating and because Toussaint was piecing together the best game of his career, Robinson and back up quarterback Devin Gardner combined for just 15 pass attempts and completed eight. Roundtree, who recorded 246 receiving yards against the Illini in 2010, was held to without a catch for the third time this season and the receivers combined for just 97 yards. At the end of the game, though, everyone was happy. The knock down meter reached eight, and more importantly, the Wolverines left town with a 17-point win.
"What happens, and I think guys in my position do this, is we get too enamored with numbers and you get away form what's important, and that's winning games," offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "There's going to be games where you have to throw more to win the game. That happened against Notre Dame. There's going to be games you have to run more to win the game. That happened last week. If you don't get too caught up in keeping these beautifully balanced numbers, and, oh this guy's happy, and this guy's happy -- the heck with that. We don't coach that way. We coach to win the football games. However it falls, that's the way it falls."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.