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Potent aerial attack propels Michigan against SMU

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ANN ARBOR — Tight end Zach Gentry and receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones emerged as prime targets for first-year Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson in a potent Wolverines passing attack Saturday.

Peoples-Jones caught four passes for 90 yards, including touchdowns of 35, 7, and 41 yards to play a major role in Michigan’s 45-20 win against Southern Methodist. Gentry finished with a team-high 95 receiving yards on four catches.

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Michigan wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones receives high fives from fans as he exits Michigan Stadium following Saturday's win over SMU. Peoples-Jones caught 3 touchdown passes from quarterback Shea Patterson.

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Patterson, a much heralded transfer from Mississippi, completed 14 of 18 passes for 237 yards and three scores. Patterson has posted three touchdown passes in the past two games.

Coach Jim Harbaugh said he was pleased with the progress of the passing game, which had been averaging 196 yards with four total scores in the first two games.

“[Patterson] is making good decisions,” Harbaugh said. “The receivers are helping a lot. They are doing a good job getting separation and catching the ball.

“Zach Gentry broke things open for us, hitting the seam route. He’s a great big target. Donovan had another monster game. The pass protection was good. It’s coming along steadily.”

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Harbaugh said Patterson, the Toledo-born quarterback who has thrown for six touchdowns and two interceptions this season, has been accurate and is seeing the field well.

“He’s also getting out of trouble and creating plays,” Harbaugh said. “He’s playing the position very well. It’s good quarterback play.”

Gentry, a 6-foot-8 and 262-pound senior, said his relationship with Patterson is “right where it needs to be.”

“When Shea stepped on campus we were friends right away and we built that chemistry,” Gentry said. “We got together and went through routes in the offseason and I think we are right where we need to be.”

The Michigan program had endured a lengthy drought of touchdowns by receivers before the past two weeks. Peoples-Jones had as many scoring catches in this game as Michigan’s receivers had all of last season.

“I have a lot of teammates that make my job easy,” Peoples-Jones said.

“The line did a great job. Shea was out here delivering beautiful balls, very easy to catch the ball and run. We just need to keep maximizing our opportunities.”

Patterson called Peoples-Jones a “freak athlete.”

“I don’t think there is anything he can’t do,” Patterson said. “He’s very smart and very fast and very football savvy. I have a lot of trust in him.”

He also called Gentry, who had a career high in catches, a special player.

“He’s 6-8 and a lot of the time even when [he’s covered] he can go up and grab it,” Patterson said. “He’s a huge aspect of this offense.”

Gentry’s previous high was three catches for 63 yards against Maryland in 2017.

“I hadn’t been maybe as involved in the first couple of games and I was just patiently waiting and I had some opportunities today,” Gentry said. “I’m thankful for that and for Shea throwing some good passes. Hopefully, this will continue.”

Gentry said SMU’s defense early in the game opened up some seams for him down the middle.

“It was the defensive look and Shea was throwing some good balls. He put them right where they needed to be. It was nice to complete some deeper balls,” Gentry said.

Michigan took control when Patterson’s 29-yard pass to Gentry set up a 7-yard scoring pass from Patterson to Peoples-Jones, staking the Wolverines took a 28-7 lead early in the third quarter. On the drive, Michigan faced third-and-5 at its own 43-yard line when Patterson avoided pressure, scrambled right and found Gentry on an 11-yard pass to pick up a first down.

After starting the game 4 of 6 for 58 yards and an interception, Patterson completed 9 of his next 10 passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns.

“We trust and believe in this offense,” Patterson said. “We took what they gave us. The offensive line gave me time back there, so there’s no reason why I can’t almost complete every pass.”

With leading running back Karan Higdon sidelined with an injury, Michigan’s passing game took center stage.

“We’re definitely seeing more progress and there’s more to be had,” Harbaugh said. “It was a good, hard-fought win. There were a lot of positives. There are a lot of good things to build off.”

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com419-724-6354, or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.

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