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UM Notes: Tight ends spearhead Michigan passing game

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — It doesn’t matter who’s the Michigan quarterback.

Wilton Speight. John O’Korn. Brandon Peters. The favorite target remains the same regardless of who’s under center —- the tight ends.

Saturday’s 35-10 win at Maryland was the latest chapter in the Wolverines’ tight end escapades. Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry combined for four receptions for 66 yards and two touchdowns. McKeon caught a 3-yard touchdown pass and Gentry hauled in a 33-yarder.

Through 10 games, the duo has 37 receptions for 465 yards and four touchdowns. McKeon has caught a team-high 25 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns, and Gentry has 12 catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns.

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Michigan senior fullback Henry Poggi falls into the end zone for the first touchdown of his collegiate career Saturday against Maryland.

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McKeon’s done the bulk of his damage in Big Ten games, catching 20 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns.

“It’s been great,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Sean McKeon, a real football player. Zach Gentry will blossom into a heck of a football player. A lot of good tight ends. We’re doing a very good job at the tight end position — blocking, catching, assignments are good, no penalties, they’re not turning the ball over. It’s the kind of football we like.”

All the production comes one year after losing Jake Butt, the recipient of the John Mackey Award, which goes annually to the nation’s top tight end. Butt had 46 receptions for 546 yards and two touchdowns last season and was a fifth-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos.

McKeon (Massachusetts) and Gentry (New Mexico) both hail from states that are low on Division I talent. McKeon was heavily recruited by Don Brown while he was the defensive coordinator at Boston College. When he was hired by Michigan, Brown continued his pursuit and convinced Harbaugh to offer him a scholarship.

The 6-foot-7 Gentry, one of the most prolific quarterbacks in New Mexico high school history, spurned Texas in 2015 to be Harbaugh’s next big-time quarterback. Instead, a detour placed Gentry elsewhere, with a nudge from the coaching staff with the belief that a professional career was more promising at tight end.

“I like to think I was the first read,” Gentry said, laughing, describing his touchdown catch against the Terrapins. “It was great execution.”

KICKING TURMOIL: Quinn Nordin’s kicking woes continued Saturday. And even more notable was the verbal spat he got into with Harbaugh.

Nordin missed a 31-yard field goal just before halftime and walked slowly off the field while hanging his head. It appeared that Harbaugh yelled “Come on!” as Nordin neared the sideline. Once he got off the field, the Big Ten Network broadcast showed Harbaugh and Nordin shouting at each other.

When Harbaugh was asked about the exchange, he said he told Nordin, “Start making them!”

“I think anger is a powerful motivator,” Harbaugh added. “I have an article from the Wall Street Journal on that. They’ve actually done a study.”

But Harbaugh was also quick to shoot down a reporter’s inquiry that termed the conversation between he and Nordin as “heated.”

“He didn’t really snap back,” Harbaugh said. “I just said to him, “I'm giving you one more shot. You’ve got to make the next one.’ And he said, ‘I got this. I will make the next one.’ There was no heated exchange.”

Nordin burst onto the scene this season, making 11 field goals in the first three games, including two from 50-plus yards. The 55-yard field goal he made against Florida was the longest field goal in the history of AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys. In that same game, Nordin became the first Michigan kicker to make two field goals from 50 yards in the same game.

Nordin was named the Big Ten special teams player of the week twice in the first three weeks. But the Penn State game has been a turning point, and not the type people usually covet. Nordin missed an extra point against the Nittany Lions and again last week versus Minnesota.

The first-half missed field goal was Nordin’s third consecutive attempt that was no good. A push wide right is usually the outcome.

FINAL DESTINATION: In his final game, which represented his last homecoming, Baltimore native Henry Poggi had perhaps the happiest moment of his five-year Michigan career.

The Wolverines lined up with three fullbacks on second-and-goal from the 2-yard line — Poggi, Khalid Hill, and Ben Mason. Brandon Peters handed the ball to Poggi, who burst through the line and into the end zone for his first-career touchdown.

“The O-line got such great push, I just kind of flopped into the end zone,” Poggi said. “It was great. I was happy to get that.”

He said it was such an easy touchdown that a toddler could have waltzed — or crawled — into the end zone.

“He’s been phenomenal for us,” Harbaugh said. “That was great that he got a touchdown. He was excited about it from the moment we put it in the game plan. The surge was outstanding on that play.”

Contact Kyle Rowland at krowland@theblade.com, 419-724-6110 or on Twitter @KyleRowland.

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