Ann Arbor — Michigan tight end Sean McKeon caught a 27-yard pass on third and 20 late in the third quarter against Michigan State and struck a first down pose, the ball clutched in his left arm and his right arm and two fingers outstretched signaling the conversion.
It was a big moment for McKeon, who missed three games because of injury, and he chose to be expressive in the heated rivalry.
“He had a terrific game,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said earlier this week. “Did a really good job blocking ends and linebackers. He was a big key in the pass protection and the run game and also made a couple big catches, including the long third down. It means a lot to have him back.”
Michigan’s offense is better with McKeon because of his versatility, and that includes the fact he’s the Wolverines’ best blocking tight end. He has nine catches for 171 yards this season and two touchdowns as the 12th-ranked Wolverines prepare to play at Indiana on Saturday. Michigan has won 10 straight at Memorial Stadium, but has gone to overtime each of the last two meetings there.
First-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis refers to the tight ends in his offense as "big speed in space." This season the tight ends have accounted for six of the Wolverines' 18 receiving touchdowns. Nick Eubanks is third on the team with three touchdowns, and McKeon is fourth with his two scores. The position group has combined for 32 catches for 416 yards (13.0 average) — McKeon's nine catches have averaged 19 yards.
McKeon is a significant addition to the offense as the Wolverines make this late regular-season push that culminates next week with arch-rival Ohio State at Michigan Stadium. He said he’s finally fully healthy and recovered from the unspecified leg injury he suffered late in the Wisconsin game, the Big Ten opener, catching an 18-yard touchdown pass in the end zone. He missed the Rutgers and Iowa games, then returned to play sparingly at Illinois. He aggravated the injury and missed the game at Penn State the following week. McKeon returned for the Notre Dame game and has been good to go since.
Tight ends coach Sherrone Moore said last month that McKeon stayed focused even while he was getting treatment and rehabbing the injury. McKeon was described as “locked in” by Moore and would be by his coach's side at practice making sure he stayed up on everything so there would be no drop-off upon his return.
“Definitely feels a lot better than being hurt, so definitely feeling pretty good,” McKeon said this week of his current status. “I think the Maryland game I was probably 95 (percent healthy), and now I feel like basically 100 right now.”
He accelerated his return and tweaked the injury at Illinois. It was a stressful time for him because missing playing time was something he had never before experienced.
Against Michigan State, McKeon had two catches for 46 yards. He plays such a significant rule in every phase, and Harbaugh was as glad as McKeon that he’s back.
“It’s definitely very important,” the 6-foot-5, 246-pound McKeon said of his versatility. “Sometimes going against defensive ends that got like 20 or 30 pounds is a little tougher, but the play-action off that is also really successful in the passing game. Being able to run block, pass block and catch is really important.”
Michigan at Indiana
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Ind.
Records: Michigan 18-2, 5-2 Big Ten; Indiana 7-3, 4-3
Line: Michigan by 8.5