Michigan receiver Nico Collins has put stress on opposing secondaries this season.
He’s drawn nine pass interference penalties, more than any player in the nation, according to data from Pro Football Focus.
“There are times when they just have to grab him because he's behind them,” Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He's getting behind and getting separation on defensive backs and in the secondary.”
The challenge for Ohio State’s defenders tasked covering Collins on Saturday will be to break from the trend.
For the past month, Collins, a junior, has been a critical part of Michigan’s resurgence on offense, a frequent target for quarterback Shea Patterson. Five of his seven touchdown catches have come amid a four-game winning streak, a stretch in which the Wolverines have averaged 41.5 points.
In their most recent win, a 39-14 rout of Indiana, he caught six passes for 165 yards and three touchdowns.
One on Collins’ bigger catches against the Hoosiers was a 76-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. Collins ran a slant pass over the middle of the field, then ran more than 60 yards into the end zone, outrunning a couple of defenders.
Size has always made Collins one of the Big Ten’s better receivers. He’s listed at 6 feet 4 and 222 pounds. But the breakaway score stood out to his coach.
“Gaining that separation, that's been a big improvement in Nico's game,” Harbaugh said. “And I think he's got more room to grow, as well.”
The Buckeyes, who lead the nation in pass defense, have allowed only six passing touchdowns, tied with Clemson and Kentucky for the fewest.
Harbaugh made sure to point out that Collins has remained adept at pulling in “contested balls,” one of his strongest skills.
Collins said he enjoys making a catch under pressure.
“The guy across from me is trying to stop me from catching the ball and my goal is to catch the ball,” he said. “Going against great cornerbacks every week, it's kind of having fun with it.”