ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Kekoa Crawford had no idea Grant Perry was so fast. He does now.
Perry turned a 5-yard, shallow crossing pattern reception into a 33-yard touchdown in the third quarter of Michigan’s 36-14 victory against Cincinnati at Michigan Stadium on Saturday. While the final score looks comfortable, the junior wide receiver’s touchdown provided breathing room for the Wolverines against pesky Cincinnati, which had fought back from a 14-0 deficit to trail by three points, 17-14, as the clock wound down on the third quarter.
“I didn’t know he had that much speed, for real,” said Crawford, a sophomore wide receiver who was lined up to the outside left of Perry in a five-receiver set. “He took off. He took off right when he caught it. He was determined to score, you could just tell that he really wanted that, so he went and got it.”
Perry nearly got tripped up by linebacker Jaylyin Minor after turning upfield, but stayed on his feet and then split defenders Carter Jacobs, Grant Coleman and Linden Stephens as he dove into the end zone for his first touchdown of the season and the third of his career.
Grant Perry with the breakaway speed, scoring a big TD for Michigan. pic.twitter.com/xgJpJYTYqN
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) September 9, 2017
Whether or not Perry would return to the team this year was in question during the offseason. An arrest in East Lansing, Mich., last October eventually led to Perry being sentenced to 12 months probation and 60 hours of community service on Aug. 4 after pleading guilty to one felony count of resisting a police officer and one misdemeanor count of assault and battery. Perry did not play in three games after that incident for what coach Jim Harbaugh termed “disciplinary reasons.” He returned to play against Ohio State in the regular-season finale but was suspended indefinitely from the football program last Dec. 22.
Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel reinstated Perry at the start of preseason camp.
Perry was the top returning receiver from last season, having caught 13 passes for 183 yards. He is the de facto veteran among a wide receiver group that is heavily leaning on freshmen and sophomores.
“I learned a lot under Jehu [Chesson] and [Amara] Darboh when they were here,” said Perry, who had 4 catches for 66 yards in the game and now has 8 receptions for 110 yards this season. “Being able to play as a freshman in 2015 [was important] because I made a lot of mistakes that I learned from. Now when I’m on the field as a veteran, I see those before they happen and I’m able to work in the offense and do what I’m supposed to do.
“When it comes to being the veteran, quote-unquote, of the group I take pride in that. We stay after, we watch extra film, we do extra work. I’ve got to credit Jehu and Darboh for putting that on me because they were great leaders before they left.”
The veteran sniffed out the play as Michigan faced a second-and-10 from the Cincinnati 33 with 3 minutes, 8 seconds left in the third quarter. Michigan’s defense had twice forced Cincinnati to go three-and-out on possessions in which the Bearcats had an opportunity to tie the score or take the lead, and now the Wolverines offense was in position to alleviate some pressure on the defense.
Michigan lined up in a five-receiver set, with Crawford lined up wide left and Perry and tight end Ian McKeon on the inside of him. Freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones was lined up in the slot on the right side of the formation, with running back Ty Isaac split out wide right. Cincinnati was playing a zone coverage.
“That was a no-huddle call where we got up to the line of scrimmage and assessed the defensive look,” said quarterback Wilton Speight. “I think Grant kind of made eye contact with me knowing that it was going to be open, and sure enough it was. He took it to the house.”
McKeon ran a post pattern, allowing Perry to cut underneath him. The throw was a little high, as was the case with too many of Speight’s passes in the game, but Perry was able to snare the ball out of the air and make a run away from Minor. The linebacker dove at Perry’s heels but Perry escaped. Cincinnati’s other defenders had no chance to bring him down.
“Pre-snap I actually thought the ball was going to go to Ian, who was inside of me, because with that look that route has been open most of the game,” Perry said. “It just cleared out, and me and Wilton made eye contact. He threw it, and there was nothing but yards.”