By: Will Burchfield
@burchie_kid

It’s next-man-up for Michigan.

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The Wolverines lost leading wide receiver Tarik Black to a fractured foot versus Air Force on Saturday and the freshman may not return this season.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t dodge that bullet,” Jim Harbaugh told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket.

But the coach is confident Michigan has the players to fill Black’s shoes.

“Kekoa Crawford, Nate Schoenle, Grant Perry. Donovan-Peoples Jones is going to play a bigger role. And other freshmen are going to have an opportunity: Nico (Collins) and Oliver (Martin). One of them or both will definitely be in the mix,” said Harbaugh. “We’ve got good players and they have to step up.”

Peoples-Jones, the highest-rated recruit in Michigan’s loaded freshman class, had a coming-out party in the Wolverines’ 29-13 win over Air Force. He caught two passes for 52 yards and returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown.

His vast skillset was on full display.

“Phenomenal effort, talent and strength the way he ran the ball. Very impressive and a big play for us in the game,” said Harbaugh. “He was our offensive player of the game.”

Black led Michigan receivers in both receptions (11) and yards (149) through the season’s first three games. He showed the speed to take the top off the defense and the size and strength to win balls in the air. He’s a rare talent, and Michigan won’t find it easy to replace him.

Of the receivers Harbaugh mentioned, Perry and Crawford have the most experience. Perry, a junior, has 10 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown this season, while Crawford, a sophomore, has five catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.

They both stood out in Michigans’ Week 2 win over Cincinnati.

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Schoenle, a sophomore from Plymouth, has appeared in three career games for the Wolverines. He was named the special teams player of the game in this year’s season-opener versus Florida.

Collins and Martin are two freshman to keep an eye on. They were both four-star recruits, Collins from Alabama, Martin from Iowa. Harbaugh spoke highly of Martin during training camp and Collins has the size — 6’5, 195 pounds — to cause all kinds of problems for a defense.

Harbaugh also discussed Michigan’s inefficiency in the red zone, where the offense has scored just one touchdown in 10 opportunities. He laughed off the idea that the players are in their own heads and clarified his comments following the Air Force game.

At the time, Harbaugh suggested his offense was outfoxed by the Falcons’ defense in the red zone.

“What I said after the game was, there was a time where they had the better call than we did. That’s not me saying we got out-coached. That’s not me saying anything on the coaches,” Harbaugh said. “Sometimes that happens, and we have to be able to manage that.

“The way you manage that as a quarterback is you throw the ball away. You don’t throw the interception in the red zone, you don’t turn it over and you do get the field goal and put the points on the board. That’s also smart football.”

Harbaugh said the play calling on offense is done by committee.

“It’s a combination. (Offensive coordinator) Tim Drevno and (passing-game coordinator) Pep (Hamilton) have the greatest share and I’m probably third in line,” he said.

Asked if he holds veto power as the head coach, Harbaugh vacillated before saying, “That’s probably the simplest and best way to explain it. It’s a group effort by our offensive coaching staff, with Tim and Pep having the greatest share of the play calling.”

Harbaugh is confident No. 7 Michigan, which opens up Big 10 play on Saturday with a visit to Purdue, will get its red-zone issues ironed out.

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“We all understand that the job for the offense is to move the ball and score touchdowns and put points on the board. Scoring touchdowns at a higher rate is something that we’re focused on and we think will come,” he said.