By RICKY LINDSAY, Sports Editor
Jake Butt surprised many with an incredibly speedy recovery after tearing his ACL in February.
On Saturday, the sophomore tight end surprised Miami (Ohio) defensive back Marshall Taylor with his first touchdown reception of the season in Michigan’s 34-10 victory.
One play after hauling in a 22-yard pass, Butt and Michigan’s offense huddled up in an attempt at finding the end zone. The Wolverines called a bluff screen — the torpedo screen, as Butt said — and Devin Gardner lofted a pass towards the end zone.
Butt cut past Taylor, hauled in Gardner’s pass and waltzed into the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown.
“We had the bluff screen, where I kind of bluff the defender and leak and I got the chance to go in there,” Butt said. “I broke down like I was going to block, the safety came flying up and I just leaked. Devin tossed the ball up there and (I) scored.”
Butt didn’t have to worry about taking a beating on the touchdown grab — after bluffing out of the block, he was open from the 20-yard line onwards, just the way he likes.
“I like it better when it’s wide open,” Butt said. “You don’t have to worry about a thing, just catch it and score.”
After a promising campaign as a freshman in 2013, Butt tore his ACL during offseason workouts in mid-February. He was Michigan’s third-ranked receiver and was expected to become a force in offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s passing game with Devin Funchess shifting to receiver.
But as Jake Ryan did last year, Butt made an incredible comeback from his Feb. 27 surgery to appear in Michigan’s final matchup with Notre Dame on Sept. 6. In his first real taste of game action Saturday against Miami (Ohio), he hauled in three passes for 59 yards and a touchdown.
“Each week (my leg) gets better and better, but I feel great right now,” Butt said. “I feel closer to 100 percent. In a way, I feel like I am my full self right now. Once the adrenaline gets pumping, you’re just out there playing football. You don’t think about your knee, you don’t think about little nicks or bruises, you’re just out there playing football.”
Michigan’s leading receiver, Devin Funchess, did not dress for Saturday’s game with an undisclosed status.
But Gardner had nothing to worry about with Butt in the fold.
The Michigan quarterback watched his tight end grow from an incoming freshman to an offensive threat last fall. Over the past seven months, Gardner took notice of Butt’s journey to return to that level.
“He hasn’t done anything or shown me anything that he’s not the Jake Butt that he was,” Gardner said. “I feel like he’s been playing really well. He’s worked so hard in the offseason and during practice to get a chance to play last week (against Notre Dame). I feel like he’s going to move forward from here.”
Butt was not thinking about his leg when he raced out of Michigan Stadium’s tunnel. He was not thinking about his leg when he hauled in his first catch, nor the last one. When he waltzed into the end zone, it was not on his mind. The adrenaline from football took over.
So when Butt scored his first touchdown since Nov. 30 against Ohio State, the tight end displayed a bit of swagger. He flashed the infamous three goggles with his right hand and found receiver Dennis Norfleet in the end zone for a quick celebration; the first in 10 months, the first after a long rehabilitation process.
“I saw Fleet going and he was pointing to the sky,” Butt said. “I knew I wasn’t supposed to, but yeah, I did. Not like I have big hops anyways, but it was a baby jump.”