On an otherwise celebratory day that marked the return of Michigan fans to the Big House for the first time in nearly two years, a somber moment caused the near near 110,000 in attendance to go silent.
Ronnie Bell, senior wide receiver and captain, fielded a punt midway through the second quarter and burst up the middle for what was nearly his second touchdown of the afternoon. Following the play, it quickly became apparent to everyone in the stadium that something was seriously wrong - as Bell could be seen struggling to get to his feet.
Though the injury would end his afternoon, most remained hopeful that there would be good news following the injury and that Bell would ultimately return to the field in 2021. In spite of some promising reports about Bell being in good spirits and even walking about Schembechler Hall, head coach Jim Harbaugh confirmed on Monday that his senior receiver would be out for the remainder of the year.
"Unfortunately Ronnie will be out for the season," said Harbaugh on Monday. "He has a knee injury. It’s a shame."
“Ronnie won our player of the game. He had a phenomenal game. Along with Blake, making the big plays, carrying our offense early in the game. Got the big play on the long pass. Great contested catch and then finishing the run. And then, one of the best catches I’ve ever seen in my life, the one-handed catch. He was able to stay in-bounds. Very clean and tremendous catch. Punt return in which he got injured, unfortunately, he was just having a great game.”
With such a significant loss on the field, where do the Wolverines turn next to fill the void left by Bell? Here are the three wide receivers that can help soften the blow and rise in his absence.
AJ Henning has that extra gear that makes him extremely dangerous in the open field, as evidenced by his 74 yard touchdown run off of a jet sweep over the weekend. Though dangerous, Henning didn't have many opportunities with the ball in his hands on Saturday - finishing the afternoon with 85 yards on just two touches.
With the loss of Bell, expect that to change in a big way - particularly on special teams. Henning is the next likely candidate to field punts for the remainder of the season, meaning he should have plenty of opportunities to make big plays in the very near future.
The junior wide receiver out of Everett (Mass.) is another one of those smaller, quicker, shifty-type athletes that are tailor-made for a Josh Gattis offense. Sainristil hasn't quite taken off the way some expected, but he's certainly shown flashes of what makes him such a dynamic playmaker - such as the 26 yard touchdown catch and run against Notre Dame during his freshman season.
Beyond his experience at the receiver position, Sainristil also has considerable experience on special teams as a kick/punt returner - providing special teams coach Jay Harbaugh additional weapons if needed.
Wilson burst onto the scene as a freshman and became one of Joe Milton's go-to targets early in the 2020 season. He finished his freshman campaign with 9 receptions for 122 yards and one touchdown, good for sixth highest on the team.
Though he didn't log a single catch on Saturday afternoon, Wilson logged 43 yards on an impressive jet-sweep run that nearly ended in the end zone.
As Harbaugh and co. search for playmakers on both special teams and at the wide receiver position moving forward, expect Roman Wilson to be one of the Wolverines who takes advantage of the opportunity.