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Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh explains what makes unbeaten Wisconsin such a challenge. Recorded Monday, Nov. 13, 2017.
Nick Baumgardner, Detroit Free Press

Jim Harbaugh started tugging on his own collar, mimicking a pass attempt at Michigan freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones. 

On a play during the first quarter at Maryland on Saturday, quarterback Brandon Peters tried to hit Peoples-Jones on a comeback route. The defensive back appeared to get away with hearty a pull on Peoples-Jones’ collar. 

No flag was thrown. Harbaugh wasn’t thrilled. 

“I don’t know what to tell him,” Harbaugh explained Monday. “Lift more weights so they don’t grab (and keep) you from making the catch? That’s a penalty and it needs to be (called).”

More: Michigan’s Karan Higdon practices, team hopes he’s ready for Wisconsin

Fair enough, right? The officials missed a penalty call. At the same time, U-M’s freshman receiver says it’s on him at this point to find ways to overcome the physical nature of playing wide receiver in the Big Ten. 

He’s not being interfered with on every play, but the game’s more physical now. And while Peoples-Jones is encouraged by his own progress through 10 games this season, he wants his statistics (12 catches, 155 yards) to increase. 

“I’ve got to do what I have to do to get open,” Peoples-Jones says. “I have to do what I can to get into a spot where the quarterback can hit me. Get more separation. Working releases, getting open at the top of the route. Being more physical. 

“Whatever I can do to help Brandon.” 

More: Michigan football film study: Brandon Peters taking great care of ball

A former five-star recruit and the country’s top-ranked receiver prospect, Peoples-Jones has gone through quite the learning experience. 

The former Detroit Cass Tech standout was tested early this season when he struggled to field punts in traffic, eventually getting removed from a game after a lost fumble. He went back to work, honed his approach and the following week he brought a punt back 79 yards for a touchdown. 

Michigan’s Donovan Peoples-Jones makes a catch against Penn State during the second half on Saturday, October 21, 2017 at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pa.  (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

For Peoples-Jones, the process began back in spring and carried itself through the summer and fall camp. He started the season behind classmate Tarik Black on the depth chart, but eventually found himself in a more consistent role after Black’s foot injury in week three. 

More: Tarik Black could still be in line for a medical redshirt

Every day, every practice, every game – he says – is an opportunity to improve. 

“(I’ve improved a lot on) just understanding what the coaches are saying. They’re great coaches, telling me the right things,” Peoples-Jones said. “Fully hearing what they’re saying and putting it (into my game). … In every way. Blocking, catching, route-running. Every way.” 

Michigan receivers has just one catch for 2 yards last week at Maryland. No one has gotten open consistently. No one, admittedly, has made enough plays for the quarterback. 

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Harbaugh spoke about one play where he believed Peoples-Jones should’ve gotten a flag. Another play late in that game, the freshman did draw a flag for defensive pass interference. 

But that’s not what he wanted to discuss. During that play, even with interference, a pass from Peters hit Peoples-Jones’ hands and eventually fell to the turf.

Those are the moments he needs to change. He’s not relying on the official to do it for him. No one else but himself. 

“Every target I have, I think I should come down with,” Peoples-Jones says. “That’s what I’m working on to get better every day. As a receiver, you’ve got to catch the ball. Doesn’t matter where it is. One foot high, 11 feet high … you’ve got to catch it. 

“That’s your job.” 

Contact Nick Baumgardner: nbaumgardn@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickBaumgardner. Download our Wolverines Xtra app for free on Apple and Android devices!