ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Evidently, the opening kickoff wasn’t enough to scare Colorado away from putting the ball into the hands of Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, one of the best all-around athletes in all of college football.
One more block, a few extra feet of space… who knows what could have happened? That could be said for several plays through the first three games of 2016.
Whether by punt or kick, giving Peppers room to work should never be a part of the game plan.
And when you’re rugby kicking to virtually the same spot, right on a line, well, you’re begging for trouble.
Buffaloes punter Alex Kinney, who booted eight times for 338 yards, learned that lesson the hard way — along with special teams coordinator Matt Thompson — on Saturday in Ann Arbor. Instead of avoiding Mr. Versatility, Kinney gifted the ball with 11:27 to play to Peppers, who rattled off a game-sealing 54-yard return for touchdown during the Wolverines’ 45-28 victory.
It was about time, said Peppers. About time…
“It was definitely a sense of relief, man… you know…,” Peppers said. “I felt like a couple of those punts, I could have had. I definitely could have taken one back. (Colorado) was a great tackling team, you know — they were shooting the hip, wrapping up.
“When you get a line-drive and great blocking, man, if you don’t score then… they’ve got to put somebody else back there, you know? (Laughs) That’s just how I felt, man. The hole was wide open. They leave it upon me to make a couple of guys miss — and I feel as if though I did that.”
He’s been close before this year. Really close — and not just Saturday versus Colorado, but even back to the Minnesota game in 2015. With that said, on Saturday, he willed his way through the final strides to the end zone.
“I started cramping at about the 5 (yard-line),” said Peppers just a split second before breaking out into laughter. “I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m not getting in this time.’ I was tired of just being an ‘almost kind of guy,’ so it definitely felt good to finally punch one in.”
He did more than that, though. He finished the day with 81 kick-return yards, 99 punt-return yards, 24 rushing yards and nine tackles, including 3.5 for a loss and a sack. Oh, and he was also credited with a QB hurry.
File this one under “remember when Jabrill did this?…” It was that kind of evening for the Wolverines linebacker/defensive back/offensive weapon. Heisman-resume-point kind of stuff. Two-hundred-and-four total yards of production.
Following the come-from-behind victory, linebacker Ben Gedeon — who had a career-high 12 tackles — could only use one word to describe Peppers: “Special.”
Peppers flipped the script versus Colorado. Grant Perry got the thing moving after scoring on a punt-block/fumble, the “turning point of the game,” per Peppers, but Peppers slid it into high gear.
Easily the best player on the field. No question whatsoever.
Harbaugh knew that, so he noted the location of the kicks and had special teams coordinators Jay Harbaugh and Chris Partridge devise a scheme.
“They kept punting kind of the same way, the same spot, you know — and we had let two or three hit the ground previously,” Harbaugh said. “(We had a) pretty good idea where that punt’s going — let’s play for that spot and see if we can’t catch it clean and get on the run.
“I thought our special teams coaches did a nice job making that adjustment. They were mandated to make that adjustment (smiles).”
Take note, soon-to-be opposing coordinator, or your team could be the next playground for the 6-foot-1, 205-pound do-all threat.
Take note, or prepare to become an answer to a trivia question.
“I feel great with the ball in his hands,” Harbaugh said. “He is a dynamic player, Jabrill Peppers, with the ball in his hand. He made the difference. A lot of players played really great football today, but I think Jabrill was by far the best guy out there in all phases.
“It was outstanding.”