The Wolverine

November 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 26 of 83

NOVEMBER 2018 THE WOLVERINE 27 BY JOHN BORTON D onovan Peoples-Jones sup- plied the signature moment for Michigan special teams brilliance this season, spin- ning Nebraska right into the ground. The sophomore wide receiver's 60- yard punt return touchdown included a 360-degree whirl that left the Corn- huskers' Luke Gifford sprawled on the Michigan Stadium turf. It wasn't just Luke who couldn't summon The Force, his teammates chasing the speedy Peo- ples-Jones in futility to the end zone. That highlight-reel moment wowed the crowd, including the ones in pads and helmets. "That was a great play for us," ju- nior guard and Michigan captain Ben Bredeson offered. "It was a big play for the team, and being able to watch it on the sidelines, I thought he was going to get tackled at least four different times. I just saw Nebraska guys coming in, and he found a way to slip through there. "He turned on the jets at the end. Obviously, once he got that last guy in a foot race to the corner, I knew he was going to get in. That was huge for the team, and it was nice for him to make a great play. We were all just celebrating then, because we knew nobody was going to catch him." "It was fun watching from the side- line," sophomore wideout Nico Col- lins added. "That was Donovan being Donovan. He can make plays with the ball when he's got it, and that's what he did." Peoples-Jones' wizardry isn't the only thing the Wolverines have had to celebrate on special teams this season, by any means. Consider the following highlights … • Sophomore cornerback Ambry Thomas sprinted away 99 yards for a touchdown on a kick return against Notre Dame. It gave the Wolverines' life after they'd dug a 21-3 hole in South Bend. They couldn't come all the way back, but Thomas and his blockers gave them a chance. • The Wolverines have blocked a field goal attempt and a punt this year, while not suffering a block in either category. • Redshirt sophomore kicker Quinn Nordin has connected on 78.6 percent (11 of 14) of his field goals, his clip of 1.6 per game is tied for 17th nationally. • Redshirt sophomore punter Will Hart has been on fire, averaging 51.0 yards per punt through seven games, which would tie for second nationally if he had enough attempts to qualify. Michigan stands as one of the national leaders in net punting as well, 11th at 42.1 on average. In other words, it's not just Michi- gan's offense and defense that have taken strides this season. The Wolver- ines are helping themselves in a big way when it comes to the units taking over when neither of those first two phases of the game are on the field. "They've been really good," head coach Jim Harbaugh noted. "Consis- tently good, plus they've made the big play, in every phase. Returns for a touchdown, tackles inside the 20, turnovers on the punt, scoring on kickoff return and the punt return. It's really good, and they're making the big plays. "You can't ask for any more than that." In true coach fashion, Harbaugh asked for more in the very next breath. "You can even say, they're doing great, now if we could just block a field goal, or we could continue to improve," he said, smiling. "In every phase … we want to keep getting better." THE BIG BOOT Nordin exudes no small amount of confidence, and supplies it to others when they see him hit from 50 yards and beyond. He reached the midway point of the regular season with one 50-yarder and an 11-for-14 effort over- all; his success rate of 78.6 percent is tied for 31st in the land. "He's done good," Harbaugh noted. "He's made the field goals. It's nice to see they were big field goals. The one in the SMU game made it a three- score game, a 45-yarder, comes back the next week and hits a 50-yarder. "It raises everybody's confidence. It's good to see him go out there and bang it. We didn't hesitate in making the call to have him go out there, and then he comes through. It's good." It's good enough that Nordin — with two and a half seasons of eli- gibility left in a Michigan uniform — cracked the top 10 among all-time most productive field goal kickers to pull on the winged helmet. After the first seven games of 2018, he ranks eighth with 30 made kicks and third with a 79.0 success rate in his career. Here is the list of those he's chasing (and many that he'll be passing) this season: Career Field Goals At Michigan Rk. Player FG Years 1. Garrett Rivas 64 2003-06 2. Remy Hamilton 63 1993-96 3. Mike Gillette 57 1985-88 4. Brendan Gibbons 45 2010-13 5. J.D. Carlson 39 1989-91 6. Kenny Allen 37 2012-16 7. Ali Haji-Sheikh 31 1979-82 8. Quinn Nordin 30 2017-18 9. Bob Bergeron 29 1981-84 10. Hayden Epstein 26 1998-01 With a 50-yard field goal against Nebraska, redshirt sophomore Quinn Nordin moved into a tie for second in school history with three makes from that distance, one behind all-time leader Hayden Epstein. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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