The Wolverine

November 2016

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 26 of 83

NOVEMBER 2016 THE WOLVERINE 27 ing a 24-21 halftime lead again on the strength of its special teams. A fierce rush forced punter Alex Kin- ney's low line drive to hit one of his linemen in the second quarter, result- ing in a minus-7 yard net. Michigan scored its second touchdown on a two-play, 38-yard drive off the short field, got a field goal from fifth-year senior Kenny Allen following a 13- yard punt return from redshirt soph- omore Jabrill Peppers and turned another 13-yard Peppers return into a 45-yard touchdown pass for the halftime edge. Peppers was only getting started. After Colorado regained the lead in the third quarter, his 55-yard kick return to the Buffaloes' 45 set up a 42-yard touchdown run by senior De'Veon Smith. The future NFL first- rounder then put the game out of reach with a 54-yard punt return that went the distance with 11:27 remain- ing, capping the 45-28 win. "Jabrill Peppers proved he was the best player in that game today," Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said in the postgame. "We don't win that game without Jabrill Peppers." The Buffaloes averaged only 17.9 net yards on 10 punts, arguably the difference in a hard-fought Michigan win. "He made some big plays today," Colorado head coach Mike Ma- cIntyre said of Peppers. "He's a good football player." THE DIFFERENCE MAKER Postgame Peppers praise was the common refrain from opposing coaches during the first half of the slate, one in which the Wolverines started 6-0 for only the fourth time in the last 20 years. He led the country with 249 punt return yards as of Oct. 16, and it would have been more if an incredible 44-yard touchdown run- back in a 78-0 win at Rutgers hadn't been wiped out by a penalty. As it stood, he was tied for third in the nation in punt returns for touch- downs with one and ranked second in punt return average (17.8 yards per runback). He'd averaged 31.7 yards on three kick returns, which would have tied for seventh in the country if he had the minimum num- ber of returns. Many believed opponents would start to kick and punt away from Peppers after the Colorado game. Michigan special teams coach Chris Partridge wasn't among them. "If they do that, the field position game is going to be pretty incred- ible," Partridge explained. "If they don't punt to him at all, maybe we'll just put 11 up there and come at them. "They've got to make a decision. I don't think teams can just stop kick- ing it to him. They're just going to give up too much field position." Plus, assistant special teams coach Jay Harbaugh added, what kind of message would that send to a team? Turns out opposing coaches didn't care. Most teams have continued to kick it away from him, either short or out of bounds. When he does get it, though, he's deadly. Partridge has chided his standout — who he coached in high school at Paramus (N.J.) Catholic — about not being able to find the end zone more frequently. "Jabrill always wants to score ev- ery time he touches the ball, but I've been kind of busting him about get- ting in the end zone. In high school, he was able to get in the end zone a couple times on returns," Partridge said. "I try to add a little pressure … because Jabrill, when he has pres- sure, is better." His 14 punt returns came despite 51 opponent punts, most of them away from him. If it continues, Jay Harbaugh said, they might entertain the idea of putting senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis back there with him. "There's merit to both of them being on the field at the same time certainly and mak- ing people decide who they want to give the ball to," Harbaugh said. "Both are equally dan- gerous. After falling behind 14-0, Michigan got roll- ing against Colorado when fifth-year senior Michael Jocz (No. 81) blocked a punt that was picked up and returned for a touch- down by sophomore Grant Perry. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL Redshirt sophomore Jabrill Peppers ranks second nationally through Oct. 16 with an average of 17.8 yards per punt return; his 249 total yards running back punts lead the country. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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