The Wolverine

November 2016

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 27 of 83

28 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2016 "Some teams we'll play in the year spray the ball all around and you don't know where it's going, so that could happen." Michigan ranked third nationally with 18.56 yards per punt return on 16 attempts through six games, but dead last (128th) on kickoff returns with a 15.5 average on 10 attempts. The latter number, however, is mis- leading and just another example of the respect U-M's Peppers and Lewis received. The two combined for only five returns between them, with most teams opting to kick short to keep the ball away from them. Fullbacks Bobby Henderson and Khalid Hill, two of the short men on kicks, had returned a pair each, while another, freshman Khaleke Hudson, returned one. They managed only 39 return yards (7.8-yard average) on those five runbacks. Peppers was the reason most teams chose to kick short. "If there was a Bible right here," Jim Harbaugh said, pointing to the po- dium at the postgame Rutgers press conference, "I'd put my hand on it and say there's no more versatile player than Jabrill Peppers. There's nothing he can't do. In my humble opinion, we are looking at a Heisman Trophy win- ner and candidate. "He's one great player — a great, great player. … If there's a better player in the country, I don't know who it is." FIELD GOAL KICKING IS A CONCERN While the return teams have been outstanding, on the flip side, the kick- ing game has been worrisome. Mak- ing field goals was supposed to be a strength this year after a 2015 season in which Kenny Allen made 81.8 per- cent of his attempts. Instead it's been anything but, with the fifth-year senior having converted on only four of his eight tries at the halfway point. Allen missed a pair in each of the two biggest games — from 37 and 44 yards against Colorado, and 31 and 43 yards against Wisconsin. The latter helped the Badgers hang around lon- ger than they should have in a game the Wolverines otherwise dominated. Redshirt freshman Ryan Tice was given a shot against Wisconsin after Allen's two misses, but his 40-yard at- tempt sailed wide right. "We'll have a little kicking competi- tion this week, and it'll be an oppor- tunity for Ryan Tice," head coach Jim Harbaugh said after the 0-for-3 per- formance. "We'll see if we can't make them next time." Harbaugh refused to attempt a field goal, going for it on all four fourth downs, in a 49-10 win over Penn State the week prior. There will likely come a time this season — whether it's Oct. Michigan has been in contention for a Big Ten championship on the last week- end of the regular season in 11 of the last 20 years, and good field goal kicking has been a big reason. The Wolverines' championship teams during that span (1997, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2004) were all good in that area with one exception — the 2000 squad, which managed only 12 field goals on 20 attempts (60 percent). Even then, a better kicking effort might have made the difference in only one game — a 23-20 loss at UCLA in which Hayden Epstein missed a 46-yarder and then a 24-yarder with 3:27 remaining. The offense was so good that season there weren't many nail-biters, and those weren't decided by a missed field goal. But the Wolverines were fortunate to have dodged a bullet in a 14-7 win over Wisconsin this year, a game that came down to the fourth quarter but could easily have been out of reach at that point. Fifth-year senior Kenny Allen missed from 31 and 43 yards, while red- shirt freshman Ryan Tice misfired from 40. Otherwise the Wolverines might have led by two scores, a comfortable margin given how well the defense was playing. Allen was tied for 94th nationally in field goal percentage at 50 percent (4 of 8) through six games. A look at how Michigan's Big Ten con- tenders fared in field goals over the last 20 years: Year Made/Att. FG % 1997^ 17-23 73.9 1998^ 18-25 72.0 1999 17-23 73.9 2000^ 12-20 60.0 * Hayden Epstein missed two vs. UCLA in a 23-20 loss, including a 24-yarder with 3:27 remaining. 2001 13-20 65.0 * Epstein missed a 27-yard field goal in the third quarter of a 26-20 loss to Ohio State when U-M had mo- mentum, and had one blocked and returned for TD in the fourth quarter of a 23-18 loss to Washington. U-M was primed to take a 15-6 lead with 9:00 remaining. 2002 12-24 50.0 * Troy Nienberg had a 32-yarder blocked at Notre Dame in a 25-23 loss. 2003^ 11-16 68.9 2004^ 19-24 79.2 2006 17-20 85.0 2011 13-17 76.5 2015 18-22 81.8 ^ Won the Big Ten * Key misses Fifth-year senior Kenny Allen has handled the majority of U-M's kicking duties in the first half of the season, but is just 4 of 8 on field goals while averaging 43.2 yards per punt and kicking off 41 of the 51 times U-M has done it so far this year. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL Field Goal Kicking Has Been Critical For U-M's Big Ten Contenders

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