9/17/2016 – Michigan 45, Colorado 28 – 3-0
linebacker on fire [Patrick Barron]
Let's say you're on the sideline of a football game. You've got a job to do, and you're doing it. This job involves looking at things other than the field, so you rely on your colleagues to let you know when the action threatens to spill over into your area of the sideline.
This is a fine system. You've honed it over the years. People move at a certain speed, you see, and when you hear "heads up" you get your head up, evaluate the situation, and avoid the brunt of the contact. Tried, and true, this system. Damn near infallible, in fact. At no point have you looked winged death straight in the facemask.
Then, this Saturday. Just after your team has taken a very unexpected second-half lead, the system kicks in. "Heads up." Head goes up. This is a process, though, and as you are in the midst of this process your brain starts signaling to you that something is wrong. The tone of voice, maybe? An ominous breeze? What's that thing with the sirens going by? Doppler effect? Whatever it is, the hairs on the back of your neck stand up straight. The process is complete now. Your head is up.
The system has failed.
The system was designed with certain tolerances and Jabrill Peppers has just blown through all of them. You are now staring winged death straight in the facemask. What a terrible time for it to be, now. Before is good. Later is good, assuming that there will in fact be a later. Now… now is bad. You spin the fight or flight wheel and land on "soil yourself."
And who can blame you, really?
Sphincters are also designed with certain tolerances. In your own way you've just blown through as many of them as Jabrill Peppers has in the realm of physics. So you've got that going for you.
There is a certain kind of person—usually a rival fan with a brain that could be cooled down to meat-locker temperatures without any discernible ill effect—who spent most of the offseason bleating about excessive hype for Jabrill Peppers. Peppers didn't have a bunch of shiny counting stats, you see, and therefore he was worse than other people who did.
This argument, already dead in the water to any slightly objective person with eyes, is now beyond repair. Peppers has a decent season's worth of linebacker stats three games in: 9.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, three QB hurries, and a forced fumble. He leads Michigan with 28 tackles, 19 of them solo. He's got 173 punt return yards—an average of 22 yards a pop!—and has just started contributing on offense.
Linear extrapolation of these numbers gets to territory so uncharted that Captain Janeway and her crew of morons show up to survey it. We probably shouldn't do that. Spicy stats will get rarer as the competition level increases… insofar as it does. Rutgers is still on the schedule, after all. Maryland—which just went to double OT with Central Florida—is also on the docket. Penn State and Wisconsin have offensive lines that are, uh, in flux. Peppers might not might meet significantly more resistance except in a few games.
So screw it! Linear extrapolation: 112 tackles, 38 for loss, 10 sacks, a thousand return yards and however many touchdowns, and whatever he chips in on offense. Ahahahahahaha.
PICTURED: THE BIG TEN CONFERENCE
This was a concerning game for several reasons, not least of them the fact that a middling-at-best Pac-12 school was driving to go up 28-7 in front of a shocked Michigan Stadium. Post Traumatic Hoke Disorder was in full effect amongst the 110,000 gathered. Personally, I was not having a real good time. I went into emotional shutoff mode, as is my wont, and contemplated how I was going to break it to MGoBlog readers that I was moving to Bolivia, as is also my wont.
Peppers didn't rescue that himself. I had a fist pump after Rashan Gary came around the corner and a ragged exhalation when Amara Darboh dismissed a couple tacklers to turn a tunnel screen into a touchdown. Michigan's rebound from a game they certainly lose in the previous regime was a collective effort. That collective effort was mostly accepted on mute.
The one guy who pierced right through that attempted stoicism was Peppers. Because BANG he's thumping some dude in the backfield and BANG he's just slashed upfield through the first wave of punt defenders and BANG he has sacked the quarterback before he's even finished his drop. Even when you're trying not to feel anything in case the feelings are horrible, it's impossible to see Peppers and not think OH HELL YES SOMETHING 'BOUT TO BE ON FIRE I CAN'T FEEL MY FAAAACE LET'S GO PUNCH A LEOPARD WOO.
Offense or defense, doesn't matter. He's the best lion. He sinks his meaty claws into anyone with the temerity to test his edge. He's the best gazelle. He slashes through a line of claws without ill effect. He is sui generis, the scourge of sphincters, and someone put him in a winged helmet to rouse the inert from their stupors and send them to their local superstores in search of an axe appropriate for crazed berserking. Check.
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Jabrill Peppers is an easy selection after 3.5 TFLs, a sack, two rushes for 24 yards, a kickoff return to the Colorado 45, and four punt returns averaging 25 yards a pop including the game-sealing touchdown. Peppers has been everything he's been hyped up to be so far this year. The busted coverage is a demerit, and this is still an easy pick.
#2 Jake Butt was the one consistently positive target in Michigan's passing game, with seven catches for 87 yards; I also caught a couple of positive run-blocking events on Michigan's big plays.
#3 Ben Gedeon had 12 tackles, a critical sack early in the game, and was a major component of Michigan's interior run defense. Pop pass issues may have been on him and McCray but asking LBs to respond to RPOs like that is asking for trouble; I'm assuming those are on the safeties.
Honorable mention: Khalid Hill would have made it if I wasn't pretty sure he got Speight killed on the sack/strip. Rashan Gary, Chris Wormley, and Ryan Glasgow were key components of a stout interior run defense.
5: Jabrill Peppers((T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF, #1 Colorado).
3: Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii), Wilton Speight (#1 UCF).
2: Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF), Jake Butt(#2 Colorado).
1: Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii), Ben Gedeon(#3, Colorado).
0.5: Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii), Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
Peppers finally gets his return touchdown and seals the game.
Honorable mention: Matching 45 yard touchdowns down the edge by De'Veon Smith and Amara Darboh; various other Peppers things.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
This week's worst thing ever.
A blown protection gets Wilton Speight blindsided for a 14-0 Colorado lead and a first quarter of deep panic.
Honorable mention: A blown coverage results in a long post touchdown to open things up for CU; Colorado strikes back at the beginning of the first half with a 70-yard bomb.
PREVIOUS EPIC DOUBLE BIRDs
Hawaii: Not Mone again.
UCF: Uh, Dymonte, you may want to either tackle or at least lightly brush that guy.
Colorado: Speight blindsided.
[After THE JUMP: SPEIGHTDOWN, also bad thing discussion]
Jake Butt and Jabrill Peppers
Jabrill, you’ve been close several times. What did it feel like to get across finally?
“It’s undescribable. Man, I think I just laid there. I was like, finally, man. The guys did a great job of getting me a crease. They trust me enough to hit what I see and make something happen and that’s what I did.”
For both of you guys, level of concern when it was 21-7 early on?
Peppers: “We’ve been down before. There was no level of panic. It was just like a little adversity. That’s the biggest measurement of a team, how you bounce back when things aren’t going your way. We just had to dig deep and get back to our roots, start tackling better, you know, covering a little better and getting pressure on the quarterback.”
Butt: “We weren’t worried. We weren’t worried. We actually talked about it last night as a team. We knew the first two games we were really never punched in the face, everything was going so smoothly. It’s not going to be a fairytale the whole entire season. There was going to come a point in time where we were going to get punched in the face, where we were going to get backed in a corner and, you know, playing with these guys we bounced back when we were backed into that corner. We fought back and we stuck together and rode that wave and were good enough to get it done.”
Jake, having been backed into a corner, what was the conversation like with you guys on the field and in the huddle during that time when it looked like Colorado had a big advantage?
Butt: “Me personally, I was just trying to go up to guys like, Look, all it takes is one play. We just need a spark. We got that punt block and then they responded again, but we fought back again. We just kept punching back. We kept telling these older guys, this group of seniors and our playmakers, Look, we just need to start making plays. Toward the end of the half that’s exactly what we did, and then I think that a huge play was Darboh going in and punching that screen pass in to give us momentum going into the second half. The defense tightened up and they played a hell of a game down the stretch, too.”
Wilton had a shaky start. It seemed like once he started finding rhythm he was dumping the ball off to you. Seemed like he was getting a little bit of stability there. What did you notice about his comfort level throughout the game?
Butt: “Yeah, it’s Wilton, it’s the coaches, it’s the O-line. It’s never a one-man job. And again, yeah, we did have a shaky start. Again, they were making it really hard to run the ball. They were run blitzing us, loading the box up and the coaches adjusted. They started calling little dump off plays to get into rhythm. Guys were making plays, helping him get comfortable. We had a little package in there where we got some yardage with Pep and McDoom. We just kept making plays down the stretch. That’s all that really matters.”
[Hit THE JUMP for more]
News bullets and other items:
Harbaugh mandated they make an adjustment on special teams so that Jabrill could be in position to catch and run after Colorado punted to the same spot a few times in a row
According to Harbaugh, Peppers was “…by far the best guy out there in all phases.”
Harbaugh was really happy with the improvement in perimeter blocking.
Tom Brady’s pregame message went through each position group and told them what was expected of them in order to play like some of the best to wear the uniform.
Brady and Harbaugh played catch before the game and yes, it was a competition. Harbaugh said he wished he hadn’t given Brady the wind.
The kicking game was off and they’ll have to check the tape to figure it out; Harbaugh attributed part of it to an overadjustment to high snaps in pregame warmups.
Coach, can you describe your team’s mental state when they get down early in this game? Where were they at early in the first quarter, and how do you build off of a deficit of that nature?
“They—it was fight. They knew it was a fight, because I heard them talking about it. So, I think that’s where their mindset was. I really look at all these—every football game that’s ever been played, that probably ever will be played, it’s a battle of the best players, of seeing who the best players are in a football game.
“Colorado has some outstanding players, and the utmost respect for Sefo Liufau and the game that he played and the player that he is. He’s set 70 records at Colorado, and that first post route he threw, you can not throw it any better. Could we cover it better? Yeah, we should have. Next play he threw the ball on a fade route. I mean, cannot throw the ball any better than he did. He was really effective all game. Then he got that ankle injury. That looked pretty serious, and he hops up and kind of drifts out to his right and throws a post route that is as good a post route as you can possibly throw. So in a game of really good players all over the field on both sides, their corner #4, outstanding player, defensive line was outstanding, and above it all, Jabrill Peppers proved that he was the best player today, in today’s game.
“We don’t win that game without Jabrill Peppers. And also a great team effort. As you were talking about, fighting back and making enough—enough good players making enough good plays. The field position Jabrill got us on special teams. Again, that’s a team effort, but wow. He was making the difference; return for a touchdown and then the field position he was giving us.
“Blocked punts; our special teams unit was our finest unit out there today. Accounted for 14 points plus the blocked punt field position and the punt return field position. It was good. It was really good. The best part of playing football’s competing. I thought both teams did an outstanding job of competing at a very high level today.”
[More after THE JUMP]
Jabrill Peppers left the Buffaloes (and his coach) in awe. [Patrick Barron/MGoBlog]
After one quarter, Colorado had a 21-7 lead, outgained Michigan 195 yards to 66, and flat-out looked like the better team.
"We knew it wouldn't be a fairy tale all year," said Jake Butt. "We knew we'd get punched in the face."
Michigan punched back, hard. The Buffaloes gained 130 yards for the rest of the game. Michigan had 331. If Kenny Allen hadn't missed a pair of field goals, the Wolverines even would've covered the 20-point spread.
Early on, Colorado's up-tempo offense and athletic defense caught the Wolverines by surprise. Jabrill Peppers was caught out of position on a deep post for Colorado's first touchdown, then the Buffs went up by 14 less than a minute later when Chidobe Awuzie forced a Wilton Speight fumble that Derek McCartney took back 18 yards for a score. Speight, either shaken or hurt on the hit, had a tough time dialing in after that. If not for a blocked punt by Michael Jocz that Grant Perry took in for a touchdown, Colorado would've exited the first quarter up by 21 after another Sefo Liufao touchdown pass.
Then Michigan adjusted. The defensive front got to Liufau time and again, eventually forcing him out of the game with an apparent ankle injury, though not before Liufau somehow bombed a 70-yard touchdown off one leg to Shay Fields to open the second-half scoring. They shut down the Colorado running game entirely, and the Fields touchdown was the only big play after a first quarter full of them. Don Brown is paid good money for a reason.
The offense slowly but surely picked it up, too. With Khalid Hill leading the way in authoritative fashion, Jehu Chesson got the corner for a 17-yard jet sweep touchdown. Amara Darboh gave Michigan the proverbial momentum swing they needed on a 45-yard screen, stiff-arming a defender to the ground on his way to the end zone with only 33 seconds left in the half. Despite a disastrous start, Michigan led 24-21 at the break.
Colorado landed another big shot with the Fields touchdown. Michigan responded in kind with a pitch to De'Veon Smith on the second play of the ensuing drive; Smith hardly had to do anything on a 42-yard jaunt down the sideline on perhaps the best-blocked run play of this young season. The Wolverines finally grabbed control of the game when a long catch-and-run by Grant Perry set up a one-yard touchdown for Ty Isaac to give M a 38-28 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Then Jabrill Peppers, having a remarkable all-around game, launched his Heisman campaign. Peppers already had three punt returns and a kickoff return that were a block or two away from reaching the end zone when Colorado lined up to punt from deep in their own territory; a line-drive kick went right to Peppers's chest, and he exploded up the middle, overcoming a cramp at the five-yard line to at long last tally his first return touchdown in a Michigan uniform.
"It was definitely a sense of relief," said Peppers. "If I don't score there, then they needed to put someone else back there."
Peppers's overall stat line boggles the mind: two rushes for 24 yards, four punt returns for 99 yards and a TD, two kickoff returns for 81 yards, nine tackles (six solo), 3.5 TFLs, and a thunderous sack.
"Above all, Jabrill Peppers proved that he was the best player in today's game," said Jim Harbaugh, who praised the talent level on both teams. "We don't win that game without Jabrill Peppers."
"That's a team effort, but... wow," Harbaugh added.
Peppers wasn't the only Paramus Catholic graduate to provide some honest-to-god wow experiences. Rashan Gary recorded 1.5 TFLs and a pair of QB hurries; even better, he eliminated the mental errors that allowed UCF to pick up big gains on the ground last week.
Michigan leaves this game with plenty to work on. Dymonte Thomas, Delano Hill, and Peppers all had coverage busts that led to big plays. Speight's performance didn't equal those he had in the season's first two weeks. Allen, who looked either injured or overwhelmed by his workload, struggled in all phases of the kicking game.
"To be honest I think we did [need a game like this]," said Butt. "We can look back and learn from this."
With Penn State and Wisconsin up next on the schedule, it won't take long to find out how well they've learned those lessons.
[Looking for the Colorado preview? It is HERE.]
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