Sunday, November 1, 2015

The enigma of Jabrill Peppers is here to stay

                                       Photo Credit: Geno Green

With all of the hype coming into the Jabrill Peppers experience last season, very little potential would be nourished as a knee injury sidelined the majority of his run and redshirted in hopes of making the 2015 run a fresh start.

Not only has the fresh start given the redshirt freshman a new lease on the game, but the ability to play on both sides of the ball and flourish.

Saturday night's game at Minnesota for the Little Brown Jug is the latest chapter in Peppers' highlight reel.

Peppers left a huge blueprint on the field accounting for 100 all-purpose yards, highlighted by a six-yard touchdown run to give Michigan a 21-16 lead in the third quarter on a direct snap in the wildcat formation, reminiscent of another No. 5— Former Arkansas running back Darren McFadden.

A relieved Peppers felt the weight being lifted off his shoulders after scoring for the first time as a Wolverine.

"That's my job and it finally feels good to get in the end zone and that's how I feel about it," Peppers said.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh admitted the sweep to the left side of the field was not the original plan and called a pass for Peppers as the original play.

"[Jabrill] got into the end zone for us on a sweep play," Harbaugh said in Saturday's press conference. "I thought he made a good decision. We had a halfback pass dialed up. He kept it."

Taking direct snaps from the quarterback position was not the only impact Peppers made as his first two returns on special teams went for 43 on a kickoff and 41 on a punt.

The 43-yard kickoff return saw Peppers' raw speed come to life as he took advantage of an open lane created by the return team and advanced to its own 43-yard line trailing 3-0 with 4:47 left in the opening quarter. 

Peppers' kickoff return would spring an 8-play, 57-yard drive in 4:09, capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run up the middle by fullback Joe Kerridge to put Michigan on the board.

Fast-forward to the 14:05 mark in the second quarter with the Wolverines ahead 7-3, Peppers would receive his first punt on the evening and took full advantage with a 41-yard return to the Gophers 29. The return ignited a possession that led to a 13-yard touchdown reception by Jehu Chesson.

A reserved and humbled Peppers talked about the importance of setting the offense up with his returns.

"With the returns, I try to do what I am coached to do and try to set up the offense with the best field position as I possibly can," Peppers said. "That's my job and it finally feels good to get in the end zone and that's how I feel about it."

Harbaugh complemented Peppers on his ability to affect all phases of the game.

"Very explosive performance by Jabrill in all three phases," Harbaugh said. "Very close to kicking out of a shoestring tackle on offense to score a long touchdown, the one he picked up the first down at midfield. The punt return game, he was one away from making that one go the distance. He's an explosive, great player."

Peppers, along with Michigan's defensive unit made the two biggest stops of the season on the final plays of the fourth quarter leading 29-26 on Minnesota.

Bad clock management forced Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner to go across his body and throw it away on the opposite side of the field, leaving 0:02 left in regulation and one last stop at the Michigan 1-yard line.

The entire defensive unit collapsed onto Leidner and assured the ball would not advance any further than the line of scrimmage to secure the victory.

"You know what they say, defense wins games," Peppers said. "We like to call that giving us a place to stand. We got them down around the half-yard line. I don't know how much closer you can get."

Football is the ultimate team sport and despite excelling on an individual basis, when things got gritty, it was the team who stepped and Peppers again became one of the 11 guys on Michigan's defense making the curious case of all for one, not one for all on a crisp, fall Saturday night in Minneapolis.

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @GenoSpotsguy.