MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Jabrill Peppers was out of the lineup moments before kickoff. Jake Butt’s final game ended with him writhing on the field, near the end zone, with more than one half remaining in the Orange Bowl.
Two of Michigan’s biggest names were gone, and Michigan had to hustle, run and gun in an attempt to rally against one of the speediest teams it’s seen in a long time.
The rally fell short, as No. 6 Michigan lost 33-32 to No. 11 Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Friday at Hard Rock Stadium. While the loss came at a short-term cost for Michigan (10-3), it will have a long-term value for Michigan (10-3).
Because Michigan saw some of its future Friday night against the Seminoles. This is a positive for the Wolverines, who will lose some of its top players to graduation and/or the NFL. That includes Butt, who exhausted his eligibility, in addition to sustaining a knee injury. And likely Peppers, who may or may not return next season.
Freshman Josh Metellus started in place of Peppers at linebacker and while some would regard it as a baptism by fire, Metellus finished with six tackles and played on special teams, returning a blocked field-goal attempt for two points with 36 seconds left in regulation — a play reminiscent of Peppers’ 2-point run Oct. 29 against Michigan State.
— Eric Rosenthal (@ericsports) December 31, 2016
Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown may have seen this coming. And he planned accordingly for Michigan’s defense.
“If the game is played today, Jabrill is playing,” Brown said Wednesday, prior to the Orange Bowl. “If we get into those big personnel groups, I can insert (linebacker) Noah (Furbush). If we were to go and Jabrill got hurt, then Josh Metellus would eat up some of those plays.
“Boy, wouldn’t it be wonderful if this guy just continues to mature? Because he’s a different guy, but he kind of has those qualities.”
Ian Bunting took the place of Butt at tight end and had three catches for 40 yards, and freshman running back Chris Evans ran for a 30-yard touchdown with less than two minutes left in regulation that gave Michigan its first lead in the Orange Bowl.
That lead was fleeting, but again Michigan saw its future.
That future could be with or without Peppers, who said after the loss that he will likely wait until the Jan. 16 deadline as to whether or not he will declare for the NFL Draft. (If Peppers, a redshirt sophomore, does leave, he will depart Michigan without having ever played in a bowl game.)
“Everything that happened will work into that decision, not just into this game,” said Peppers, whom many draft analysts project as a first-round pick at safety. “I still feel like I didn’t do all that I set out to do, as an individual or as a team.
“We worked too hard to come away with nothing.”
Jabrill Peppers on his future: I have a decision to make pic.twitter.com/2TGwIsGkgo
— Rachel Lenzi (@RLenziCMG) December 31, 2016
Yet while the Wolverines got a glimpse of next season, they also got a lesson in urgency, against the Seminoles, one of the nation’s skilled and speedy teams.
“We didn’t start the game the way we should have and the way we planned to,” Michigan wide receiver Amara Darboh said. “That’s big in football. You have to jump on your opponent.”
That will become one more lesson for next year’s Wolverines, as they fill the gaps that graduation and the NFL will leave.