PISCATAWAY, N.J. — This was another routine night at the office for Jabrill Peppers, right?
A “routine night” means that the redshirt sophomore is likely outworking everyone, is likely outproducing everyone and is likely winning all those “Employee of the Month” awards that the Michigan football coaches may or may not secretly bestow upon its best.
He did it again Saturday night in a 78-0 win at Rutgers, and did it in the “East Office,” in his home state of New Jersey. And another dynamic night from one of the nation’s most dynamic football players at the halfway point of the season brought Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh to make a bold declaration:
“If there’s a better player in the country, I don’t know who it is,” Harbaugh said Saturday night. “I know there’s a lot of great players out there, but to be able to coach a guy like Jabrill Peppers is a real joy. And there’s so much more.
“In my humble opinion, you’re looking at a Heisman Trophy … winner. And a candidate.”
Saturday against Rutgers, Peppers had three carries for 74 yards and two touchdowns. Coming out of the Wildcat formation, Peppers scored on a 7-yard touchdown five seconds into the second quarter, then scored with 2:10 left in the first half on a 4-yard run. Peppers also set up Michigan’s first touchdown with a 63-yard carry; a play later, Ty Isaac scored on a 4-yard run midway through the first quarter.
At linebacker, Peppers had two tackles, half a sack and a quarterback hurry.
On special teams, he only had two punt returns for three yards; officials waved off his lengthy run in the first quarter because of a penalty against Michigan for blocking in the back.
Given that Michigan (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten Conference) is in the throes of a kicking competition, it’s a surprise the Wolverines didn’t line up Peppers to attempt a point-after kick Saturday night at High Point Solutions Stadium. (Harbaugh said after the win that Kenny Allen has won that competition. Allen went 7 for 7 on point-after kicks, and the Wolverines didn’t have any field-goal attempts against the Scarlet Knights.)
A grinning Peppers, however, stayed humble after the win.
“Whenever you get a chance to get the ball in your hands, you want to make something happen positive,” Peppers said. “I guess God had his hand on me today. Some of those plays, I can’t really describe it. I have to give it all to the blocking and the coaching scheme. They set the guys up in position to excel, and we came out here and handled business.”
Penciled in at linebacker for this season, in a hybrid pass-rushing role, Peppers has become Michigan’s most versatile player. And its most magnetic.
Linebacker Ben Gedeon sees the ripple effect that Peppers, as a performer, a personality and as a leader, has on the Wolverines.
“He’s a vocal guy and we feed off that, but in his play, he doesn’t really have to say anything much,” said Gedeon, a linebacker. “He’s just electrifying. He’s 100 percent all the time, and it elevates everyone around him.”
Peppers’ week-in, week-out output also sets a certain pace and a certain standard for the Wolverines, who became bowl-eligible Saturday with their sixth win.
As Peppers continues his run, at least one of his teammates admits he is in awe of him. After a broken play in the first half — a play that was designed to be a read, until a running back went in the wrong direction — Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight took a second to step back and consider the magnitude of Peppers.
“As he was running, I thought, ‘this kid looks like a guy I created in NCAA Football on my xBox,’ ” Speight said. “To have a guy not only that’s just good at football, you hear him here talking, it’s not just for the cameras. It’s behind closed doors. He’s just a great teammate.”