ANN ARBOR, Mich. — This was the game we were waiting for from Jabrill Peppers.
Actually, this was the game almost all of college football was waiting for from Jabrill Peppers, Michigan’s dynamic three-way player.
In a 45-28 win over Colorado on Saturday at Michigan Stadium, Peppers accounted for 204 yards, including 99 yards on punt returns and 81 yards on kickoff returns.
That was just the start.
On defense, the linebacker/defensive back had nine tackles, one sack and one quarterback hurry, and even had a hand in the offense, with two carries for 24 yards in the game’s first five minutes — anything to help give his team a spark during a sub-standard first quarter against the Buffaloes.
Then, Peppers put a punctuation mark on the afternoon with a 54-yard punt return for a touchdown less than four minutes into the fourth.
“It was definitely a sense of relief,” Peppers said of his special-teams touchdown. “When you get a line drive with great blocking, if you don’t score there, they’ve got to put somebody else there. The hole was wide open.
“I started cramping at the 5-yard-line and I thought ‘there’s no way I’m not getting in this time.’ ”
Following Peppers’ performance, teammate Ryan Glasgow gave the 6-foot-1, 205-pound redshirt sophomore a definitive superlative.
“Jabrill’s the man,” the defensive tackle said. “Jabrill can do it all. He’s a guy that takes one rep at running back during the week, one rep at wide receiver … and he goes in the game and it looks like he’s repped there all camp, all season and all spring. That’s how you know he’s really special. He does something one time, and he’ll know it like the back of his hand.”
“This is something you know that Jabrill can do every game. He brought it out when we needed the most, and he elevates the play of the people around him, which I think is the really special thing about him.”
Peppers continues to exceed to his billing as one of Michigan’s most-heralded recruits. The chatter surrounding Peppers began in earnest in May 2013, when he gave a verbal commitment to the Wolverines at the end of his junior year at Paramus (N.J.) Catholic High School. Not just a verbal commitment, but a nationally broadcast rhythmic commitment.
The buzz grew louder when Peppers arrived in Ann Arbor. At the Big Ten Conference media days in July 2014 in Chicago, former Michigan coach Brady Hoke spent much of his time on the podium answering questions about Peppers, who was less than two months removed from his high school graduation, and who wasn’t even in Chicago.
“When can we anoint him?” Hoke was asked.
“Let’s anoint him when he does something, right?” Hoke quipped. “I mean, let’s see what he can do.”
Peppers lost most of the 2014 season due to a knee injury, but Peppers thrived in his second season in Ann Arbor, finishing 2015 with 45 tackles and 10 pass breakups on defense, eight kickoff returns for 223 yards and 17 punt returns for 194 yards on special teams and eight catches for 79 yards and 18 carries for 72 yards and two touchdowns on offense in 12 games — even though he missed Michigan’s 41-7 win over Florida in the Citrus Bowl with an unspecified injury to his right hand.
Anticipate that the volume will reach a certain fever pitch as the season progresses. Peppers is on the radar as a candidate for this year’s Heisman Trophy, and if he continues his multi-faceted pace, expect to see his name penciled in on quite a few ballots later this season. He’s also projected as an NFL draft prospect; earlier this week, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. put Peppers at No. 6 on his “Big Board,” which projects NFL draft picks.
The NFL Draft is in April. Until he crosses that bridge, Michigan will continue to count on Peppers for a spark.
“Man, when you see a guy doing that and giving it his all, just to help the team win, you want to do the same,” Michigan wide receiver Amara Darboh said. “That’s what I tried to do. That’s what the rest of the team tried to do.”
“He did a lot for us. Every game, I expect him to have a big impact.”