Jabrill Peppers was due for a trip to the end zone.
Michigan’s explosive, omnipositional redshirt sophomore put the finishing touches on a frantic, rhythm-less game of big plays by slicing his way through the Colorado punt team for 54 yards and his first touchdown of the season. The score gave No. 4 Michigan a 45-28 lead over the visiting Buffaloes early in the fourth quarter and provided an exclamation point for Peppers’ career day, helping the Wolverines win by that same score.
To go along with his touchdown, Peppers racked up 204 all-purpose yards, most of which came in the return game. He added nine tackles — 3.5 behind the line of scrimmage — one sack and his first offensive carry of the young season. Peppers had found some success earlier this season in the punt-return game, but had yet to take one all the way to the house until Saturday.
Peppers appeared to be magnetically attracted to Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau throughout the game, even when he had the ball in his hands. Peppers collided with Liufau on the Colorado sideline after a long kick return in the third quarter. No one else on the Michigan defense had much success in containing Liufau, who threw for 245 yards and three scores before he was knocked out of the game with a lower leg injury in the third quarter.
Eight of Peppers’ tackles came before halftime, helping a shaky Wolverines defense find its legs in the second quarter. Colorado shot out to a 21-7 lead in the first quarter thanks to a fumble returned for a touchdown and a few big passing plays in the middle of the field. The safety-turned-linebacker sniffed out a few screen passes and broke up a couple other passes to stymie Buffaloes’ drives before the defense settled in.
In just his third week in a new role closer to the line of scrimmage, Peppers seems to be hitting his rhythm on defense. Peppers won the Big Ten’s freshman of the year award last season while playing primarily at safety. Defensive coordinator Don Brown, in his first year with Michigan, sold Peppers on the move this spring when he showed him film of former players playing in the same dynamic role on his defenses at Boston College.
“When he came over he showed me a tape of Matt Milano and said I think you’ll be a perfect fit for this position,” Peppers said a week ago. “He made me understand what he was trying to do, how aggressive the defense was. Once we got the defense and started adding our own swagger and our own attitude to it, it was clicking.”
In a game dominated by big plays (Michigan’s first four touchdown drives lasted a combined total of five plays), Peppers made one of the biggest. The Wolverines and their opponents should probably get used to that.