Six games down, six games to go in the regular season. As Michigan navigates into the meat of the conference schedule, I thought it would be interesting to track how the offensive staff has used Jabrill Peppers and what that may mean for match-ups down the road. In the short year and a half of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure it has been fascinating to watch him build off of a litany of different looks and motions to put his players in positions to succeed on the field. Additionally, with this staff it’s safe to say that certain formations, packages, and plays are put on film for a reason. We’re a far cry from the Diamond Formation frustrations of yore, thank goodness.
Jabrill’s first offensive touches last year occurred on the road against Minnesota. He finished the ’15 campaign with 18 carries for 72 yards and 2 touchdowns, 8 catches for 79 yards, and one incomplete pass attempt. It wasn’t much of a leap this offense to predict that he would have an increased role in the offense. Through the first half of 2016, his presence on offense indeed has increased, though a cursory glance at the box score does not tell the full story of his impact. To date, Peppers is credited with just 5 carries for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns through six games. This does not account for the eight snaps he has taken at QB or the times he has been on the field as a wideout both in motion and static as a decoy. We’ve seen him in a lot of different areas on offense and with the ball in several different spots on the field.
The defenses remaining on the schedule grade out thusly based on S&P+ advanced stats at Football Outsiders:
- Illinois: 70th overall, 122nd rushing, 88th passing
- Michigan State: 59th overall, 84th rushing, 102nd passing
- Maryland: 44th overall, 110th rushing, 24th passing
- Iowa: 34th overall, 83rd rushing, 36th passing
- Indiana: 30th overall, 27th rushing, 21st passing
- Ohio State: 7th overall, 30th rushing, 7th passing
The trend is a slow but steady uptick over the course of the final six games in the level of defense that Michigan will be facing. For the sake of reference, Wisconsin grades out at 5th overall, 7th in rushing, and 13th in passing defense. This all adds up to a scenario where I fully expect an increase in Jabrill’s snaps going forward, particularly at QB and RB where Harbaugh can dictate the matchups he wants to help even blockers vs tacklers. I would hazard a guess that this is also why you’ve seen Shane Morris in spot duty thus far out blocking, as well as why he played some at wideout in the spring game. Let’s take a look at some plays after the jump…
Colorado: Interesting just two offensive touches in this game, both in the first quarter:
Above you will see a package that includes Jake Butt lined up to the wide side of the line, Devin Asiasi comes in motion to this side as well pre-snap. Peppers is lined up at running back, Henry Poggi at H-back, and Shane Morris is under center. All 11 Colorado defenders are within 10-11 yards from the line of scrimmage. At the snap Morris tosses to Peppers and immediately heads up field to attempt to block. This is an interesting way of attempting to get back to the 11 on 11 you see a lot of spreads focus on out of a traditional power look. Morris’s block is… less than effective, but you can see the numbers game unfold below for a still solid 7 yard gain that had every opportunity to break open for much more.
Everyone below is accounted for with the exception of Morris and the Colorado safety, again Peppers with a clear lane to cut up field.
The second carry of the game comes on a jet-sweep to the wide side of the field (hooray!). Michigan lines up under center with five wide, Peppers begins his motion from the East sideline:
Note the defensive alignment above. Colorado counters this five-wide set with three down linemen, what appears to be three linebackers, and five defensive backs. The linebacker to the wide side of the field attacks the line of scrimmage with Peppers coming in motion, meanwhile Kyle Kalis pulls and gets outside the hash marks rather quickly:
Jabrill turns this upfield and picks up a quick 17 yards. He remains on the field for the following snap which is another jet-sweep to Eddie McDoom in the opposite direction.
Penn State: No actual touches in this contest, but he was used very effectively as a decoy. Pre-snap, Peppers is lined up off the line of scrimmage in the slot on the bottom of the screen, you can see the corner and the safety to his side of the field identifying him. Pay attention to the linebacker who has walked down to the LOS on the wide side of the field as well as the deep safety.
Peppers goes into motion and the LB immediately jumps out and the deep safety to the wide side freezes
The linebackers and #21 have also been sucked towards the play action here.
De’Veon Smith gets the ball and immediately blasts upfield, the safety who was frozen by Peppers coming across in motion cannot get to the hole, and Smith takes off.
Wisconsin: Peppers takes his first snaps at QB in this game (8 total plays at QB through the Rutgers game for those counting at home), with the notable plays coming in the second half:
The first features a zone-read look with Ty Isaac at RB and Khalid Hill to Peppers’s right. Caveat: 4 years of watching Denard Robinson has probably skewed my “keep/give” ability, but at least on replay it sure looks like Peppers could’ve kept this ball and had a huge gain as Jake Butt gets a free release and has a clear line to the second level. The DE for Wisconsin, #56, hedges towards the handoff but doesn’t immediately crash in. Regardless, the action opens a nice hole on the left side of the line and Isaac busts upfield for a gain of 11 yards.
The next play is the exact same call. If the previously play was 60% keep vs 40% give, then this one is 100% keep. The Wisconsin DE crashes in more authoritatively this time, Butt again gets a free release and has #14 for Wisconsin dead-to-rights, and the wide side of the field is a chasm of turf. Peppers scores if he pulls this ball:
To state the obvious: we saw the effect of keeping the ball in the Rutgers game. The ability to plant a foot and go combined with that kind of speed calls to mind a whole lot of Denard runs over the years. The home-run ability coupled with his ability to block and get into space from anywhere on the field underscores Peppers’s value to this offense. Long gone are the days where the mere presence of him on the field would be an obvious tipping-of-the-hand as to the playcall, see: “Diamond Formation”. Predictions? Predictions:
- Peppers throws a pass, BEFORE Columbus (cue many people grumbling about putting it on tape, it’ll be there for a reason)
- The zone read is truly an offensive package and he will see extended snaps at QB in a game (call it more than six snaps)
- Shane Morris catches a pass thrown by Peppers