If you told me before the season started for Michigan Football that star athlete, Jabrill Peppers could take home the 2016 Heisman Trophy, I would have probably slapped you and called you absolutely crazy.
Yes, I know that Peppers was on the Heisman Watch and he was one of the most versatile athletes in 2015 but, the odds are stacked against a pure “defensive” player taking home the trophy.
Ok, let’s think about it for a second. Nineteen of the previous twenty Heisman winners has either been won by a quarterback or a running back. Ironically, the last winner that wasn’t either of those happened to be Michigans’ very own, Charles Woodson.
But after looking back at the glory days of maize and blue, there is actually a strong correlation between the Redshirt Sophomore and Michigans’ first and last Heisman winners: Tom Harmon (1940) and recently retired, and no doubt about it, future NFL Hall of Famer Charles Woodson (1997).
Big Plays Like Woodson
One of the biggest upsets in Heisman history is said to be in 1997, when Charles Woodson out dueled the Tennessee Vols playing, future Omaha yelling quarterback, Peyton Manning. Before his sophomore year, Woodson would be asked by than Michigan coach Lloyd Carr if he would contemplate playing on offense while keeping his starting Cornerback position. Carr knew what kind of athlete that he had in Woodson like Harbaugh does with Peppers. Woodson would wrap up his second season as an offensive threat, with 13 receptions for 164 yards and a touchdown, 6 rushes for 152 yards and a touchdown. While on defense he would set Michigan record with pass breakups with 15. While leading Michigan through a perfect season, Woodson caught 11 passes for 231 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also rushed 9 times for 167 yards and 2 touchdowns. I would say that this sounds a bit familiar
What set Woodson apart from Manning, is that he always delivered big plays in big games. If it was a catch, rush, reception or even his presence, When the team needed a spark he would set the entire field on fire. For instance, one of his most iconic plays was his 1-handed interception on the sideline against Michigan State which he finished with two in that game. An even better example, when he single handedly beat Ohio State when he returned a 78-yard punt for a touchdown, made an interception in the end-zone, and had a 37-yard reception that led to Michigan’s only offensive touchdown of the game. Yes, Peyton Manning finished the year with a 11-2 record and throwing for 3,819 yards and 36 touchdowns but Charles Woodsons’ non-stop playmaking ability would fare to be too much and would eventually help Michigan earn a trip to the Rose Bowl which later earned a share of the national title after beating Washington State 21-16 and give Michigan its third Heisman winner in 6 years.
The Forgotten Renaissance Man
In 1940, when the world was at war, the late great Thomas Harmon became Michigans first ever Heisman Trophy Winner. The grid iron has certainly changed from 76 years ago. They wore leather for helmets for Pete’s sake. There wasn’t even facemask or even concussion protocols like they have today. The highlights that Peppers is putting on this season is absolutely ridiculous. But would you believe me if I told you in his final College football game, Harmon led the Wolverines to a 40–0 win over the notorious Ohio State, scoring three rushing touchdowns, two passing touchdowns, four extra points, intercepting three passes, and punting three times for an average of 50 yards? Did you get that? That kind of stuff sounds damn near impossible these days After three magnificent years, Harmon rushed for 2,134 yards, scored 33 touchdowns and kicked the same number of point-after-touchdown, and booted two field goals for 237 career points. Oh yeah, he also threw sixteen touchdown passes. He literally put the team on his back and made play after play. Just like Peppers.
If given the opportunity, Peppers has the skill set to replicate “Old 98”. For example, after only playing the first half, Peppers would rush 3 times for 74 yards and two touchdowns. Late in the 1st Quarter, he would dodge six missed tackles and house a 44-yard punt return. My ankles were hurting for Rutgers after witnessing the run into the end zone. However, the touchdown was called back after a block in the back penalty early into the play. On defense, he also recorded two tackles at Linebacker. Are you following the trend yet?
“I really don’t know how I did that,” Peppers said when asked about the return. “But it felt good.”
Heisman is NOT a Long Shot
Through Michigan first half of the season, Peppers has played 13 different positions. Accumulating 442 all-purpose yards. With an average of 19.6, Peppers has rushed the ball 5 times for 98 and 2 touchdowns. 37 tackles, 10 tackles for loss with 2.5 sacks and six quarterback hurries.
“If there’s a better player in the country I don’t know who it is,” Harbaugh concluded. “To be able to coach a guy like Jabrill Peppers is a real joy. There’s nothing he can’t do. It’s the darndest thing I’ve ever seen. My humble opinion is we are looking at a Heisman Trophy winner. ”
Jim Harbaugh would later come out in a press interview and said that his second rushing touchdown was actually intended to be a roll out pass from Jabrill. My initial thought to this was, “He can throw too?” I’m not sure how true it is, but apparently the kid can throw a football 65 yards. If he was to do that against Ohio State, they might as well give him the Heisman Trophy.
Even though he is putting up ridiculous numbers this year and making everyone mouths drop. Peppers thinks he has been playing below average.
“I don’t think I’ve been playing as well as people say I’ve been playing,” Peppers said on Tuesday, per the Detroit Free Press. “If I had to give myself a grade, I’d probably say C-minus. Definitely not where I want to be or where the team needs me to be.”
If he is grading himself that poorly, then I really don’t think we have seen everything that Peppers has to offer. He’s definitely no Woodson and there never will be another one like him. But Woodson never played linebacker and all of sudden wanted to throw for a touchdown. When it comes to the 2016 Heisman Trophy, one question still remains.
Seen this on IG.. Had to try it lol harder than I thought pic.twitter.com/ZvLZRjfLhM
— JP5 (@JabrillPeppers) August 6, 2016
How can Jabrill win the Heisman if he prominently plays defense? In a very short answer, take over November like Charles Woodson did, and lead Michigan Football team to a National Championship run. Let’s be honest, I don’t even think he has broken a sweat yet.
Michigan served notice to Illinois on the opening drive that there would be no rust or dawdling on Saturday. The offense marched the field in 10 plays for an opening touchdown and never looked back. The drive included three different quarterbacks, and oh yes, a formation that featured no less than five tight ends to serve as the perfect finale to an authoritative opening possession.
Have you ever seen a five Tight End formation? No, you haven’t. At least you hadn’t until Saturday. The play started off with the second appearance of Michigan’s new “train” formation this year:
Let’s go ahead and circle the tight ends:
Yep, that’s five: Asiasi, Butt, Hill, Jocz, and Wheatley Jr. All of the action of this play headed towards the bottom of the screen, save for Jake Butt. Tyrone Wheatley Jr ran a perfect rub route that left Jake Butt uncovered coming across the field.
Unlike Michigan State’s receivers against Maryland, Wheatley Jr did not engage in a block on the defensive player and avoided an offensive pass interference flag for a pick play.
The latest version of the Illinois Football team rolled into Ann Arbor to challenge the then six win, no loss Wolverines. The Fighting Illini were burdened by a recent four loss skid, to which Maryland added another loss Saturday. Their losses included North Carolina, rising Western Michigan, Nebraska, and struggling Purdue. They avoided sinking to the Big Ten basement with last Saturday’s 24-7 whipping of Rutgers. That loss firmly fastened Rutgers football to the floor of the B1G, a fate the Illini escaped by its Rutgers win.
Under the tutelage of first year, but highly qualified Illini Head Coach Lovie Smith, the Illini rolled in hoping to change their luck, but the task could not be managed against the three or four ranked Wolverines. The AP poll had M at three, while the Coach’s poll held them at four.
As the Wolverines were 35 point pregame favorites, the ability of the Fighting Illini to top the Wolverines predicted 35 points seemed an improbable, if not impossible accomplishment for the Illini, Fighting or not. Many Wolverine fans feared the bye week blues
The Wolverines had scored 300 points in six games, producing a 50 point average per game. If the first half Wolverine onslaught had continued all the second half the Wolverines would have certainly achieved or exceeded fifty, but three things happened. Later in the game, Harbaugh took his foot off the accelerator, substituted freely, and the Fighting Illini made some adjustments. Even so, 41 points was more than enough.
The Fighting Illini were thought to not be able to stop the run or effectively pass and that proved true as they managed only 107-yards running and 95 yards-passing Saturday. In contrast the Wolverines amassed 309-rushing and 291-passing. M piled up 29 first downs, Illinois just 6.
FOR A TIME, GARY MOELLER AND BO SCHEMBECHLER WERE AT ODDS WITH THE ILLINI FOOTBALL OPERATIONS. Gary Moeller left the University of Michigan’s Assistant Coaching staff for a 1977 thru 1979 stint as the Illinois Head Football Coach. He did not win there, producing a dismal 3-34-3 record. He took the reins at Illinois to over-turn scandalous practices in running the football program there, and he was running a clean program. He was dismissed with hard feelings on both sides without getting to stay the full five years of his contract, which reasonable minds had calculated necessary to right the capsized program.
Welcomed back to the Wolverines, Gary returned to Bo’s staff as the M QB coach when Bo rehired him. He joined Gary in distaste for the Illini shennigans. M walloped the Illini 45/14 in 1980 and 70/21 in 1981 in a low scoring era. Was there a hint of retribution? Fighting Illini fans thought yes, M fans thought no. The Illini stopped that conversation in 1982, besting the Wolverines 6/16.
For a while encounters with the Illini were not friendly for M fans, but that ship has long since sailed.
HOMECOMING 2016: This was the 95th meeting Homecoming battle of the Fighting Illini and the Wolverines. The Wolverines have hosted Illinois for Homecoming 16 times with 15 wins prior to Saturday. Now it is 16 wins.
M had an 88 to 27 overall Homecoming record (excluding old time exhibitions) before Saturday’s meeting. The last time the Wolverines met Illinois in a Homecoming Duel was in 2012, with the Wolverines prevailing 45 zip. A continuing feature is the blast from the past composed of returning veterans of the M Marching Band. Hammering Hank Aaron was the honorary coin tosser to start the game, and Harbaugh said post game that he (meaning Aaron), gave an extremely inspirational talk to the team, which they appreciated.
SATURDAYS OUTTING WAS PROBABLY SPEIGHT’S BEST OF THE SEASON PER HARBAUGH. Coach Harbaugh had indicated that the bye week was to be a week of improvement and it was evident from Wilton’s comments that he took advantage of the opportunity to study film to hone his mind and procedures during the bye. The results showed. Harbaugh said post game that ” I thought Wilton Speight may have had his best game. It was windy out there. Whether we were going with the wind, or against it, he was throwing the intermediate/deep stuff—30-yards throws,35-yard, 40-yard .throws—they were on the money.” Harbaugh added, “Sometimes it is never as good as you think until you look at the tape. But I have a feeling that was his best game.” Speight was 16/23 for the day, tossing for two TDs, and 253-yards.
THE DEFENSE CONTINUES TO SWARM. The M defense has been the best segment of the team for the first six games this season, and that continued Saturday. Pregame, they were Number One in the following NCAA categories: Scoring Defense, Total Defense, Sacks, and in Allowed Third Downs. They were second in Pass Efficiency and TFLs. These numbers reflect great defensive credentials as good as any in the NCAA, and they probably were not diminished against Illinois.
The Wolverines prevented Champagne toasts in Champaign in spite of the fact that Lovie Smith is a highly regarded Coach at both college and pro levels. He is fresh from a head coaching stint with the Tampa Bay Bucs, and earlier with the Chicago Bears, and others. Lovie will hit the fertile Chicago area recruiting grounds hard, and they will become a football threat. But not last Saturday, not now, not yet, someday.
Lovie or not, the Illini were totally dominated by the Wolverines: offensively, defensively, and on special teams.
THE PEPPERS WATCH: Has played at least 13 different positions this year: Linebacker, free safety, strong safety, cornerback, nickel cornerback, quarterback, running back, wide receiver, slot receiver, running back, punt returner, kick returner, gunner and hold up. His Offense, Defense, and Special Teams performance Saturday were not extra special statistically Saturday, but were essential to his team.
Some have his chances categorized as fifth in line for the Heisman currently. Two factors will play a big part in a successful Heisman run for Jabrill. I believe that much of it is contingent on whether he continues to lead his team to victory and stars against teams like MSU, OSU, and the Championship game and in the playoffs. Both Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson highlighted their runs for the Heisman with spectacular special team’s returns for six against OSU.
If you want to get noticed that is about as good a time to display your talents as any on the schedule. Great football plays get noticed more against the best and winning teams-like the 1997 Wolverines.
While he was not a producer of spectacular of statistics Saturday, he still was all over the field, still the best player on the field. We are privileged to watch Peppers play football, Heisman or not. Its only going to get better.
SOME PRE-GAME NOTIONS FULLFILLED OR FAILED: Some thought the Wolverines would score more than their season’s average of points, more than 50 points, and that the Wolverines would dominate on offense, defense and special teams. Reality: They failed to do so for reasons described above.
Also, it was thought the second and third teams would play much of the second half. Reality: Indeed they did. Wilton Speight was relieved after the third quarter, by John O’Korn.
It was thought that we would see 5 running backs, with a healthy Drake Johnson on tap and effective. Reality: I did not note a Drake Johnson appearance on the field. D. Smith had 18 carries in the first half for 86-yards and a TD. Karan Higdon had the run of the day, a 45-yarder, and was impressive with 8 totes for 106-yards. Afterwards, Harbaugh lauded his vision and acceleration and vision. His great run, the nicest run of the day occurred late in the second half, and improved an otherwise somewhat boring second half, when took the handoff, cut to the east sideline, veered towards the post on a zig zag course, and bulled in for six. It was the Wolverine’s last score of the day, and the best run. He had an impressive 13.2 yards per carry.
Ty Isaac had an excellent game too, with 10/48-yards.
Chris Evan took a knock-out blow to the helmet ear piece and was down for the count. He finally arose and walked off. I certainly do not know if the concussion protocol will apply. We will hear more as the week goes on, but after the game I heard optimism regarding his situation from a reliable source. I hope he gets to show the Spartans his abilities. Before injury he ran effectively. Some great still photos by UM Go Blue Photographer Del Callihan showed the hit, the fall, the aftermath, and seemed to me to indicate targeting, but there was no call. The reliable Khalid Hill rammed in from 3-yards out for another TD.
There was a significant change to the left side of the offensive line and it seemed to work well. Ben Braden played at left tackle and Ben Bredeson played at left guard. It seemed to work. Juwann Bushell-Beatty did not play,
THE WOLVERINES AGAIN DISPLAYED A GREAT SET OF RECEIVERS. The usual suspects contributed-the big three: Butt, Darboh, and Chesson. 8 other players copped a pass, including fast Eddy McDoom and Tyrone Wheatley.
Again the list is headed by Amara Darboh. He had 27 and 30-yard receptions for 99-yards. Jake Butt went 3/40 and caught a 22-yard TD.
TE Tyrone Wheatley caught his first collegiate TD pass and was beaming about it afterwards. It was a 21-yarder.
THE WOLVERINES v THE FIGHTING ILLINI. Famed baseball player Hank Aaron was the honorary coin tosser. He spoke to the players earlier and his comments were much appreciated by them and Coach Harbaugh.
Illinois won the toss and deferred to receive the second half. The Wolverines immediately and seriously went to work putting up 21 points in the first quarter.
To start, Smith, Isaac, and Higdon contributed short yardages, but it was a streaking Eddie McDoom that got 33-yards to the Illinois 20. Peppers got short yardages both catching a pass and rushing and the football was at the three. Jake Butt got it the three yards into the end zone to break the scoring ice via a Speight pass.. M was up 7 on their first possession.
On the next M series, Chris Evans made a nice 16-yard run but was blindsided and kayoed, and the ball went to the ground. It was recovered by Jake Butt to enable a 21-yard TD pass to Tyrone Wheatley. Partly as the result of poor defense by the Illini, he could not have been more open, and he made the catch. M up 14 to zip. He had lined up as a wide receiver at 276 pounds.
The defense held again, and fast Eddie McDoom rushed for 19-yards. After some short yardage rushes, Chesson caught one for 13-yards got it to the Illini forty. Darboh caught a 20-yarder. After a short rushing gain, Speight ran for 10 and the first down. He was roughly pushed out of bounds. No flag. Eventually the Illini were called for PI, and M was at the 1. Kahlid Hill moved the scrum and M was up 21 to zip. M had 21 first downs in the quarter, Illinois 3.
Early in the second quarter, K. Hudson blocked a punt and it went out of bounds at the M 47. Smith rushed for 13, Peppers for 4, Higdon for 16, D. Smith lost 4, Amara Darboh caught a 27-yard pass. Peppers rushed for 3. D. Smith ran for a 4-yard TD. M was up 28 to zip.
M’s Dymonte Thomas made a great interception at the Illini 29-yard line to stop a threat.
Kenny Allan whacked a 23-yard field goal for a 1st half final of 31 to zip.
To start the second half, Illinois received, and they were forced to punt. M returned the favor. At about the ten minute mark M’s Mike McCray recovered a fumble, but M returned the favor as Chesson fumbled and the Illini recovered at the M 20. Four defensive plays later the Wolverines had the ball again.
The Wolverines produced a 10-play, 60-yard drive that resulted in Kenny Allen’s second FG on the day, this time from 27-yards. M up 34 to zip.
Early in the 4th quarter, John O’Korn was at QB. Ben Gideon fumbled and recovered to stall the drive.
Then the Wolverines did the unthinkable and let out a 43-yard Illini TD pass, and the zip went bye-bye as it was now 34 to 6. A 2-yard 2 point conversion attempt was good and the Illini had managed 8 points to the Wolverines 34.
It didn’t take long for the Wolverines to answer. A couple of short rushes, and the stunnining beautiful 45-yard gallop by Karan Higdon made it a final score of M- 41, I-8. This run extended Higdon’s yards per carry to 13.2 per attempt.
Now it is time to bring on the Spartans in one we have been waiting for all season. Five losses indicate that the Spartans are not going to repeat their reign as Big Ten Champions, but it does not indicate that the Spartans will not come out fighting in this next “Championship” game.
They may no longer reign, but they want to rain on the Michigan Parade in any way possible. It will be a scrap on their turf.
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…