Topics include Jabrill Peppers, Wilton Speight’s Heisman potential, and a play that offended Harbaugh’s football sensibilities.
Last week, I gave a very short and simple answer as how Jabrill Peppers could win the 2016 Heisman. Peppers would have to make big plays in big games and lead the Wolverines on a title run. In East Lansing on Saturday, there just happened to be a big game and Peppers dressed like a gazelle, trick or treating from one end-zone all the way to the other.
For the first time since 2007, the Michigan Wolverines enjoyed their ride home after beating Michigan State 32-23 in the 64th meeting for the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
It was a hostile environment and Michigan State student section was not letting up one bit. On separate occasions of the game they could be heard chanting “F— Jim Harbaugh”.
“Yeah, I heard it,” Harbaugh said to Jim Brandstatter during his radio show on Monday. “I thought it was really great and classy. I thought they were saying ‘LOVE JIM HARBAUGH’. And they kept repeating it. ‘LOVE-JIM-HAR-BAUGH!’ That’s great sportsmanship here by the Michigan State Spartans!”
Peppers thrives for this kind of atmosphere.’They say things to me in the crowd, and I feed off that,” Peppers responded about the crowd. “I block it out and, sometimes, I listen to what they’re saying. Sometimes funny stuff, some not-so-funny stuff. But I try to silence that all by the way I play, with my effort.”
It was a perfect stage for Peppers to convince many doubters as to why he should be in New York come December. While diving for the pylon, Peppers would start off the game and put Michigan on the board with a 3-yard rushing TD out of the wildcat formation.
Jabrill Peppers can do all things 💪🏼
The Michigan LB now has 3 rushing TDs this season pic.twitter.com/zwvZrBv2X6
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 29, 2016
“Last week, I tried to get too pretty, do extra stuff rather than just run the ball in,” he said. “I just wanted to leave no doubt. I didn’t really have to dive, but that was the safe thing to do to ensure we put some points on the board.”
By the time that the game was over Peppers was already going down in history.
This late into the season, it is well known that Jabrill is always going to be on the field. You just never know where. He played a whopping 9 different positions on Saturday. ESPN recorded that Peppers had 42 plays at linebacker, 12 at cornerback, nine at nickelback, six as the wildcat quarterback, one at safety, one as an H-back, one at receiver, plus serving as kick returner and punt returner. He also was on the field goal block team.
Late in the 4th quarter, MSU quarterback Tyler O’Connor threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Corley with 1 second left in the game to bring the game within reach. In a desperate attempt, MSU went for two-point conversion, unknowingly it would later come as the “nail in the coffin”. As soon as the ball was hiked, O’Connor was greeted and fumbled the ball by tossing a high pitch to not so ready Gerald Holmes. On the second bounce off the turf, Peppers scooped the ball up raced into the endzone as he was in back in his high school track days.
The Spartans weren’t the only ones blown away by Peppers’ sprint. Even Jim Harbaugh was impressed.
“It was satisfying because now there was nothing they can do to beat us with one second left,” he said. “It was kind of moment of release. Whatever happens from here, we’re still in good shape. They kind of ended it last year with something.”
Peppers finished the game on defense with 7 tackles, 2 TFL and 1 Sack on a crucial 4th down. On offense, he had 5 carries for 24 yards with 1 rushing TD and his first reception on the year for a lousy -2 yards. Also adding in a kick and punt return.
As they should, many analyst are finally taking what Jabrill is doing seriously. Some have him finally breaking into their top 5 and others even into their top 2. Because of the depth of Michigan’s running attack, Peppers won’t get the numbers like we all know he could get. However, the fact that opposing coaches have yet to stop him nor effectively decline his impact at his other positions in the game, is what makes him intriguing and honestly scary for the other candidates gunning for the Heisman. Its November and Maryland who happens to have one of the worst rushing defense in the nation is next on the schedule. I think we might be on the verge of witnessing the start of a takeover.
Saturday the second ranked University of Michigan Football Wolverines convened their offense, defense, and special teams at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, confident that they would prove superior in all phases of the game, and win, which they did. This was in spite of Wolverine ownership of a three game losing streak to the Green Meanies, plus seven Wolverine losses in their last eight games with the Spartans prior to Saturday. MSU never gave up when behind and kept gnawing at the Wolverine lead even into late in the 4th quarter. With a second left, an errant option pitch on an attempted two point conversion went errant, was picked up by Jabrill, and returned over 90-yards to the opposite end zone for 2 points.
The fate of Sparty fortunes in this game and maybe in this season were sealed forever. The Peppers long run for two run still was a stunning way to end the game.
SPEIGHT AND DARBOH FUELED OUTSTANDING OFFENSE ALONG WITH THE RUNNING BACKS.: While the M offense was not thought to be as elite as the defense, it had proved solid with at least 4 healthy and capable running backs, an efficient if developing QB, and an offensive line that, while patched together, was on the verge of enabling a record number of M TDs via infantry.
Saturday, a successful ground game gave them outstanding play action, and an outstanding cadre of receivers gave them an aerial threat. The offense was simply outstanding, and in the first quarter they outplayed the defense. They scored in each of their first five possessions. Wilton Speight was outstanding. It was probably his best day at the helm. While he did throw an interception, he established a downfield connection that paid off all game. He threw 25 times and completed 16 for 244 yards, and ran once for 5. He pitched a long of 43-yards to Darboh. On the other end of most of Speight’s passing game, Darboh had a career day, receiving 8 passes for 165-yards with a long of 43. He had a spectacular one armed reception, and nabbed some other difficult balls . It is ironic that not a single Wilton throw or Darboh snag went for a TD, but they enabled scores. The same thing happened to Jake Butt. His TD effort was ruled short, but it was an outstanding effort.
More than 6 backs ran it effectively. D. Smith was running at his best, his trademark tough runs. He ran for two TDs on 11 for 40-yards. Eddie McDoom ran twice for 53 yards, Karan Higdon had 10 for 44, Peppers 5 for 29 and a TD, Hill was 4 for 8, and Isaac ran 7 times for 16-yards, The position group gained 192-yards on 46 carries, averaging 4.6-yards a carry.
THE MICHIGAN FAN MINDSET FOR THIS SEASON EVOLVED: Pre-game, the Wolverine defense ranked first in a convincing number of NCAA categories. After seven games, the Wolverine defense had proved elite, and many Michigan fans thought that would extend through Saturday, or at least hoped that it would. Some went from doubt to supreme confidence in a blow out in warp speed.
All year many M fans, including me, had marked the Michigan State game as the season’s first true litmus test of Wolverine worth, and this magnified when the Spartans whipped Notre Dame at Notre Dame. As both the Spartans and Notre Dame accumulated losses, the Spartans seemed more vulnerable. And with the Wolverines spanking its opposition through seven prior games, MSU seemed even more vulnerable. Most, if not all, all fans wanted a blowout, a little revenge for last year’s 10- second gaffe.
STATE PLAYED HARD, TOO, BUT THEY WERE OVERMATCHED: Michigan State made it a game from time to time, but never led except after their first possession of the game. They played hard, but could not score from inside the ten yard line multiple times. At a critical time in the game MSU ran four times, starting at the four-yard line, and failed. The Wolverines held. For much of the game State’s passing game was a shambles tosay the least, but it became somewhat effective in the 4th quarter with a switch in QBs.
While bragging rights and recruiting profiles are important, and revenge is great motivator, most importantly, this was a big win which eliminated another hurdle to the Wolverines playing in their first Big Ten East Championship game. That remains this team’s most important goal. This win preserved a shot at a spot in the BTCG.
Position groups that were elite for the Spartans of the past few seasons are diminished in talent and depth this year, including QB. They had three ailing QBs after the game, two courtesy of the M defense. The Spartans desperately needed to end their skid now, and played like it. What better opportunity for them to right their season’s trajectory in the opportunity presented to pummel arch rival Michigan Saturday.
The difference wasn’t all injuries even though MSU had had plenty of them this season. Recruiting has to play a part too. The talent level has swung in the Wolverine’s direction.
WHY THE SPARTANS ANNUALLY TARGET THE WOLVERINES WITH FERVENT FEROCITY EVEN IN A SO-SO SEASON. IT IS STILL “THE GAME” TO THE SPARTANS. Some Spartan fans are obsessed with the Wolverines. Some habitually troll Michigan pages. Do you spend a lot of time trolling Spartan pages? I thought not. They constantly compare to Michigan. Whether the comparison is true or a not, and whether it is comparable or not seems to make no difference . They must feel that makes whatever it was excusable somehow, or think it deflects some of the derogatory mud tossed at their team in the direction of Ann Arbor, too.
Why all this interest? Is it because they have so often been the shadow of the University of Michigan and its academic and athletic reputations? M was founded first, was a University when MSU was still Michigan Agricultural College, had professional schools like Law, and Medicine, and Dentistry (no dental school at MSU yet) long before MSU. MSU was still teaching the plow long after M was teaching the law, medicine, and dentistry. Michigan was a long time Big Ten member before MSU. It is true M opposed their admittance in the early 1950’s when that came about, much to the eternal disgust of Spartans.
A 55-7 Wolverine threshing in 1947 fueled MSU passions in the late forties, and beyond for years.
They have had pockets of football success, under Coach Clarence L. “Biggie” Munn, and Hugh “Duffie” Daugherty. Daugherty won a couple of National Championships. He was the longest serving coach of Spartan Football. Beloved by the press, Duffy was a quipster. He was alleged to have introduced a new QB by extolling the QBs mental capacity, and stating that his new QB was ambidextrous, then adding that the kid can throw with either hand. Their current Coach, Mark D’Antonio has brought MSU Football back from the abyss in the last decade, again to a level of serious success.
Mike Hart caused considerable stir among Spartan advocates as he irritated them with his “Little Brother” statement. The response to that message was as if someone had whacked the MSU fan base hard on their collective elbows. They were provoked. Their pot boiled. It even provoked their current coach to answer Hart’s trash talk with trash talk, which is an unusual situation. MSU Coach Happy is also alleged to have to have said, after one particularly rough manhandling of the Wolverines in a previous game, that the game was sixty minutes of un-necessary roughness. This boiled M’s pot. He also stated he hated Michigan at his public introduction to the Spartan nation knowing the words would be appreciated there. The Spartans are always angling for a chip on their shoulder to be cashed in against those hated Wolverines.
This year the chip was firmly glued to the Wolverine’s shoulder. Michigan accomplishments over a long span have given the Spartans a David and Goliath mentality, and has put a permanent chip on their shoulder, a penchant for underdog status. There is no question MSU has made much progress over the 70 years I have been following M v MSU, both in athletics and academics, but there is only one University of Michigan.
This game always provides a battle, a tough competition for both Michigan and Michigan State, and will into the future. It will not, however, ever be “the Game” on the Michigan side of the ledger. That honor belongs to TOSU.
COUNTING ONE’S CHICKENS BEFORE THEY HATCH IS A CARELESS BUSINESS FOR THIS GAME: The two programs have met every season since 1945, and this was their 109th meeting. I have paid serious attention to the game since the late 1940’s. Except for a few years away in the service, I have followed it intensively. The wisest prediction is that usually it will be a close game, even into the fourth quarter, no many how much fans we fervently wish otherwise. Many fans, including me, this year believed it would be a blowout, but again the usual is close, and hard fought. While not exactly a blow out, this victory was solid and convincing. It is always a fight, and was again this year, even if the Wolverines dominated most of the game.
M v MSU: M won the toss and elected to defer. Much to my amazement the Spartans moved the bell easily on the ground and using over seven minutes in a 12 play, 75-yard drive on their first series. LJ Scott was the MSU player of the game and he had ten carries in this drive for 63 yards, He had 139 on the ground, a TD, and caught two passes for 47. The Spartans were up 7, and I was thinking Colorado.
Wilton Speight took charge of a drive that answered, as the Wolverines went 80-yards on 8 plays. Smith and Isaac ran for a combined 27. Eddie Mc Doom scooted around end for 20. A Smith run and a Darboh catch put it at the 3. Jabrill Peppers was at QB and ran it in, touching the nose of the football to the southwest pylon for six, and it was 7 up. It was a relief to learn the offense could move the ball.
The Wolverines struck again. It was Eddie McDoom again running outside on a reverse from Peppers for 33-yards to the MSU 38. Minutes later, Jake Butt caught a 26-yarder that was ruled down at the two, and Smith ran 1-yard for the TD. M was up 14-7.
MSU could only answer with a 52-yard FG, and it was 14-10.
M’s Kenny Allen replied after a drive stalled with a 23-yard FG, and it was 17-10.M’s next possession saw the Wolverines move 10 plays, and 42-yards for 6. A Peppers 15-yard run, a ten yard pass to Darboh, and a six-yard pass to Chesson, plus an MSU penalty were among the plays that put Smith in position to score from 5-yards out. Now it was 24-10.
Jourdan Lewis made his best play of the game resulting in an interception at the MSU 29 in the waning moments of the half. Speight hit Darboh for 20-yards but a penalty against the Wolverines stalled the drive and an Allen FG of 23-yards ensued. The half ended with the Wolverines ahead 27 to 10.
It seemed that all was rosy with the Wolverines receiving the second half kickoff, but a Speight mistake resulted in an interception that was returned 42-yards. The defense stood tall. MSU’s Scott rushed four times, and had some negative yardage on a couple of attempts, including his last one. That snap was on the M two, and Scott lost two, and the Wolverines had held in a great goal line stand. Peppers cut Scott’s legs out from under him.
The Wolverines did not score in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter MSU missed a FG. But Kenny Allen hit a 45-yarder and the score was M-30, MSU-10.
Brian Lewerke was the Spartan QB as Tyler O’Connor had been pulled and was gimpy. Lewerke started to complete some passes, the big one being to RJ Shelton for 34-yards to the Michigan 20. He then threw a 20-yard TD to Monty Madaris, and it was an uncomfortable 30 to 17.
The M offense could not move the ball and MSU got it at their 15, but an 8-yard Peppers sack solves that problem, and forced a punt.
The Spartans were not done as a Michigan penalty assisted another MSU score. Spartan QB Lewerke fired a 5-yard TD pass to MSU wide out Freshman Corley, but the two point conversion failed, when the balll was on the turf, and was returned into the end zone by Peppers for two points. The game ended in Michigan’s favor 32 to 23.
This was a solid victory against very jacked up MSU team. They called up the best they had and it was not quite good enough, despite all their sound and fury. This time their very season was at stake.
Is it appropriate to say the Terrapins are roaring into Ann Arbor next week? Anyway, they are the next impediment to the next step up the Wolverines ladder of success, and under the tutelage of DJ Durkin they will be primed with solid knowledge of Michigan’s tendencies.
Welcome home Paul Bunyon.