Penn State wary of Michigan’s Peppers in all three phases
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — It’s hard not to notice Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers on film.
His athletic ability stands out to Penn State (2-1) players who’ve watched him all week as they prepare to face Michigan’s dynamic playmaker and the No. 4 Wolverines (3-0) on Saturday. But there’s something else, something unique.
“He’s all over the place,” Penn State wideout DaeSean Hamilton said. “We call those type of guys game-wreckers. We need to make sure they don’t come in and wreck the game.”
That’s exactly what Michigan’s do-it-all utility man did last week when his team fell into a 21-7 first-quarter hole against Colorado.
Peppers, who’s listed as a linebacker and defensive back, moved around in the Wolverine’s defensive alignments to spark the Michigan defense with nine tackles, 3 1/2 for losses, and a sack. He added a 54-yard punt return touchdown to seal the game early in the fourth quarter and became the first player in Big Ten history to earn the conference’s defensive and special teams player of the week awards dating to 1994.
“I can’t think of another player like Jabrill,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I know there’s not another player that I’ve coached like him. The unique thing is all the positions that he can play.”
Peppers’ prowess and high football IQ have made the New Jersey native arguably the nation’s most versatile player and one any scout team should struggle to accurately replicate in practice. Penn State is expected to use multiple players to try and mimic Peppers’ impact this week.
Any team would have trouble doing so with just one.
“He’s an athletic freak,” Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley said. “He’s a great player, you obviously have awareness for where the great players are on the other team are and you want to know where they’re at on every play.”
At his press conference Monday, Harbaugh rattled off 11 positions on offense, defense and special teams that the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Peppers can or has played in three years in Ann Arbor. This versatility allows defensive coordinator Don Brown to be creative with his calls. He can disguise coverages and blitzes in order to torment opposing offenses.
“There’s times I should be thinking about what to do on the next series but I like watching our guys play,” Harbaugh said. “I really watch the way our defense is running to the football, the way they’re flying around, hitting.”
The speed with which Peppers and Michigan can attack is something that’s jumped out to McSorley and Penn State coach James Franklin.
Although Penn State didn’t allow any sacks to Temple, tackles Andrew Nelson and Brendan Mahon were beaten a few times on the edge. McSorley’s ability to climb the pocket to escape the pressure prevented the momentum-changing sacks like the ones Penn State allowed to Pitt and Kent State in the first two weeks.
Simply stepping up may not work, however, and Penn State’s young guards will have to be on notice, too. Peppers’ lone sack against Colorado came when he slowly crept toward the line and exploded at the snap, unaccounted for up the middle.
“They’re just a big, strong, physical, mature team, and then they do have some speed aspects,” Franklin said. “Jabrill does that for them on defense, special teams and offense.”