Special teams a mixed bag for Michigan
Ann Arbor — While Michigan struggled offensively and defensively early against Colorado on Saturday, the return game sprung loose and kept the Wolverines in it until all phases started to click.
Coming off the win over UCF a week earlier in which Michigan was credited with a blocked field goal and blocked punt, and appeared to disrupt two other kicks, special teams proved to be a difference-maker in the 45-28 victory over Colorado.
Trailing 14-0, Colorado punter Alex Kinney, who struggled the entire game, punted low and the ball deflected off his own blocker. Michigan’s Grant Perry scooped it and ran for the touchdown.
Perry had told his teammates he was about to do something big.
“I was like, ‘Guys, I’m going to go block this punt and help the team,’ ” Perry said. “I didn’t block it, but I scored it. Kind of called it, but it was a good play to get us back in the game.”
Do-everything Jabrill Peppers had a phenomenal special teams day, with 81 kick-return yards and 99 on punt returns, including a 54-yard punt return for a touchdown.
“It was definitely a sense of relief,” Peppers said. “I felt a couple of those punts I could have taken one back. When you get a line drive and great blocking, man, if you don’t score then, they’ve got to put somebody else back there.
“The hole was wide open. They leave it upon me to make a couple guys miss. I felt as though I did that. I started cramping about the 5. I was like, there’s no way I’m not getting in this time. I was tired of just being the ‘almost’ kind of guy. It definitely felt good to finally punch one in.”
As important was how Peppers’ returns delivered field position throughout the game.
After Colorado regained the lead he had a 55-yard kickoff return early in the second half and gave Michigan the ball at the Colorado 45. De’Veon Smith ran 42 yards for the touchdown.
But special teams is not only about the return game.
Kenny Allen was not as sharp as usual and missed 2-of-3 field goal attempts.
“We’re off, we’re off,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “(We’ll) go back and look at it, but our operation with the snap, hold and the kick has been as good as any in college football. The snap’s been over the spot, laces at 6 o’clock, ball through the middle of the upright. (On Saturday, it) was off. Snaps were low, the laces were at 12 o’clock. Kenny was hot and cold a little bit on the kicks, the punts and the kicks, but go back and look, adjust, re-fit, re-tool there and figure out what was going on there.”
Harbaugh said that in pregame warm-ups, snaps from Scott Sypniewski were high. He said tweaking those snaps might have caused the in-game issues.
“We were worried about the high snap and over-adjusted,” Harbaugh said. “It was causing the operation to be different.”