Peppers leads Michigan's 'massive' victory
Piscataway, N.J. – It was a homecoming for Michigan’s players from New Jersey, and they made it memorable, especially Jabrill Peppers.
Peppers, who attended Paramus Catholic, scored two touchdowns from the wildcat and helped lead fourth-ranked Michigan to a 78-0 demolishing of Rutgers on Saturday.
“I definitely wanted to come out and make a statement with the guys tonight,” Peppers said. “Couldn’t ask for a better victory.
“I’ve never been part of a victory this massive. You’ve got to handle it with class and keep improving next week. You can’t stay on your high horse.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh thinks highly of Peppers, a defensive player who returns kicks and plays offense, and threw his hat into the Heisman Trophy ring.
“Gosh, if there’s a better player in the country, I don’t know who it is,” Harbaugh said. “I know there’s a lot of great players out there, but to be able to coach a guy like Jabrill Peppers is a real joy. There’s just so much more. He can throw. There’s nothing he can’t do. It’s the darndest thing I’ve ever seen.
“My humble opinion, believe that (you’re looking) at a Heisman Trophy winner. And candidate.”
This was Michigan’s third-largest margin of victory. Michigan is 6-0 overall, 3-0 in the Big Ten, and for the record, the Wolverines are bowl eligible. They do not have a game next week and return to Michigan Stadium to face Illinois on Oct. 22.
Michigan scored nine rushing touchdowns, including two apiece from fullback Khalid Hill, and running backs Ty Isaac, Chris Evans and Karan Higdon. Hill also scored on an 11-yard pass from backup quarterback John O’Korn, and starting quarterback Wilton Speight and Jehu Chesson connected on a 30-yard TD pass in the first quarter.
The Wolverines had 600 yards of offense, including 481 yards rushing against the worst rush defense in the Big Ten.
There was heavy rain at the start of the game, but the announced attendance was 53,292, the fourth-largest crowd at High Point Solutions Stadium. But the stadium emptied in the third quarter, with the exception of Michigan fans who waited to see if the defense could hold Rutgers without a first down.
Rutgers, which has played Ohio State and Michigan in back-to-back weeks, has been outscored 136-0 in those two games. The Scarlet Knights finished with 39 yards, including five yards passing. They had two first downs that did not come until late in the game when Michigan’s backups were in. Rutgers was 0-for-17 on third down.
“Not a whole lot to say about the game,” Rutgers coach Chris Ash said as he addressed media after the game. “We didn’t get a first down until late in the game. We gave up 481 yards rushing.
“The whole thing’s on me. I’ve got to do a better job of getting the team ready.”
Michigan’s backup quarterbacks, O’Korn and Shane Morris, rotated in the second half, relieving starter Speight, who finished with 100 yards passing. Against Rutgers, which lost 58-0 to Ohio State last week, the plan was to run the ball. After all, the Scarlet Knights have the worst rushing defense in the Big Ten and entered the game ranked 115th nationally.
“The guys executed, the linemen won the war of the trenches, the receivers were blocking unbelievably down the field,” Speight said. “On one of the last touchdown runs, (receiver) Moe Ways was blocking his guy into the end zone. Not much was asked from the passing game. Not really needed today.”
After stalling on three-and-outs the first two series and a fumble, Michigan went to Peppers for a spark, and the game got ugly. Fast.
Peppers took the direct snap and took off for a 63-yard gain to the Rutgers 4-yard line. Isaac scored from four yards for a 7-0 lead.
After Rutgers’ next possession, Peppers made a spectacular punt return for a touchdown, but it was called back because of an illegal block in the back. Michigan started the drive from its 48-yard line, and a flag on a long third down gave the Wolverines new life and a first down.
The Wolverines scored touchdowns on six of its last seven possessions and built a 43-0 halftime lead and already had 309 yards. Rutgers was held to one yard and was minus-five yards rushing in the first half.
“The turning point of the game was his long run, when first downs were (hard to get),” Harbaugh said. “His speed was dramatically different than everybody else on the field. And also Chris Evans. He showed early that he was going to be tough to bring down. He was lightning quick and fast tonight. That’s what broke the game open was Jabrill’s and Chris’ play the most.”