Ann Arbor – Jabrill Peppers has watched plenty of Ohio State film and believes that getting all-out physical play-to-play with the Buckeyes will absolutely be the key for the Michigan defense.
The third-ranked Wolverines face No. 2 Ohio State in Ohio Stadium on Saturday with national playoff implications on the line. Both teams are 11-1 heading into the regular-season finale.
If Michigan wins, the Wolverines will play for the Big Ten championship and have a strong shot for a spot in the College Football Playoff. If the Buckeyes win and Penn State loses, they will play for the Big Ten title but already look good for a CFP playoff.
Peppers, a hybrid linebacker who dabbles in offense and special teams for the Wolverines, said from watching film of the Buckeyes’ games against Penn State, Wisconsin and Northwestern, he knows how to have success against them.
“We’ll see how they respond to physicality,” Peppers said Tuesday night. “Just come with bad intentions. Never our intention to hurt anyone, but when we hit you, we want you to feel it.
“Our mindset is, we don’t care who you’ve played, who you’ve lost to or who you’ve beat, you guys haven’t played us yet. We like to think that we have one of the best defenses in America.”
Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown, who has the Wolverines ranked No. 1 in most defensive categories, said that’s exactly what he wants to hear.
“Obviously, that’s our mantra, so one of the things we’re constantly trying to do is stop the run,” Brown said Wednesday. “Be physical about it and knock the line of scrimmage back. Doesn’t surprise me he takes great pride in our ability to be physical with people.”
Brown likes how the defense performed last week against Indiana’s spread offense. Ohio State’s offense is run by versatile quarterback J.T. Barrett and has different skill-position talent than the Hoosiers, but he is buoyed by how well the defense slowed Indiana.
“Several teams we’ve played run the spread or some form of the spread, Ohio State does a little more with the power game,” Brown said. “You’ve just got to go ahead and get your calls in and get your guys lined up and make sure you’re ready to go. To be quite honest, Indiana’s really fast. I mean, I felt that the other night, and I thought for the most, except for three snaps, we had our feet in the ground, all 11, ready to go.
“Feel good to this point our preparation against spread offenses. We minimized our last spread outfit to 64 yards rushing, which is an important stat especially when they’re in the 200’s coming in. Feel like we’re in a good spot getting ready to go for this week.”
Peppers said it will be vital for the Michigan defense to “make (Barrett) flustered.”
“Make him ready coverages and make him beat us with his arm,” Peppers said.
Of Ohio State H-back Curtis Samuel, Peppers said he doesn’t know his fellow New Jersey native but called him a “phenomenal athlete”. He said Samuel “hasn’t been hit hard” this season.
Brown was asked Wednesday when, after being hired last December, he began to study Ohio State.
“Pretty early in the process,” Brown said. “You know it’s an important game on the calendar so you’ve got to have a feel for things you want to do. We’re working on developing our own identify during the process. It seems like yesterday we were standing here after the Colorado game and we were trying to piece things together.
"Since then all the emphasis has been placed on getting us straight, but at the same time as a coach you’re always conscious of all 12 opponents.”
There is a sense of anticipation in the building, Brown said.
“I know our guys are excited and getting ready,” he said. “Focus is razor sharp.”