ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Jabrill Peppers was due for a trip to the end zone.
Michigan's explosive, omnipositional redshirt sophomore put the finishing touches on a frantic, rhythm-less game of big plays by slicing his way through the Colorado punt team for 54 yards and his first touchdown of the season. The score gave No. 4 Michigan a 17-point lead over the visiting Buffaloes early in the fourth quarter and provided an exclamation point for Peppers' career day, helping the Wolverines to a 45-28 victory.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh said his coaching staff made an adjustment based on where Colorado's former punts had landed, which put Peppers in a good spot to catch the line drive punt and break loose for the big run.
To go along with his touchdown, Peppers racked up 204 all-purpose yards, most of which came in the return game. He added nine tackles -- 3.5 behind the line of scrimmage -- one sack and his first offensive carry of the young season. Peppers had found some success earlier this season in the punt-return game but had yet to take one all the way to the house until Saturday.
"It was definitely a sense of relief," Peppers said. "I felt like a couple of those punts I could have had. I could have taken them back. ...When you get a line drive and great blocking, if you don't score then they've got to put somebody else back there. That's how I felt. The hole was wide open. They leave it on me to make a couple guys miss. I started cramping at the five, but there was no way I'm not getting in this time. I was tired of being an almost kind of guy."
Peppers appeared to be magnetically attracted to Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau throughout the game, even when he had the ball in his hands. Peppers collided with Liufau on the Colorado sideline after a long kick return in the third quarter. No one else on the Michigan defense had much success in containing Liufau, who threw for 245 yards and three scores before he was knocked out of the game because of a lower leg injury in the third quarter.
Eight of Peppers' tackles came before halftime, helping a shaky Wolverines defense find its legs in the second quarter. Colorado shot out to a 21-7 lead in the first quarter thanks to a fumble returned for a touchdown and a few big passing plays in the middle of the field. The safety-turned-linebacker sniffed out a few screen passes and broke up a couple of other passes to stymie Colorado drives before the defense settled in.
"Jabrill Peppers proved that he was the best player today in this game. We don't win that game without Jabrill Peppers," Harbaugh said. "...I feel great with the ball in his hands. He is a dynamic player. He made the difference. I think Jabrill was by far the best guy out there in all phases."
In only his third week in a new role closer to the line of scrimmage, Peppers seems to be hitting his rhythm on defense. Peppers won the Big Ten's freshman of the year award last season while playing primarily at safety. Defensive coordinator Don Brown, in his first year with Michigan, sold Peppers on the move this spring when he showed him film of former players playing in the same dynamic role on his defenses at Boston College.
In a game dominated by big plays (Michigan's first four touchdown drives lasted a combined total of five plays), Peppers made one of the biggest. The Wolverines and their opponents should probably get used to that.