By Lewis Gould
Casual college football fans may not be familiar with Jabrill Peppers’ talents, but Penn State fans are!
Peppers’ all-around talents will be on display again when No. 4 Michigan (3-0) opens Big Ten play by hosting Penn State (2-1) Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC).
Once again, Peppers is expected to line up all over the field in the same fashion as last Saturday’s victory over Colorado when he recorded a career-high nine tackles and totaled 204 all-purpose yards — including a 54-yard punt-return touchdown.
Peppers was a strong safety on defense last season before Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown elected to move him to strong-side linebacker. The switch is allowing Peppers to roam freely around the back end and even creep into the box. The Wolverines are also incorporating him into the offense just as they did last season.
“I can’t think of another player like Jabrill — I know there’s not another player that I’ve coached like him,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said at a press conference. “The unique thing is all the positions he can play.
“You start counting them: It would be safety, corner, nickel, outside linebacker. It would be slot receiver, wildcat quarterback, running back, kick returner, punt returner, gunner, hold-up.
“That’s 11 right there, and I know there’s others he could do. But those are all the things he’s done already here for us. And he’s done them all well. He’s a special type of athlete and special football player.”
Peppers hears those types of compliments all the time and just takes them in stride.
But finding out his all-purpose yardage was over 200 yards? Now that is the type of production that impresses him.
“That was me?” Peppers asked, pointing a finger at himself. “Wow … really? Two hundred and four yards, wow. Wow! That’s crazy. I didn’t even think about it like that. I just tried to do whatever I could, man.
“We were down, and when you are one of the playmakers, one of the guys who makes the team go, you’ve got to take it upon yourself to just try to make something happen.”
The Wolverines are averaging 53 points per game as they entertain a Penn State squad that has allowed an average of 34.5 over the past two games.
The Nittany Lions posted a 34-27 victory over Temple last week after losing a 42-39 shootout to Pittsburgh the previous weekend.
Penn State lost one of its better defenders in the win over Temple when senior linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White sustained a season-ending knee injury. It marks the second straight season in which Wartman-White, who has a team-high 3 1/2 tackles for losses, experienced an early-season injury.
“Feel terrible for Nyeem Wartman-White,” Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said at a press conference. “He will be out for the season, which is obviously significant. I feel for Nyeem because he’s had two years in a row now where he’s missed the season and has worked really, really hard and has had an unbelievable attitude from a leadership standpoint as well.”
The unit will attempt to move forward behind junior safety Marcus Allen, who leads the squad with 21 tackles.
Offensively, sophomore running back Saquon Barkley has rushed for 258 yards and six touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley has shown promise by passing for 828 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions as the replacement for NFL second-round pick Christian Hackenberg.
Predictions and Pick to Win
Michigan 42, Penn State 17
The Nittany Lions are aware they are viewed as huge underdogs as they head into Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines hold a 12-7 edge in the series and are 6-3 in the venerable facility.
“I’ve gone to some away games that were pretty hostile,” junior linebacker Brandon Smith said at a press conference. “I think it just gets the guys even more excited sometimes when people are jeering you and mocking you and all sorts of things. You know, you can either get distracted by it or it can increase your intensity and your focus.”
Michigan is hoping to have standout senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis on the field for the first time this season. Lewis has been sidelined by back, hamstring and quadriceps injuries.
Wolverines sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight has put together three straight strong outings and has passed for 686 yards and eight touchdowns against one interception. Senior receiver Amara Darboh is averaging 20.4 yards with four of his 10 catches going for touchdowns.