ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan and Texas are tied for blocking the most kicks this season in major college football.
The fourth-ranked Wolverines are also one of two teams, along with Akron, to lead the nation with two touchdowns off punts.
Coach Jim Harbaugh, knowing how important special teams are, often keeps his best player on the field even when Michigan’s offense and defense are on the sideline.
Do-it-all Jabrill Peppers was named Big Ten special teams player of the week on Monday after returning a punt 54 yards for a score, capping a 21-point run the Wolverines had to pull away and beat Colorado 45-28 on Saturday.
“Special teams have been contributing greatly,” Harbaugh said. “It was our best unit in the last game.”
Harbaugh raved that Peppers has played a few positions on defense and a few on offense in addition to returning punts and kicks and covering punts and kickoffs. Peppers shared honors for Big Ten defensive player of the week.
“I can’t think of another player like Jabrill,” Harbaugh said.
The Wolverines, though, will have some thinking and correcting to do this week as they prepare to open the Big Ten season at home against Penn State.
Kenny Allen missed two field goals — from 37 and 44 yards — against the Buffaloes after making his first four this season.
“We’ll get that improved this week,” Harbaugh said.
Michigan’s punt team, meanwhile, has stayed under the radar just as it would want to after a botched punt by the unit led to a heartbreaking loss to rival Michigan State.
The Wolverines rank in the middle of the Big Ten pack in net punting this season.
They’re excelling when teams have to punt.
With Michigan needing a boost during its slow start against Colorado and trailing 14-0 when Michael Jocz blocked a punt, Grant Perry eventually scooped up the football and returned it 6 yards for a score.
Harbaugh, unsolicited, said that while he was with his pregnant wife at an ultrasound appointment Monday morning, her doctor described the play as a “slippery watermelon.”
“The ball was loose, a lot of people had their hands on it,” Harbaugh said.
Michigan has gotten hands on punts but hasn’t gotten credit for blocking them because the footballs ended up getting past the line of scrimmage.
“I know we have three that don’t count as blocks,” Harbaugh said.
Deflected punts don’t show up in box scores like other statistics such as broken-up passes, but Harbaugh suggested that getting hands on a punt should be recorded.
“They track everything else,” he said.
Chris Wormley has blocked two field goals, both in the 51-14 win over Central Florida.
Maurice Hurst doesn’t show up in the box score for either block by the 6-foot-6 Wormley, but the 6-2 defensive tackle felt like he was part of the accomplishment as an interior lineman on the play.
“I was close,” Hurst said. “Our goal inside is to get the guys knocked back. Chris is a tall guy, so his hands can get to the ball a little bit easier.”
It hasn’t been easy, Hurst insisted, to improve Michigan’s ability to make plays on special teams through three games this season. He said the coaches, including Jay Harbaugh and Chris Partridge, who are in charge of special teams, have made blocking field goals and making plays elsewhere on special teams a point of emphasis.
“I think it’s practice with more intensity and I think people are really paying attention to what special teams can do,” Hurts said. “When you see the results we’ve had, it makes you want to work even harder to try to make big plays happen.”
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