Behind a career performance from fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock, the Michigan football team improved to 7-2 on the season with a 49-16 win over Rutgers on Saturday.
Redshirt freshman Jabrill Peppers scored his second rushing touchdown of the season in the win, continuing his ever-expanding role in the offense. But even aside from that, there were plenty of new developments on display.
Here are five things we learned from the game.
1. Jabrill Peppers still finds ways to impress Jim Harbaugh.
At this point, there’s not much Peppers could do on the football field that would surprise anyone, least of all his coach. But in the second quarter, when Peppers turned a bubble screen into an 18-yard touchdown, even Harbaugh was impressed.
“I knew he was good, but he’s really good,” Harbaugh said. “I thought there was not another rung to go on the ladder, but there is. He found another rung to go even higher.”
Peppers first dodged a would-be tackler in the backfield, then weaved his way into the end zone, high stepping as he crossed the plane. When his coach called him over after the play, Peppers was concerned he would be chastised for showboating. Instead, he received praise.
“I thought he was about to yell at me for my celebrating,” Peppers said. “But he just stopped me and he was like, ‘Man, I knew you were good, but you’re really good.’
“We just shared a laugh with each other. It was a special moment.”
2. Deception is prohibited.
The most head-scratching moment of the game came late in the second quarter, when Michigan appeared to pick up a huge gain on a pass to junior tight end Jake Butt, who was wide open on the right sideline and took Rudock’s pass 51 yards.
But to Michigan’s dismay, the play was called back due to a penalty for “intent to deceive.”
And as it turns out, there is a rule that prohibits using the substitution process to deceive opponents.
Butt left the huddle around the same time as several teammates who ran off the field. And while Butt was distinctly behind those teammates, the point is that the defense could have reasonably assumed he was exiting the field. Hence the penalty for deception.
The notion that deception is illegal seems a little silly in a sport where play-action fakes are a cornerstone of most offenses and trick plays are praised. But there is a rule against what Butt did, and it appears to have been applied correctly. Who knew?
3. Jourdan Lewis can return kicks, too.
Peppers isn’t the only Michigan defensive back who can make an impact with the ball in his hands on special teams.
With Peppers banged up following a practice collision with redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Clark, and with Harbaugh trying to limit Peppers’ workload anyway, junior cornerback Jourdan Lewis got to try his hand at returning kickoffs. And the results were impressive.
On two kickoff returns, Lewis totaled 59 yards, including a long of 35. He flashed impressive speed and good instincts going toward the sideline if lanes in the middle closed.
Maybe Michigan should just let its defensive backs play every position.
4. Big guests gather at the Big House.
Rapper Big Sean was in his native Detroit for his concert over the weekend, and he stopped by Michigan Stadium to watch the game and speak with the team following the game. Big Sean attended Cass Technical High School, where several Wolverines, including Lewis and linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone also attended. Some players took pictures with the rapper, who even helped Harbaugh break the postgame huddle.
5. Bold Prediction: Michigan will play for the Big Ten Championship.
Bear with me here. Nebraska’s controversial win over Michigan State on Saturday night opened the door for this, and actually it’s not as outlandish as it seems.
The most likely path to this unlikely outcome is Michigan winning out, which includes beating Ohio State. The Buckeyes are the superior team on paper, but they still haven’t played to their sky-high potential, and they have yet to play against a team as physical as Michigan. To make matters worse, they’ll be taking on the Wolverines after what should be a tough game against Michigan State in Columbus.
And given the way Michigan’s last rivalry game ended, expect Harbaugh to have the team at its highest energy for ‘The Game.’
It’s far from certain, but we don’t call them bold predictions for nothing. See you in Indy.