For the first time all season, the Michigan football team was in trouble, and for the Wolverines, it didn’t look good. The Wolverines trailed at the end of the first quarter, 21-7, and showed no signs of being able to stop Colorado.
Yet in the last three quarters, they did. The Buffaloes managed just one more score as Michigan rolled to a 45-28 win at Michigan Stadium.
The game was complete with blocked punts, trick plays and momentum swings, providing plenty of material for this week’s installment of the good, the bad and the ugly from Michigan’s perspective:
Again, the difference in the game was special teams. The Wolverines edged Colorado in every phase, except for field-goal kicking, and their punt-block unit has been the team’s X-factor so far.
Michigan’s first score came off of a blocked punt from Michael Jocz, which sophomore wide receiver Grant Perry picked up and returned for a touchdown. The rest of the punts were almost as successful, because redshirt sophomore Jabrill Peppers was back to return, and Colorado decided to kick to him.
Peppers returned four punts for 99 total yards, including a 54-yarder for a touchdown that put the game out of reach with 11:27 to play. He constantly flipped the field as Michigan finished with a nine-yard advantage in average starting field position. Even outside of the touchdown, two of Peppers’ punt returns landed the Wolverines in Colorado territory, and he added a 55-yard kick return that did the same.
As coach Jim Harbaugh said after the game, without Peppers, Michigan may not have won the game. But the other two phases still had highlights. The defense rebounded nicely from giving up two long touchdown runs against Central Florida last weekend, allowing Colorado just 64 yards on the ground. The Wolverines limited the Buffaloes to 1.9 yards per rush and totaled four sacks — to which six different players contributed.
They also finished with 10 tackles for loss from nine players, led by Peppers’ 3.5. And they recovered nicely from a rough start, wearing out the opposing offense as they often do. Colorado played four quarterbacks and was out of answers by the fourth quarter.
On offense, senior running back De’Veon Smith played his best game, with 87 yards on 11 carries, and senior tight end Jake Butt added seven catches for 87 more yards.
Harbaugh has been mum about senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis’ status, but the Wolverines need him back. It was a rough day for the secondary.
Colorado finished 18-for-34 for 261 yards and three touchdowns, a poor performance in itself by Michigan’s standards, but those numbers are misleading. Starting quarterback Sefo Liufau was 16-for-25 for 246 yards and three scores before he left the game in the third quarter with an injury. Had he played the entire game, it would have been much closer.
Liufau already looked banged-up when he threw a 70-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Shay Fields in the first minute of the third quarter. Michigan answered 46 seconds later to take the lead back, and Liufau hardly had a chance to respond. His last series was the next one, a three-and-out, and Colorado never scored again.
Despite the final score, the early performance by the Wolverines’ secondary — mainly the missed tackles and blown coverages — is a concern.
As full games go, there wasn’t much to report here, but the first 13 plays went about as poorly as Michigan could have imagined.
After an average kick return by Peppers, the Wolverines managed a 12-yard run by Smith and then went three-and-out, nearly throwing an interception in the process. They then gave up a 32-yard punt return, allowing Colorado to start in Michigan territory.
The upstart Buffaloes opened with a trick play, a double reverse pass back to the quarterback Liufau for 14 yards. After a negative run, Liufau found a wide-open Devin Ross over the middle for a 37-yard touchdown.
On the third play of the next drive, Colorado’s Chidobe Awuzie drilled Michigan redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight, forcing a fumble that Derek McCartney picked up and ran in for the score. The Buffaloes led 14-0, and the crowd at Michigan Stadium was antsy.