The Michigan football team’s defense succeeded for most of the year with strong play from all three units. But on Monday, when the Big Ten announced its all-conference defensive teams, the secondary led the way.
Junior cornerback Jourdan Lewis and redshirt freshman safety Jabrill Peppers were the Wolverines’ representatives on the All-Big Ten team. Peppers also earned the Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year award. The Big Ten will announce its all-conference offensive teams Tuesday night.
Along with senior safety Jarrod Wilson, redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Clark and the help of other players off the bench, Lewis and Peppers led one of the best defensive backfields in the country. The Wolverines ranked third in the nation with 158.8 passing yards allowed per game, trailing only Georgia and San Jose State. Four times, they gave up fewer than 100 in a game.
Lewis broke a Michigan single-season record with 19 pass breakups. He added two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown against Northwestern. The Detroit native also finished fourth on the team with 46 tackles.
Peppers, meanwhile, made an impact all over the field. He spent most of his time on defense, where he broke up 10 passes and added 45 tackles (5.5 for loss). He also averaged 11.4 yards on 17 punt returns and 27.9 yards on eight kick returns, breaking several big plays and narrowly missing touchdowns several times.
Finally, on Oct. 17 against Michigan State, the Wolverines tried to mix Peppers in on offense, mostly with success. He finished with 18 carries for 72 yards and two touchdowns, as well as eight receptions for 79 yards. His presence in all three phases of the game allowed him to finish fifth on the team in all-purpose yardage, despite playing mostly defense.
Peppers is in good company among Michigan’s other Freshmen of the Year: Charles Woodson in 1995, Anthony Thomas in 1997, Steve Breaston in 2003 and Mike Hart in 2004.
The Wolverines also placed members on the second and third teams. Redshirt junior defensive lineman Chris Wormley (third team, coaches), Peppers (second-team return specialist, coaches) and senior kicker Kenny Allen (third team, media) were all recognized. Fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock was Michigan’s sportsmanship honoree. All in all, the Wolverines had a much stronger presence on the end-of-season awards list than in recent years.
No other team had two players selected to both the media and the coaches’ first teams. Ohio State featured four players on at least one team: linebacker Raekwon McMillan (media), Joshua Perry (coaches), safety Vonn Bell (media) and defensive end Joey Bosa, a member of both.
Bosa was the conference’s Defensive Lineman of the Year, joining Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun, Penn State’s Carl Nassib — the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year, despite not winning the defensive lineman award — and Maryland’s Yannick Ngakoue on the first team.
The linebackers were Wisconsin’s Joe Schobert (the Linebacker of the Year), Northwestern’s Anthony Walker and a split between McMillan and Perry.
Iowa’s Desmond King won the Defensive Back of the Year award. Bell and Maryland’s Will Likely, the coaches’ selection, shared the last spot on the first team.