After the No. 4 Michigan football team handily put away its first two opponents of the season, it was assumed that its matchup with Colorado (2-0) would go almost as smoothly. Two minutes into the game, redshirt sophomore linebacker Jabrill Peppers crushed running back Phillip Lindsay for a 2-yard tackle for loss to the crowd’s delight, and all seemed to be well.
But the Buffaloes had different plans. On the next play, Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau completed a 37-yard pass to wide receiver Devin Ross to get on the board first at Michigan Stadium.
It was just the start of a troublesome first half for the Wolverines, but they ultimately rebounded to win, 45-28. Michigan never relinquished its lead for the last 28 minutes of the game.
Michigan fell behind early, 21-7, before scoring 17 unanswered points to take a 24-21 lead into halftime. On the Wolverines’ last drive before the break, Speight threw a short pass to fifth-year senior wide receiver Amara Darboh, who took it 45 yards down the left sideline to give Michigan its first lead of the game with 34 seconds left in the half.
“We weren’t worried,” said senior tight end Jake Butt. “In fact, we actually talked about it last night as a team. We knew, the first two games, we were really never punched in the face with things going so smoothly, and it’s not going to be a fairy tale the whole entire season. There was going to come a point in time when we were going to get punched in the face. … We were good enough to get it done.”
The Buffaloes scored on consecutive series within the first five minutes of the game, and their second score was especially impressive. Colorado defensive back Chidobe Awuzie sacked redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight, forcing a fumble on Michigan’s 28-yard line. Defensive lineman Derek McCartney picked it up and ran it in for the touchdown to give the Buffaloes a 14-point lead.
The back-and-forth scoring continued into the third quarter, when, only a minute into the second half, Liufau completed a 70-yard touchdown pass to Shay Fields to make it 28-24.
But the Wolverines scored on the next drive and never looked back. Sophomore wide receiver Grant Perry got open on a 54-yard pass, bringing the ball to Colorado’s 7-yard line. Senior running back De’Veon Smith and redshirt junior running back Ty Isaac did the rest of the work, with Isaac punctuating the drive with a 1-yard scoring run.
Peppers did most of Michigan’s legwork throughout the game, recording nine tackles and a sack, 3.5 for loss. On his most impressive play of the game, he ran a punt return 54 yards to the house for his first touchdown of the season with 11:27 to go in the game. It was his first career punt return touchdown.
“In a game of really good players all over the field, Jabrill Peppers proved that he was the best player out there,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “It was a special game by a special player.”
Added Peppers: “It was indescribable. I think I just laid there. I was like, ‘Finally, man.’ The guys did a great job of giving me a crease. They just trust me enough to hit what I see and make something happen and that’s what I did.”
The Wolverines sputtered early behind Speight, who finished 16-for-30 with 229 yards and one touchdown, throwing multiple near-interceptions but no actual ones. Michigan’s special teams kept the Wolverines in the game during the offensive struggles, accounting for their first score of the game. Senior safety Delano Hill and fifth-year senior tight end Michael Jocz broke through to block Colorado’s punt, allowing Grant Perry to scoop up the ball for a touchdown.
Michigan started gaining the momentum that would take it to victory late in the second quarter when Colorado kicker Diego Gonzalez missed a 36-yard field goal and punter Alex Kinney kicked the ball into the back of his own lineman to give the Wolverines the ball on its own 38-yard line. On the ensuing drive, Speight dumped the ball off to fifth-year senior wide receiver Jehu Chesson for a 17-yard touchdown.
Fifth-year senior kicker Kenny Allen finished the game 1-for-3 on field goal attempts. He missed from 37 and 44 yards out, with his only made kick coming with 1:59 to go until halftime.
The Wolverines made mistake after mistake early, but with help from Peppers and Butt, who finished with seven catches for 87 yards, Michigan stifled the upset attempt to stay undefeated.
“We definitely have to get the big plays corrected,” Peppers said. “But the best part about it that it’s all things we can correct. It’s not like they were just flat out beating us. Everything can be coached up and corrected. We took a couple lumps today, but when we go back and watch the tape, we know those big plays don’t happen if we stick to the deep middle.”