Michigan football midseason awards: Top players, standouts, MVP
Who takes home Michigan's midseason MVP award?
The second half of the Michigan football season begins Saturday as the Wolverines host Illinois in Ann Arbor.
Before we move forward, let's take a look at some of the top individual performers from Michigan's perfect 6-0 start.
Top offensive play
And the winner is ... Wilton Speight
Runner-up: Jabrill Peppers
Just missed: Ty Isaac, Chris Evans
— WolverineHighlights (@CarterSpatara) October 2, 2016
Jabrill Peppers' run against Rutgers, Ty Isaac's run after a screen pass against Colorado and Chris Evans' 57-yard run might have been more impressive athletic feats, but no offensive play was better than Wilton Speight's perfect throw to Amara Darboh for the game-winning touchdown against Wisconsin.
Speight had a decent game against the Badgers, completing 20 of 32 passes for 219 yards, one touchdown and one interception, but he struggled to complete passes down the field. His most notable attempt at a downfield pass was tipped and intercepted by Wisconsin, setting up the Badgers' only score of the game.
But when he absolutely needed to make a play, Speight stepped up in the fourth quarter and hit Darboh in stride for a 46-yard touchdown pass. It showed the potential that Speight has as a passer, and proved good enough to give Michigan its biggest win of the first half.
Top defensive play
And the winner is ... Jourdan Lewis
Runner-up: Channing Stribling
Just missed: Jabrill Peppers, Taco Charlton, Ben Gedeon
— Michigan Moments (@UofMMoments) October 1, 2016
Jourdan Lewis missed half of the games, but he returned in time to make an impact.
Channing Stribling has made three key interceptions this season, and Jabrill Peppers, Taco Charlton and Ben Gedeon have lived in opposing backfields, but no single play can top Lewis' interception against Wisconsin.
The Badgers were going for a 4th-and-10 with the game on the line, and Alex Hornibrook took a rare shot deep down the middle of the field. If the ball was caught, there was a chance that the Badgers would have tied the game. Luckily for Michigan, Lewis made one of college football's best plays of the year. He jumped backward, stretched out his arm and came down with a diving one-handed interception.
When he stood up, fans hadn't even realized that he caught the ball. But when he started celebrating with Dymonte Thomas, the Big House erupted as Michigan picked up a top-10 win.
This was also our No. 1 moment from the first half of Michigan's season. You can see the top 10 moments by clicking here.
Top special teams play
And the winner is ... Michael Jocz
Runner-up: Grant Perry
Just missed: Jabrill Peppers, Chris Wormley, Tyree Kinnel
Michael Jocz isn't a household name, even among the most hardcore Michigan football fans. But he made one of the biggest plays of the season when he blocked a Colorado punt that was returned for a touchdown.
Michigan trailed Colorado 14-0 at the time, and the offense was struggling. Jocz gave the team its first spark when he burst through the line and blocked the kick. Grant Perry earned runner-up honors for picking up the blocked kick and running it into the end zone. Without this play by Jocz and Perry, Colorado might have built an even bigger lead in that game.
Jabrill Peppers deserves an honorable mention for returning a punt for a touchdown that iced the game against Colorado, while Chris Wormley and Tyree Kinnel have made big plays in the kick-blocking game.
Best single-game performance
And the winner is ... Jabrill Peppers
Runner-up: Wilton Speight
Just missed: Chris Evans, Karan Higdon
— Curtis (@Curtos07) September 17, 2016
When we revisit this award at the end of the season, there's a good chance that Peppers' game against Colorado will still stand as the team's best performance.
Peppers was most dominant on the defensive end, where he racked up nine tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack. Peppers made two open-field tackles that turned potential big plays into losses for Colorado ball carriers, and was all over the field in the outside running game.
On special teams, Peppers was electric, returning four punts for 99 yards and putting the nail in Colorado's coffin with a 54-yard punt return touchdown. He also returned two kicks for 81 yards.
Jim Harbaugh called on Peppers twice as a running back, and he was successful on both attempts, gaining 17 yards and seven yards.
Speight's best game came against UCF, when he threw for 312 yards and four touchdowns. Evans rushed for 153 yards on 11 carries against Rutgers and Karan Higdon pitched in with 108 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.
And the winner is ... Mike McCray
Runner-up: Bryan Mone
At the beginning of the 2016 season, the linebackers were one of the biggest question marks for Michigan. They have improved from last season, and one of the major reasons is Mike McCray, who answered the call after missing 2015 with an injury.
McCray burst onto the scene against Hawaii, making nine tackles and two sacks and forcing a fumble. He has 30 tackles on the season and provides excellent support in defending the rush.
Most improved player
And the winner is ... Ryan Glasgow
Runner-up: Ty Isaac
Just missed: Channing Stribling, Khalid Hill, Wilton Speight
Ryan Glasgow was a good player last year. This season, he's even better.
Glasgow doesn't get the same recognition as players like Wormley and Charlton, who come off the edge and make plays in the backfield. But Glasgow is the top reason why Michigan has been so dominant in stopping the run this season. With him clogging up the middle of the defensive line, guys like Corey Clement (Wisconsin) and Saquon Barkley (Penn State) have struggled to get going against Michigan.
Glasgow has fewer than 20 tackles this season, but he's the leader of the defensive line and one of the anchors of the elite Michigan defense. When he was sidelined by injury last season, Michigan got shredded by Indiana and Ohio State in the ground game. Now that he's back and playing better than ever, the defense looks even better than it did a year ago.
Isaac looks like a completely different player this season. After being benched last year because of ball security, he's gained Harbaugh's trust and played in some of the biggest drives of the season. He earned the second most rushing attempts on the team in the first half and has improved as a pass catcher and blocker.
And the winner is ... Khalid Hill
Runner-up: Ryan Glasgow
Just missed: Ben Gedeon, Channing Stribling
On almost every team in the country, the team leader in touchdowns (not counting quarterbacks) is a running back or a wide receiver.
But for Michigan, the leading scorer behind Speight is a fullback. Khalid Hill has been pounding the ball into the end zone to finish drives all season, scoring seven rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown. Hill only has 13 carries this season, so he's scoring on more than half of his runs.
Hill is underappreciated as a receiver in the short passing game. He has eight catches for 66 yards this season and gives Speight a security option when receivers aren't open downfield.
Glasgow, Ben Gedeon and Channing Stribling are major reasons why Michigan owns the No. 1 defense in the country, but they're overshadowed by superstar players in their position groups.
Top freshman performer
And the winner is ... Chris Evans
Runner-up: Rashan Gary
Just missed: Eddie McDoom, Devin Asiasi
De'Veon Smith has been a steady running back for Michigan since 2013, but he lacks the elusiveness and high-end speed to be a true home run threat. True freshman Evans has filled that gap.
Evans leads Michigan with 400 rushing yards and averages over 8 yards per carry. In his very first game, Evans gained 112 yards and scored two touchdowns. He wasn't a major factor in a big game against Colorado, but he turned around to gain 90 yards on 16 carries against Penn State and Wisconsin.
Last week, Evans posted a career-high 11 carries and gained 153 rushing yards.
Rashan Gary has been solid as a backup defensive lineman, but figures to be a defensive star before his Michigan career is over. Eddie McDoom is a unique weapon in Harbaugh's offensive arsenal, while Devin Asiasi has proven his value as a blocking tight end.
Special teams player of the year (so far)
And the winner is ... Jabrill Peppers
Runner-up: Kenny Allen (as a punter)
Just missed: Jordan Glasgow, Grant Perry, Tyree Kinnel
Peppers is the best punt returner in the country. He can accelerate to his top speed after one cut, and his top speed is as good as anyone's. In 14 punt returns, Peppers has averaged 17.79 yards per return, which lands Michigan in the top five of punt-returning teams in the country.
It's not just what Peppers does in the return game that changes field position, but also what teams are afraid he will do. Penn State, Wisconsin and Rutgers wouldn't kick the ball anywhere near Peppers, so Michigan benefited from great field position.
Peppers hasn't had much of a chance to return kicks, but he averages over 30 yards per return on his three returns.
Kenny Allen hasn't gotten the job done as a field goal kicker, but he's been excellent at punting the football. He averages 43.23 yards per punt on 22 punts this season. Jordan Glasgow has been excellent in kick coverage and Grant Perry and Tyree Kinnel are playmakers in the punt-blocking game.
Defensive player of the year (so far)
And the winner is ... Channing Stribling
Runner-up: Jourdan Lewis
Just missed: Ben Gedeon, Ryan Glasgow, Jabrill Peppers, Chris Wormley
Harbaugh said he thinks Stribling will play 10 seasons in the NFL. If the senior cornerback continues to improve like he has this season, that might be more than an exaggerated endorsement of a player.
With Lewis missing the first three games, Stribling took over the role of No. 1 cornerback. In the first two games, Michigan's passing defense was elite, and when Colorado torched the Michigan defense, the safeties were the ones who were struggling to defend downfield.
Stribling leads the team with three interceptions and five passes defended this season. When Lewis shuts down the opposing team's top receiver, Stribling has been up to the challenge. Quarterbacks have tried to throw at Stribling, and he's made them pay.
Jourdan Lewis is the best player on the defense, and Ben Gedeon leads the team in tackles, but Stribling has been the best player so far.
Offensive player of the year (so far)
And the winner is ... Amara Darboh
Runner-up: Jake Butt
Just missed: Mason Cole, Chris Evans, Erik Magnuson
Michigan hasn't needed to throw the ball very often, but when it did, Amara Darboh was there to make big plays. He leads the team with 25 catches and 400 receiving yards. He averages 16 yards per reception and has five receiving touchdowns.
Over the first six games, Darboh took over as Michigan's best deep threat. With Michigan trailing 21-17 against Colorado and under a minute left until halftime, Darboh beat his defender for a 45-ard touchdown on the first play of the drive. The score gave Michigan its first lead in the game and completed a comeback from the team's only deficit this season.
Darboh came in clutch again against Wisconsin -- Michigan's only other competitive game. His 46-yard touchdown catch was the final score of the game and allowed Michigan's defense to polish off a 14-7 victory.
Most Valuable Player
And the winner is ... Jabrill Peppers
Runner-up: Amara Darboh
Just missed: Ryan Glasgow, Channing Stribling, Jourdan Lewis
This race might not be as one-sided as fans think, but there's little doubt that Peppers has made the greatest impact on Michigan as a whole. His dominance in special teams puts the offense in great position to put points on the board, and when opposing teams punt to him, he makes them pay.
Defensively, Peppers has given the Wolverines a dynamic playmaker at a position of great need. He can cover a ton of space as the defensive leader on the field and has no problem making tackles in space. In terms of forcing turnovers, Peppers hasn't been a contributor, but his 10 tackles for loss have been the driving force behind Michigan's elite defense.
Offensively, Peppers' underwhelming numbers are largely because Harbaugh hasn't needed to use him. Four of Michigan's games have been blowouts by the end of the first quarter, so there hasn't been an urgency to show his cards. When he does get the call, he's gained 19.6 yards per play.
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