Big 10

Donovan Peoples-Jones, back returning punts, find his groove and the end zone

September 16, 2017

ANN ARBOR — Jim Harbaugh said earlier in the week Donovan Peoples-Jones would be back returning punts.

As it turns out, he wasn’t bluffing.

The Michigan football coach sent the true freshman from Detroit back out there with the first opportunity he had Saturday in the Wolverines’ 29-13 win over Air Force.

And not only did Peoples-Jones make the most of his second chance, he turned it into a highlight reel. Early in the third quarter, with Michigan leading 9-6, the five-star recruit from Cass Tech High School fielded a Charlie Scott punt at the 21-yard line. Realizing he had room, the back-pedaling Peoples-Jones turned up field and raced down the left side of the field.

“I mean, it just opened up like a red sea,” Peoples-Jones said. “They did a great job of not clipping and let me change the field. They did a great job of blocking and not holding. It just made my job very easy.”

Peoples-Jones broke one tackler, then criss-crossed the middle of the field toward the right side. With one tackler still to beat, Scott, he raced down the right side of the field and into the end zone. It was a stark contrast from a week earlier, when Peoples-Jones was benched for the second half against Cincinnati for allowing punts to fall in front of him.

Need a kickstart to your 2nd half? Dial up a 79-yard @umichfootball punt return. pic.twitter.com/1qP7AonC6Q

— Michigan On BTN (@MichiganOnBTN) September 16, 2017

“We went down to Dallas, it was a big-time venue, and then it’s two in a row in the Big House,” Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight said. “I think you saw Donovan kind of settle in a little bit today and realize what he’s truly capable of.”

In a game where Michigan’s offense sputtered, Peoples-Jones turned out to be the biggest playmaker. He returned a second third-quarter punt for 25 yards, positioning the Wolverines in Air Force territory, and he caught two passes from Speight for 52 yards.

Afterward, Peoples-Jones earned rave reviews on Twitter from NFL players alike. Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay wrote: “I see ya lil bra.” Former Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards challenged Peoples-Jones to “wake all of Ann Arbor up.”

Ex-Wolverines defensive back Jourdan Lewis declared him an “All-American.”

Harbaugh wasn’t ready to go that far in his post-game meeting with reporters — but he did recognize Peoples-Jones as one of the 15 or so true freshman to contribute right away.

“Just a testament to their ability, their talent and to their effort,” Harbaugh said. “I think you’re going to see them grow, grow, grow. Plus, plus, plus. Great to see. 

“I feel like good things will happen for Donovan Peoples-Jones.”

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