Big Ten

Jabrill Peppers ends Michigan career, declares for NFL Draft

jabrill-peppers-1129.jpg
USA TODAY

Jabrill Peppers ends Michigan career, declares for NFL Draft

It didn't come as much of a surprise, but Jabrill Peppers made his intentions known Tuesday.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Peppers announced that he will forgo his senior season at Michigan and enter the NFL Draft.

"It's one of the hardest things I've ever had to do," Peppers told SI's Pete Thamel. "I'm choosing between cementing my legacy as a college player and starting my pro legacy. It's something you dream of when you were a kid. I was torn between the two."

Peppers was recognized as one of the best players in college football this past season, a fifth-place finisher in voting for the Heisman Trophy who made huge impacts in every facet of the game. His collegiate career ended with a whimper, though, as an injury kept him out of Michigan's loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Still, Peppers is expected to be a first-round pick in this year's draft.

A do-it-all star at the college level, Peppers figures to be a defensive player in the NFL, and he shone on that side of the ball with the Wolverines, this year earning the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Linebacker of the Year awards. He led the Michigan defense with 16 tackles for loss and ranked third on the team with 72 tackles. He also had four sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.

Peppers was also the Big Ten Return Specialist of the Year, racking up 570 punt- and kick-return yards and scoring a touchdown via a punt return. He also had 27 rushing attempts on offense, rushing for 167 yards with three touchdowns.

All in all, Peppers played 933 snaps at a jaw-dropping 15 different positions.

Illini play freshman quarterback Cam Thomas for first time, but still fall at Minnesota

1021-cam-thomas.jpg
USA TODAY

Illini play freshman quarterback Cam Thomas for first time, but still fall at Minnesota

While Saturday's trip to the Twin Cities featured some more of the same for the Fighting Illini, it marked important step in Lovie Smith's rebuilding project.

Freshman quarterback Cam Thomas, a Marian Catholic product, saw action for the first time in his collegiate career, Smith busting out a new option at the game's most important position. Thomas threw a nasty pick six, but he did lead Illinois in rushing in a 24-17 loss at Minnesota.

Thomas only made four throws, completing two of them and landing a third in the hands of a Minnesota defender, but his play injected a bit of excitement into what's looking like another dreadful season of Illinois football, with Smith's team falling to 2-5 through the first seven games of his second season at the helm of the program. Thomas mostly starred with his feet Saturday, rushing for a team-high 79 yards in the defeat.

His first appearance came following the first of the Illinois' defense's three takeaways. Thomas ran for a nine-yard gain on his first carry, and the Illini tied the game with a touchdown on the next play. Thomas was interchanged with starting quarterback Jeff George Jr. from there on out.

While the Illini defense kept the Gophers at bay for much of the day thanks to those three takeaways, P.J. Fleck's team had no trouble racking up rushing yardage, finishing with a whopping 292 rushing yards. Minnesota engineered a 12-play, 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter exclusively running the ball to break a 10-all tie and go up 17-10.

Thomas threw a pick six on the very next play from scrimmage, sending the Gophers up 24-10 to effectively seal the deal. George led an Illinois touchdown drive on the next possession, but the Illini couldn't make up the suddenly big gap in the limited amount of time.

Illinois finished with only 282 yards of offense. George was 18-for-23 for 128 yards and a touchdown. Ra'Von Bonner carried the ball 18 times for 57 yards and a touchdown.

The defeat dropped the Illini to 2-5 on the season and 0-4 in conference play. One of just two teams without a Big Ten win (Indiana is the other), Illinois faces off against a top-10 Wisconsin team next weekend.

Big play from Justin Jackson sets up Northwestern's overtime win over Iowa

1021-justin-jackson.jpg
USA TODAY

Big play from Justin Jackson sets up Northwestern's overtime win over Iowa

Justin Jackson is one of the top 10 rushers in Big Ten history for a reason: He's very, very good at this football thing.

But it was a big play Jackson made not as a ball-carrier but as a pass-catcher Saturday that set up Northwestern's second straight win, a 17-10 takedown of Iowa in Evanston.

Jackson took a pass from quarterback Clayton Thorson and went all the way down to the 1-yard line, picking up 23 yards and shedding multiple tacklers on the game's biggest play.

Two plays later, Thorson plunged in for the go-ahead score. Iowa failed on a fourth-down conversion attempt on its ensuing overtime possession, ending it with a dropped pass that finished the game.

The game's result rapidly altered the social-media conversation, which moments prior had been mighty critical of Pat Fitzgerald, who made a controversial decision at the end of regulation.

Iowa tied the game at 10 on a field goal inside of two minutes to play, forced to kick after a false start was committed on fourth and 1. Fitzgerald had a minute and a half and two timeouts to try to get his own team into field-goal range for a shot at a win but instead ran the clock out and headed to overtime.

Fitzgerald explained after the game that the blustery wind at Ryan Field played a big role in that decision, plus his team had a long way to go against an Iowa defense that played well throughout the game.

Northwestern's defense was very strong, too, holding Iowa to 312 total yards, only 89 of which came on the ground. Hawkeyes quarterback Nathan Stanley was also picked off in the second half for the game's only turnover.

Jackson finished with 93 rushing yards and 38 receiving yards. Thorson was 21-for-36 passing the ball for 192 yards. Backup running back Jeremy Larkin scored the Wildcats' lone regulation touchdown.

The win improved Northwestern to 4-3 on the season and 2-2 in Big Ten play. After a 2-3 start, the Cats have won back-to-back games and take on a ranked Michigan State team next weekend.