Florida State University

Wolverines arrive with one of the top defenses

University of Michigan's Michael Hirsch arrives with his teammates to the Miami International Airport on Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016. University of Michigan will face-off against Florida State University this Friday at the Orange Bowl.
University of Michigan's Michael Hirsch arrives with his teammates to the Miami International Airport on Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016. University of Michigan will face-off against Florida State University this Friday at the Orange Bowl. For The Miami Herald

The other UM — the Michigan Wolverines — has arrived in Miami, on Christmas Day no less, as a special gift for college football fans who annually enjoy the Capital One Orange Bowl.

No. 6 Michigan (10-2, No. 6 College Football Playoff) will take on No. 10 Florida State (9-3, No. 11 CFP) in an appealing matchup.

It’s worth watching if for nothing else to see those moments when two players who are likely just a few months away from signing multimillion-dollar NFL contracts are on the field at the same time — Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers and Florida State running back Dalvin Cook.

Peppers, a 6-1, 205-pound junior, is projected as an NFL safety and a top-five pick in 2017. He’s also a dynamic kick returner.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has four other players who are projected to get drafted in the first couple of rounds: tight end Jake Butt, defensive ends Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley and cornerback Jourdan Lewis.

The Wolverines are a senior-dominated, defensive-minded team that plays great special teams and doesn’t do much fancy on offense. They went 8-0 at home but just 2-2 on the road.

Their two losses were exceptionally close: 14-13 at Iowa and 30-27 at Ohio State in double overtime. Had the Wolverines suffered one fewer loss, they almost certainly wouldn’t be here. They’d be playing for a berth in the national title game.

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Here’s what to expect from the Wolverines:

▪ Offense: The Wolverines rank 12th nationally with a 41.0 scoring average. They do it with balance — averaging 216 yards rushing and 223 passing. Michigan’s 59 touchdowns are a school record for the modern era.

Sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight, a first-year starter, is completing 62.5 percent of his passes for 17 touchdowns and six interceptions.

The Wolverines rank sixth nationally in fewest turnovers (six interceptions, five fumbles). They don’t have a 1,000-yard runner but instead rely on four backs, each with more than 400 yards.

Their five top offensive linemen have combined for 157 starts. Butt, a second-team AP All American, has 43 catches for 518 yards and four touchdowns.

The team’s top receiver is Amara Darboh, who has 52 catches for 826 yards and seven touchdowns. Jehu Chesson, who was all-conference in 2015, has 31 catches.

▪ Defense: The Wolverines defense dominates, and it does so quickly. The defense rank third in the nation with an average of  5 1/2 three-and-outs per game. Michigan also leads the nation in third-down defense (21 percent), tackles for losses and pass defense.

The Wolverines rank second in the nation in points allowed, total defense, sacks, red-zone defense and first downs allowed.

Peppers and Lewis were named AP first-team All-Americans. Peppers leads Michigan with 16 tackles for losses and has four sacks and one interception. Lewis has two interceptions and is second on the team with 10 pass breakups.

Charlton leads the team with  8 1/2 sacks, and Wormley is second with six. Linebacker Ben Gedeon, playing in Peppers’ shadow, leads the team in tackles (102) and is second in stops for losses ( 15 1/2).

Channing Stribling, playing in Lewis’ shadow, leads the team in interceptions (four) and pass-breakups (12). He also leads the team in passes batted down at the line of scrimmage (16).

▪ Special teams: The Wolverines lead the nation with four blocked punts. They are third with six blocked kicks, including two field goals. They are eighth in punt-return average (15.6).

Kenny Allen handles kickoffs, punts, extra points (52 for 52) and field goals (16 for 20). He missed four consecutive field goals between 31 and 44 yards early in the season but has since made 12 in a row, including a 51-yarder.

Peppers is averaging 26.0 yards on kickoffs and 14.8 on punt returns, including one touchdown.

▪ Future watch: Freshman defensive end Rashan Gary, who attended the same New Jersey high school as Peppers, was ranked the No. 1 player in the nation out of high school, a first for a Michigan recruit in the modern era. He has played in all 12 games and has five tackles for losses.

Locals watch: The Wolverines have 11 Floridians on their roster, including several backups: senior quarterback John O’Korn (St. Thomas Aquinas); freshmen linebackers Josh Uche (Columbus), Devin Gil (Flanagan) and Devin Bush (Flanagan); freshman safety Josh Metellus; and sophomore linebacker Jameson Offerdahl (Cardinal Gibbons).

In addition, passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch is a former assistant with the Miami Hurricanes … you know, that other UM.

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