BY STEPHANIE WRIGHT
Published November 13, 2006
BLOOMINGTON - If Steve Breaston didn't silence his critics on Saturday, at least he presented a compelling counterargument to ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit's claim that he's a "worthless" wide receiver.
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The oft-maligned Breaston racked up 231 all-purpose yards on six touches, including a season-high 103 receiving yards and a career-long 83-yard punt return for a touchdown. He also found the end zone on a 62-yard reception in the second quarter, his first touchdown of the season.
Breaston's big day came just two weeks after Herbstreit disparaged the fifth-year senior's value as an offensive weapon. During the analyst's weekly radio show in Columbus, Herbstreit said Breaston hasn't done anything on offense since his freshman year.
After Saturday's game, the North Braddock, Pa., native had little to say in response to Herbstreit's harsh words.
"It is what it is," Breaston said. "I don't use that as my motivation. . It's said, (but) I'm not really bothered by that."
The same can't be said for his teammates. Breaston first heard about Herbstreit's criticism from tailback Mike Hart, who Breaston said was very upset about it.
Breaston didn't see a point to getting angry.
"I've heard far worse in my life," Breaston said. "It's just that this was out there. I'm not really mad about it. I'm not mad at him because I know what type of player I am and I know how much I contribute to this team every week."
So does Indiana. Saturday marked the second straight year in which Breaston turned in a monster performance against the Hoosiers.
Last season, he amassed 201 all-purpose yards, highlighted by an 11-yard touchdown reception, a 47-yard kickoff return and 78 yards off three punt returns.
Saturday, Breaston notched his first 100-yard receiving game of the season, mostly thanks to his 62-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. On that play, quarterback Chad Henne looked to a well-covered Mario Manningham first before finding Breaston one step ahead of the Indiana defender down the right sideline for an easy score.
Then, in the third quarter, the Big Ten's career punt return leader fielded a punt at the 17-yard line and took it up the right sideline and into the end zone for his first touchdown return this year.
With the score, Breaston broke a four-way tie to claim Michigan's all-time record for touchdown returns.
"I told him before the game that I thought this would be his best game of the year," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "Fourteen points - that's a pretty good day's work when you only touch the ball (a handful of) times."
Saturday's breakout game aside, Breaston's final season in Ann Arbor has been widely considered a disappointment. In 11 games, the preseason Biletnikoff Award candidate (given annually to the nation's top receiver) has nabbed 48 passes for 537 yards - better numbers than he put up last year, but not what was expected from the 2003 Freshman All-American.
Carr disagrees. In preparation for Indiana, he showed the Wolverines a clip of a first-down play Breaston made against Ball State last weekend.
On third-and-10, Breaston grabbed the ball about three yards short of the first-down marker. He jumped over the defender and landed on his back, just far enough upfield to move the chains.
Carr cites the play as one example of how Breaston's impact as a receiver has been overlooked this season.
"I think he's done a lot of great things that maybe were unappreciated," Carr said. "He's caught a lot of balls in front of the defense all year long and made good, tough, hard yardage. So I like Breaston. I like him a lot."
There's certainly value in that.