You had to know it would happen sooner or later. Michigan redshirt freshman Steve Breaston had been on the verge of taking a punt return to the house all season. The lighting-quick receiver/return specialist even had a touchdown return called back because of a penalty during the Houston game.
Breaston caught Indiana’s second punt of the game in the first quarter Saturday, an Indiana player wrapped him up immediately, and it looked like Breaston was going nowhere.
Breaston had other plans, though. He simply shook off the tackler, weaved his way downfield and outraced everyone to the endzone.
The 69-yard touchdown run was Michigan’s longest punt return since Charles Woodson ran one back 78 yards against Ohio State in 1997. A Michigan player hadn’t scored on a punt return since 2001, and even then, Michigan’s two touchdown returns came after the punts were blocked.
Breaston’s return, which brought some excitement to an otherwise unremarkable game, got the Wolverines rolling after the offense had turned the ball over on its first two possessions.
And Breaston is multi-talented. Besides leading the team in return yards (316), the 6-foot-1 Pennsylvania native has become one of Michigan’s top receivers. On Saturday, he caught a 20-yard touchdown pass, and even ran the ball twice. This came after Breaston had two touchdown receptions against Oregon, including a spectacular 36-yard catch in the fourth quarter.
“He is the kind of guy who really wants to be the best,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “He has an attitude that, in my opinion, will allow him to reach his potential. He is very coachable – he listens to everything you say.”
The soft-spoken Breaston said that’s what has helped him excel.
“Everything in life is a learning experience,” Breaston said. “You have to listen to your teachers, listen to your parents. They’ve been through that stuff before, and all they’re there for is to help you. Just like coaching – (the coaches) are my parents on the field. They’ve seen a lot of stuff, and they know a whole lot more than me. I just take coaching because it’s going to make me better as a player.”
Safety Marlin Jackson, also from Pennsylvania, called Breaston a “special player.”
“I always told everybody, since he got here, that he was going to be that good,” Jackson said. “Nobody wanted to listen to me.”
Now, people are seeing for themselves.
Back from the dead: Michigan shut down Indiana’s offense in the first half, holding the Hoosiers to 57 yards and an average of 1.5 yards per play. But Indiana found a way to run the ball in the second half. The Hoosiers began the third quarter with a 72-yard drive that lasted 8:40 and gained 152 yards in the half.
That may not bode well for the Wolverines, who face Fred Russell and the Iowa Hawkeyes this week. Russell, the second-leading rusher in the Big Ten behind Michigan’s Chris Perry, has 616 yards and three touchdowns on the season.
Last season, Russell carried 20 times against Michigan and finished with 28 yards.
Injury update: Defensive end Larry Stevens and safety Ernest Shazor did not play Saturday, but Carr said he expects both to return next week against Iowa. Stevens injured his left foot against Oregon, and Shazor didn’t play because of a wrist injury. Jacob Stewart returned from a leg injury and started in Shazor’s place. Defensive end Jeremy Van Alstyne left the stadium wearing a knee brace and using crutches after the game. Carr said he was “optimistic” about Van Alstyne’s injury.