The numbers speak for themselves.
After the first half of Saturday’s game against Indiana, receiver Steve Breaston had accumulated 201 all-purpose yards on just eight touches – an average of over 25 yards per play. The entire Hoosiers team managed a paltry 167 in the same span.
The slippery, elusive and fleet-footed return specialist embarrassed Indiana nearly every time he touched the pigskin in the game’s opening 30 minutes. After the Hoosiers scored the game’s first touchdown, Breaston took the ensuing kickoff back 47 yards into Indiana territory by cutting, faking and outrunning would-be tacklers. If it weren’t for defensive back Eric McClurg’s angle on Breaston near the sideline, the runback might have gone all the way for a score.
It appeared Breaston gave away another excellent chance at a touchdown on the final play of the first quarter, when the redshirt junior pulled away from several Hoosiers, bounced to the right sideline, cut back toward the middle of the field and then steered himself directly into Indiana defenders on the right side. The left side of the field was devoid of any opponents, but Breaston’s 53-yard return still got the Wolverines down to the Hoosiers’ 26-yard line.
“I’m kind of upset if I don’t make a big play,” Breaston said. “It’s all about playing your role. If the ball comes to me, I have to do something with it.”
Even when Breaston dropped a punt in the second quarter, he scooped the ball up and squeezed a 25-yard return out of the play. The sequence moved Breaston into second place for all-time Big Ten career punt return yardage. The electrifying athlete passed Anthony Carter to become the Wolverine with the most returns and return yards in school history, as well.
“It wouldn’t be wise to (punt to Breaston),” linebacker David Harris said. “But if they press their luck, they get burned.”
Said tight end Tim Massaquoi: “(Breaston) is just a magnificent, dynamic player. You never know when he’s going to do it, but we’re always ready for him to (make big plays).”
Breaston hauled in three catches for 46 yards, including a perfectly executed 11-yard touchdown catch on a corner route at the end of the second quarter. He cut to the left side of the end zone and distanced himself from defensive backs Damien Jones and Chris Phillips before the ball floated over his left shoulder and into his hands. It was just Breaston’s second receiving touchdown of the season.
Breaston also contributed to Michigan’s running game. In the second quarter, the receiver took a reverse from running back Jerome Jackson and raced to the right sideline. Quarterback Chad Henne put a solid block on Troy Grosfield by taking out his legs. The hit freed Breaston for a 30-yard gain to set up Jackson’s six-yard scoring run three plays later.
“It was a good block,” Henne said. “I felt good about myself. Coach Carr was busting my butt all week about, ‘Are you ever going to block somebody?’ I was like, ‘I’ll get my chance.’ “
Breaston involved himself in the passing game, too, when he attempted a pass in the second quarter.
Breaston even managed to help his team without running for big yardage. When No. 15 took a hard hit from Hoosiers cornerback Tracy Porter before fielding the ball on an Indiana first-quarter punt, the subsequent kick-catch interference penalty put the Wolverines at the Hoosiers’ 47-yard line and set up Michigan’s go-ahead touchdown pass from Henne to receiver Jason Avant. Breaston lay face-down on the turf for a moment after being shaken up on the play, but the collision didn’t seem to have any aftereffects, with 154 of Breaston’s all-purpose yards coming after Porter’s blatant foul.
“It’s football,” Breaston said. “It happens. It’s a physical game, and I could have got hit like that during the play. So everybody has to get back up.”
Breaston wasn’t involved in the Wolverines’ second-half plans, spending most of the third and fourth quarters on the bench. But Michigan’s return ace had already put his stamp on the game.
“He’s got an instinct,” coach Lloyd Carr said. “I think it takes a fearlessness to take the ball when you know that there’s 10 or 11 guys running right at you. It takes a fearlessness to accelerate. I think the human part of it is to try to pick your way, and Steve has the instinct that is born into great punt returners. He will hit the crease, he will accelerate, and certainly he did that today.”