Sometimes he’ll go through a game and people won’t notice what he’s done. He might get the quietest 100-yard games possible, but senior receiver Jason Avant is one of the best pass catchers in the Big Ten – he just won’t tell you that.
When looking at the receivers in the NFL, it’s about flash and showboating, but Avant won’t have any of that. In fact, he wouldn’t even admit that he’s one of the top players in the Big Ten or that he has hands like Velcro.
“I’m all right,” Avant said. “Blocking is probably the best thing I do. My hands are OK.”
Much of the talk before the season was about how the offense was going to replace the departed Braylon Edwards. And even though he hasn’t replaced all of Edwards’s big plays, Avant’s not that far behind. Eight games into the season, Avant has 60 catches for 767 yards and six touchdowns. In that same span last year, Edwards had 58 grabs for 808 yards and eight touchdowns.
“I think the first characteristic you look for in athletics from a leadership standpoint is a guy that plays with great intensity and has a great will to win because ultimately in a team game your best players have to perform,” coach Lloyd Carr said.
No game showed the importance of Avant to the Wolverines better than Saturday’s against Iowa. The Chicago native had seven catches for 105 yards and one touchdown, but, more importantly, the passes he reeled in came at crucial moments.
The Hawkeyes drove down the field with ease throughout much of the first half, so it was up to the Michigan offense to at least keep the game close.
With Iowa leading 7-0, the Wolverines had a second-and-goal from the five-yard line. Quarterback Chad Henne went back to pass and looked for his favorite target – Avant. The senior wideout lined up outside on the left but moved in motion behind the slot receiver just before the snap. As the play progressed, Avant sprinted toward the center of the field and the goal line, but he wasn’t staying there for long. He turned toward the goalpost, then looked for the ball. Henne lofted the pass above the Iowa linebackers and secondary where only Avant could get it. Avant used his 36-inch vertical leap to his advantage, snagging the ball and tying the game.
“He’s a great feature to this offense, and that’s why he’s getting all the passes that he is, because he knows how to beat man coverage or zone coverage,” Henne said.
His touchdown was impressive, but his catch in overtime was even more remarkable. After Iowa seized the lead, 20-17, in overtime, Michigan took over on offense. Junior Jerome Jackson carried for two yards, setting up a second-and-eight at the 23-yard line. Henne dropped, faking a handoff to Jackson and rolling to his right. As Henne moved further to the right, Avant came streaking across the field. Henne uncorked a laser to the sprinting Avant. The pass was behind him, but the sure-handed receiver twisted his body backwards and made the grab despite tweaking his ankle in the process.
“It all comes down to performing,” Carr said. “And it’s hard to be an outstanding leader if you are not performing your part in the play. Jason has been an exceptional leader. I think that’s one of the reasons, one of the primary reasons, he was selected because he brings his work ethic every single day,”
Although Avant was limping after the game, Carr said he’s expected to play against Northwestern. For Henne and the rest of the offense, who rely so heavily on Avant, that news probably wasn’t taken quietly.
Notes: Equipment manager Jon Falk was injured in the first quarter of the Iowa game. An Iowa player rolled over Falk’s leg making a tackle on receiver Carl Tabb. He had surgery yesterday, but he will be missing his first game in over 30 years at Michigan.
“This is not just a normal broken leg,” Carr said. “It’s not good. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jon. I went into the training room after the game on Saturday, I said (to him), ‘You must be in unbelievable pain.’ He says, ‘No, I was just thinking next Saturday is going to be the first Michigan football game I have missed in I would say 30 some years.’ This football is awful important to Jon.”