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Published: Sunday, 11/13/2005

Did UM get a leg up on OSU?

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Michigan's Steve Breaston tries to get past Indiana's Andrew Means (13). Breaston had 201 all-purpose yards against the Hoosiers to help keep the Wolverines' hopes for a share of the conference title alive. Michigan's Steve Breaston tries to get past Indiana's Andrew Means (13). Breaston had 201 all-purpose yards against the Hoosiers to help keep the Wolverines' hopes for a share of the conference title alive.
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ANN ARBOR - Ohio State probably won't have to worry too much about Steve Breaston's arm next Saturday.

But the legs, well, the legs are an altogether different story.

Michigan's do-it-all guy did it all in just one half during yesterday's 41-14 romp past Indiana at Michigan Stadium.

Breaston touched the ball nine times and it translated into 201 all-purpose yards.

The senior wide receiver caught three passes for 46 yards and a touchdown, rushed once on a double reverse for 30 yards, returned a kickoff 47 yards and returned three punts 78 yards.

Indiana was grasping at straws every time it tried to corral Breaston, whose returns allowed UM to begin scoring drives in Hoosiers territory at the 34, 26 and 40-yard lines.

On one occasion, Indiana's Tracy Porter tried the frowned-upon strategy of ramming into Breaston before the punt arrived. That cost the visitors 15 yards and resulted in the Wolverines starting yet another drive on Indiana's side of midfield.

It all added up to six first-half touchdown drives averaging 47 yards in length as UM blew to a 41-7 lead at intermission.

"Field position is the name of the game," said UM quarterback Chad Henne, who threw for 174 yards and three touchdowns, all in the first half. "When you start inside the 50, it should be automatic that you get points. Steve put us in that position and we were able to do that."

The last of UM's scores capped Breaston's big first half as he pulled in an 11-yard fade pass from Henne.

"I kind of feel that in the back of my mind every time I go back to receive, that I expect to make big plays," Breaston said. "So there was nothing different in my approach today. Guys just blocked and I made some plays."

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr thinks there is more to it than that.

"Desire is a part of it, sure," Carr said. "But Steve has an instinct, a fearlessness. I think human nature is to try and pick your way. But someone fearless takes the ball knowing 10 or 11 guys are running right at you and hits the crease and accelerates. It's the most difficult skill in football, I think, to catch a punt when the wind's blowing and people are coming down at you and you know there's a good chance you're going to get hit."

The roughing penalty against Indiana's Porter was one occasion when Breaston wasn't expecting to be hit. Maybe that's why he took a chance and fielded a punt in traffic on his next opportunity and turned it into a 53-yard return to the Indiana 26-yard line.

"He should have fair-caught that one," Carr said with a wry smile, "but that's Steve."

Thanks to Breaston, most of the Wolverines' offensive starters got to sit out the second half, safe to turn their attention to next week's annual border battle vs. Ohio State.

Some of UM's defenders may have had that game on their minds even earlier. The Wolverines saw Indiana drive 77 yards on seven plays after the opening kickoff to take a 7-0 lead on a 42-yard TD pass from Blake Powers to Jahkeen Gilmore.

"We were really upset after that first series," said UM nose tackle Gabe Watson. "We talked all week about stopping big plays and we let them hit one right away for a touchdown. I liked the way we responded though."

The Hoosiers picked up 70 yards on that opening drive and got just 78 more the rest of the first half. Michigan ended the half with 316 yards of offense and finished with a 425-210 edge after back-up quarterback Matt Gutierrez and numerous subs played out the string.

Kevin Grady carried 14 times for 94 yards and scored twice while leading UM to 216 yards on the ground. He added four catches, one fewer than team leader Jason Avant, who had five receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown.

"Michigan's average field position [to start drives] in the first half was the Indiana 41, I'm told, and that's not fair to our defense," said Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner. "We can't kick [off] a ball inbounds and we can't punt a ball out of bounds. We're trying to intentionally kick it places and we can't. We can't get exposed in the kicking game like that."

Breaston can do that to an opponent. But he also exposed himself as not much of a quarterback.

UM seemed very diversified on offense, running a variety of reverses and pitches to receivers. One play was a lateral to Breaston who then passed back to Henne. But he skipped the ball about five yards short of the "real" quarterback.

"I just didn't step into it," Breaston said. "No, I'm sure Ohio State isn't too worried about [my arm] right now."

But the legs, the instincts, the fearlessness - that certainly will have the Buckeyes' attention.

Contact Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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