Monday, November 14, 2005

Weekend Trifecta

As a Michigan Wolverines and Toronto Maple Leafs fan, I could not have asked for a better weekend. I had the opportunity to watch the game firsthand, and could not have asked for a better experience. The weather was perfect, and, although the result of this game was never in doubt, the Wolverines did not disappoint.

The career of Steve Breaston has been somewhat of an enigma. In his first two seasons, Breaston exploded on the scene with an arsenal of highlight real punt and kickoff returns, registering a total of 7 touchdowns, including two on the punt return, in his freshman year.

Big things were expected from Steve Breaston in his second season last year. Unfortunately, Breaston had an injury-plagued sophomore season, and managed only four touchdowns. In the final game of the season, Breaston was finally 100% healthy and put together one of the most impressive performances in Rose Bowl history, shattering O.J Simpson's single game record for all purpose yards in the Rose Bowl, with 315 total all purpose yards, including 221 yards on 6 kickoff returns and a touchdown, averaging 26.5 yards for each time he touched the football.

At the start of the 2005 season, with the graduation of Braylon Edwards, Breaston was expected to be promoted to one of two primary receiver slots, alongside of Jason Avant. Early in the season, Carr attempted to establish Breaston as a deep threat, calling his number five or six times in the first few games. Breaston demonstrated the ability to break away from his defenders, but did not seem to connect that well with Henne, as the majority of those deep bombs were falling about 5-6 yards outside of Breaston's reach. Steve did manage to catch a couple of those deep throws, but they were both out of bounds.

Early this season, it appeared that Breaston was just pushing things a little too hard. He is an amazing talented athlete, and he is fearless. In a few of the early games, Steve attempted to make a big play on every single punt/kickoff return, even when there was little to no opportunity of a successful return. I can't remember which game it was, but in one matchup, Breaston was literally hammered four or five times while refusing to call for a fair catch. I have great respect for the competitiveness of Breaston, but I can't help but feel that this approach set him back a little bit.

For the majority of the season, Breaston appeared that he was just a step off of peak form from his freshman season. To me, it seemed like he was playing like he has been hampered by nagging injuries all season, and, until recently, not quite playing to his full potential.

In any case, we longer need to worry about Steve Breaston. In his most dominant performance since the Rose Bowl last season, Breaston managed 201 all purpose yards on just 8 touches in the first half of the Michigan-Indiana matchup. I couldn't have asked for a more exciting performance from my favorite player in my lone visit to the Big House. Everytime a returnable punt was up in the air, I was out of my seat in anticipation before the ball reached his hands, and he did not disappoint, with returns of 46 yards, 54 yards, 25 yards, no gain, and 31 yards. To top it off, Breaston closed out his performance on a receiving touchdown with 29 seconds left in the second quarter.

I'm not sure if Breaston was ever entirely comfortable in the roll of the deep threat wide receiver, although I'd like to see Carr give him at least one more opportunity. I'm curious about Breaston's intentions for next season. In his first year with the Wolverines three years ago, Breaston was listed as a Redshirt freshman, meaning that he has one more year of eligibility. With a healthy Hart and Henne returning for the junior seasons, and the majority of the key players returning, the Wolverines will once again field a competitive team next year. I really hope Breaston decides to return, as we have yet to see what a truly healthy Breaston can bring over the course of an entire season. Given a full healthy season, Breaston may end up smashing many of the NCAA return records, as he has already set several Big Ten career records.

After finishing off the Hoosiers, it was up to Iowa to win on the road in Wisconsin to keep the Wolverine's Big Ten Title hopes alive. I had a lot of faith in the Hawkeyes to get the job done, and they put together a strong second half performance to win 20-10.

This set up two huge final weekend games, with Ohio State visiting Michigan at 1 PM and Penn State visiting Michigan State at 4 PM on Saturday. I have been talking about the slim opportunity of Michigan still winning the Big Ten Championship over a month ago, and I am glad that the title hopes are still alive going into the final week of the season. I believe a surging Michigan will pull out a win against Ohio State, leaving our cross state rivals with the job of finishing the job. Michigan State has 5 wins, and needs the win against Penn State to become Bowl Eligible. A win against Penn State would salvage the season for the Spartans, so look for this team to play as a hungry opponent. The Spartans played very tough against the Wolverines earlier this season, they are at home, and they have a potent offense. Even though they are going to be big underdogs when they announce the line later this week, I think the Spartans have what it takes to play the role of the spoiler.

Finally, to finish off the Trifecta, the Maple Leafs pulled out a 5-4 OT victory over Montreal. It was a cheap way to win, with a too-many-men-on-the-ice call in overtime, but I'll take it :)