ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan wide receiver Steve Breaston is the Big Ten's all-time leading punt returner, but he hadn't made much of an impact on special teams through the first six games of his senior season.
Breaston corrected that Saturday.
His 64-yard kickoff return in the third quarter set up the tiebreaking touchdown in the second-ranked Wolverines' 20-6 victory over Iowa at Michigan Stadium.
"We'd heard all week that Iowa had really good special teams," Breaston said, "but we knew if we did our job, we could bust a couple of returns."
Breaston owns the Big Ten record for career punt return yardage, and he also leads all active conference players in career kickoff return yards. He was averaging only 19.1 yards per kickoff return and 10.4 yards per punt return before the Iowa game.
He also wasn't even on the field for Michigan's first kickoff return of the day. Michigan coach Lloyd Carr wanted to limit Breaston's special-teams duties because the senior had some minor aches and pains.
Those plans changed after Brandon Miner mishandled the second-half kickoff, forcing Michigan to start the third quarter at its own 5-yard line. Once Iowa tied the game 3-3 later in the third quarter, Carr sent Breaston back on the field to take the next kickoff.
"It was motivation for me because that's my job," Breaston said of staying on the sidelines for the second-half kickoff. "I'm supposed to go out there. … If I was going to get another opportunity, I wanted to make a play."
That's exactly what he did.
Breaston took the ball at his own 1-yard line, raced past two defenders on the left side of the field, then cut toward the right sideline before finally getting forced out of bounds. His 64-yard return led to Mike Hart's 9-yard touchdown run that put Michigan ahead for good.
The return wasn't the only play Breaston made Saturday. He also collected seven catches - tying a career high- for 49 yards.
"He had a great day today as a receiver and as a return guy," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "He is a team guy. What he has done for this football team – the leadership he has provided – you can't put a value on him. He was simply outstanding."
SCHEMBECHLER SIDELINED: Former Wolverines coach Bo Schembechler watched Saturday's game from a cardiac unit of the University of Michigan Hospital after becoming ill one day earlier while taping his weekly television show.
Schembechler, 77, relayed through the university's sports information department that he was coming along fine.
Michigan's former coach got a visit from its current coach Friday. Even from his hospital bed, Schembechler couldn't stop talking football.
"He said, 'They're not going to let me watch the game tomorrow,' because his heart was racing," Carr said. "I said, 'Bo, you know there are a few things more important than this football game. Staying alive is one of them.' But he wasn't buying into that."
CONTROLLING THE BALL: Michigan won the time-of-possession battle by controlling the ball for 34 minutes, 23 seconds. That shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone who had watched either team this year.
Michigan entered the week leading the nation in time of possession by holding the ball an average of 34:08 per week. Iowa ranked 112th out of 119 Division I-A teams in that category.
IOWA INJURIES: Iowa's season-long history of injuries continued Saturday.
Star defensive end Kenny Iwebema has been battling a shoulder injury much of the year and didn't make the trip to Michigan. Cornerback Adam Shada left the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury and probably won't play next week.
Quarterback Drew Tate hurt his left thumb while running away from pressure. Although the injury didn't knock him out of the game, Tate played the rest of the day with a bandage on the thumb.
Iowa benefited from the returns of defensive tackle Mitch King and tailback Albert Young, who had missed the Hawkeyes' loss to Indiana last week. Young rushed for 17 yards on nine carries.
CLEAR SAILING?: The victory over Iowa allowed Michigan to clear the greatest remaining hurdle on its way to a potential No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown Nov. 18 at Ohio State.
Michigan stays at home the next two weeks to face Northwestern (2-6) and Ball State (2-6) before traveling to Indiana (4-4). But the Wolverines are saying all the right things while insisting they won't overlook anyone.
"Northwestern's a good team," Breaston said several hours after the Wildcats blew a 35-point lead in a 41-38 loss to Michigan State.
DOMINANT AGAIN: Michigan's defense didn't cause quite as much devastation as last week, when the Wolverines knocked two quarterbacks out of the game and caused Penn State to finish a game with negative rushing yardage for the first time in Joe Paterno's 41-year coaching tenure.
But the Wolverines delivered similarly dominating results.
Michigan limited Iowa to 41 yards on 24 carries and held a team without a touchdown for the first time all season. The Wolverines also recorded five sacks – three by Shawn Crable - and harassed Tate pretty much all day.
"They were without a doubt the best defense we've played all year," Tate said. "How physical they are, their size, their speed – we haven't seen anything like that."
ETC.: This marked the last time Iowa and Michigan are scheduled to face each other until Oct. 10, 2009. The Hawkeyes also won't meet Ohio State in the 2007 or 2008 seasons. … This marks the first time Michigan has gone 8-0 since its 1997 national championship season. … Michigan kicker Garrett Rivas' 20-yard field goal in the first half was the 58th of his career, moving him into sole possession of second place on the school's all-time list. … Michigan wide receiver and Iowa native Adrian Arrington had a career high eight receptions for 79 yards. Arrington said he selected the Wolverines over the Hawkeyes because of Michigan's penchant for sending quarterbacks and receivers to the NFL. … Iowa wide receiver and Detroit native Domonique Douglas gave the Hawkeyes a team-high six catches for 63 yards. … Iowa fullback Tom Busch, who has started every game this season, made his first carry of the year when he gained three yards in the second quarter. … With his father looking on, Iowa defensive end Bryan Mattison recorded two sacks. Florida's bye week allowed Gators co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to attend the game.