Braylon Edwards, superhero.
Every week, the Big Ten Blog will break down one classic game from the Big Ten's long, storied history. Today, we're going back to 2004, when one wide receiver went thermonuclear and sparked a furious rally.
Braylon Edwards is, to say the least, a polarizing figure in football today. He's got maddening amounts of talent, and he was able to put it to good use in both college and the pros, but his success has never been sustained—and it's never really been clear why.
Case in point: The 2004 Michigan State-Michigan game, one in which the Spartans were looking to shock the 11th-ranked Wolverines at home.
Michigan had a bevy of talent on its offense that year, all led by tailback Mike Hart, but Braylon Edwards was the team's Ferrari in the garage—instant offense whenever they really needed it. Hart was going to get his yards no matter what; if Edwards did too, other teams were in serious trouble that year.
So let's skip ahead to one turning point in the game—2nd and 5, Michigan ball at the Spartans' 27-yard line, down 17-10, just over seven minutes left in the third quarter.
Up to this point, Michigan State had held Edwards mostly in check. He had only three catches for 31 yards up to that point, and he had played no role in the 10-play, 60-yard drive the Wolverines were on thus far.
So perhaps, Edwards' sense of focus wasn't precisely where it needed to be or perhaps he was trying to do too much to make up for lost time or perhaps, it was just dumb luck that after making a catch for the first down on the ensuing play, Edwards was hit from behind, jarring the football loose, leading to a Michigan State recovery.
That fumble recovery didn't directly lead to any points for the Spartans, but it did spark a 10-0 spree to help blow the game open. It also sparked a nuclear explosion from Edwards.
The two teams traded punts after the Spartan fumble recovery, but Michigan State was in such control of the field position battle that all it took was two snaps after Michigan's punt for the Spartans to get into the red zone.
Michigan eventually stood firm on the 2-yard line and forced a Michigan State field goal (a decision that would loom large later), but Lloyd Carr's decision to ride Mike Hart on the ensuing possession resulted in a 3-and-out.
But if a 3-and-out is bad news for a 20-10 deficit, what happened next was a horror show. On 3rd-and-12, DeAndra Cobb took a counter draw out of the shotgun and scampered 64 yards for the score. All of a sudden, it's 27-10 Spartans and only 8:43 remained on the clock.
As Michigan radio announcer Frank Beckmann said as they headed into the commercial break, "it's going to take a miracle for Michigan to come back now."
(Quick aside: DeAndra Cobb is one of my favorites in the Big Ten due to the type of player he is—the smaller, fast back who doesn't have a prayer in the NFL but is an absolute joy to watch against college-level defenders. See also: Damien Anderson, Fred Russell, Stephfon Green. I digress.)
At that point, Michigan's game plan had to change dramatically, and that's exactly what it did. More precisely, Michigan's plan switched to, "screw it, get it to Braylon." And did that ever work.
After a botched kick return pinned the Wolverines at their own 7, Henne found Edwards for a first down on the drive's second play, then later caught Edwards on a deep go route for 46 yards to get to the Spartan 12. The Wolverines only got a field goal out of the drive, but the crowd was awakened, and more importantly, Michigan was within two scores.
What happened next was a decision that'll never be scrutinized as closely as it ought to be. Michigan lined up for an onside kick, and Garrett Rivas' kick was bobbled away by Michigan State and recovered by Michigan.
The kick worked, and the comeback happened (spoiler alert), but Michigan ended up tying the game with about three minutes left. So in retrospect, it wasn't really necessary, and onside kicks are extremely risky. But 2004 Michigan State never did anything correctly, so perhaps, counting on that is its own recipe for success.
After an 11-yard reception and 15-yard face-mask call (remember: counting on failure from 2004 Sparty is definitely a thing worth doing), Michigan was already 37 yards away from the end zone. It was time to go back to Braylon, and No. 1 made it happen, plucking the ball out of the air and coming down for the score. Just like that, with over six minutes left, it was a 27-20 game.
Michigan State sputtered on its ensuing drive (2004 Spartans = failure), and Michigan got the ball back inside Spartan territory after a nice return by Steve Breaston.
Mike Hart pounced with a 26-yard delay handoff on the first play from scrimmage, and then, it was time to go back to Braylon. Henne lofted it toward the corner (again), Michigan State's defender played it as well as he could have (again), Edwards made a perfect play on the ball to take it away (again) and touchdown Michigan (again). Tie game.
Overtime was initially tense when Michigan was only able to manage a field goal on its first possession, eschewing a chance to go for it on 4th-and-1 in the process. That decision nearly backfired when Michigan State drove down to the Michigan 4 on the next possession, but Michigan held firm again and the Spartans also didn't want to risk the game.
After that, Michigan State and Michigan traded touchdowns—the Wolverines' score coming on a ridiculous catch* by Jason Avant on a corner fade—and it was off to the third overtime where Braylon Edwards had one more big play in him. Henne found Edwards coming across on a post, and the lanky receiver was easily able to outrun everyone to the goal line from there.
It was Edwards' third score of the day and the last he'd need; Michigan State didn't come close to answering in their possession (2004 Spartans: exemplars of failure), and 45-37 was the final score in a jubilant Big House.
Edwards' final stat line: 11 catches, 189 yards, three TDs, one game taken over.
*So ridiculous he might not have been inbounds. It's really hard to tell if his foot actually came down before his back hit out of bounds. But they called it a score, so hey.