Rose Bowl Matchup: Braylon Edwards v. Michael Huff

<I>The first in a series spotlighting key Texas-Michigan matchups in the 2005 Rose Bowl.</I>

Michigan is traditionally associated with the physical 'three yards and a cloud of dust' attack that gradually pounds defenses into submission. But this year the Wolverines boast college football's best receiver in Biletnikoff Award winner Braylon Edwards. Look for SS Michael Huff drawing the assignment to contain Edwards should Texas try to head Michigan off at the pass when the storied programs meet for the first time in the Rose Bowl, January 1.

The Blue has gradually embraced a multiple pro-style assault, especially with Edwards as the primary target. Old-schoolers presumably still do a double-take when Michigan (occasionally) lines up in a four-wide, no-back set. But with Edwards leading what some consider the finest collection of receivers in college football, coach Lloyd Carr is simply playing to his strengths. And the strength of the 2004 Wolverine offense is clearly Edwards.

The Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-Big Ten selection, Edwards set school records for receptions (87) and receiving yards (1,221) in a season. He added 12 TD grabs during the year, and with 36 career TDs, the senior needs one receiving score to equal WR Anthony Carter's school and Big Ten record (1979-82). Edwards led the Big Ten in receptions and receiving yards and ranks among the top five nationally in every major receiving category this season. He also finished 10th in the Heisman balloting this past weekend.

During his award-winning senior campaign, Edwards accounted for 1,221 yards on 87 catches (14 ypc), averaging 111 ypg. He's the primary reason Michigan accumulated more of its yards through the air (233.5 ypg) than it did on the ground (156.2 ypg). Junior WR Jason Avant tallied 447 yards on 38 grabs while sophomore WR Steve Breaston contributed 234 yards on 31 catches.

Edwards became Michigan's first Biletnikoff winner at The Home Depot College Football Awards last Thursday in Orlando, nudging Purdue's Taylor Stubblefield and Ball State's Dante Ridgeway for the honor. Along with Texas RB Cedric Benson and WLB Derrick Johnson, Edwards was named a Walter Camp First-Team All-American.

The Burnt Orange crystal ball says Co-Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson's scheme will take a page from his Oklahoma game plan by assigning Huff, his best secondary defender, to Edwards. It's precisely the way Robinson schemed to slow down Sooner WR Mark Clayton last October. It at least gave the UT offense a fighting chance in which OU did not score its first (and only) TD until nearly midway through the fourth quarter. With Huff shadowing Clayton, the wideout produced just 19 yards on three catches and was a statistical nonfactor in the 12-0 loss. (In 2003, Clayton became an All-American coverboy largely because he torched Texas's DBs for 190 yards on eight receptions.) Obviously, RB Adrian Peterson (225 yards on 32 carries) did most of the damage in Dallas. But Michigan's freshman RB Michael Hart, while solid, is no AP.

If you look at Michigan's two losses in 2004, Edwards got his yards against Ohio State (172 yards on 11 catches) and Notre Dame (129 yards on 12 catches) but nearly all of his damage was done between the 20s. The Wolverines' running game ground to a halt in those two setbacks, which put a bigger bull's eye on Edwards' jersey. Robinson's bend-but-don't-break scheme will likely assign Huff to specifically stay between Edwards and the goal line from the opening whistle to the final snap.

Texas and Michigan kickoff at 3:30 p.m. (CST) on New Year's Day in an ABC TV and ESPN national radio broadcast.

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