East Lansing — Michigan State has the ideal scout-team quarterback to try to impersonate Michigan’s Denard Robinson.
Keshawn Martin was asked, jokingly, after last Saturday’s game if he’d be up to it.
“Whatever they want me to do, I’ll do it,” Martin said, smiling.
Martin is the Spartans’ game-breaking return specialist/receiver. So he was a little too busy this week to untie his shoelaces and play the role of Robinson.
But Martin is Michigan State’s answer to the Wolverines’ big-play phenomenon. Martin doesn’t touch the ball nearly as much, but when he does, watch out.
Martin, a junior, completely turned the momentum in MSU’s 34-24 victory over Wisconsin a week ago. The Spartans had fallen behind 10-3 early in the second quarter when he appeared to be stopped on a kick return, only to reverse field to gain a few extra yards plus a face-mask penalty to give his team good field position.
On the next play, he caught a pass over the middle for a 30-yard gain that set up a field goal.
A couple minutes later, Martin busted up the middle on a 74-yard punt return for a score. He didn’t look back, and neither did the Spartans, who stayed undefeated entering Saturday’s game in Ann Arbor.
Martin, who was selected as the Big Ten’s special teams player of the week, is the type of talent the inaugural Paul Hornung award is intended to honor. It will go to the most versatile player in the nation.
You can’t get much more versatile than Martin.
He is one of two active players in the FBS (Division I-A) who has been involved in a touchdown five different ways during his career:
* Six receiving.
* One rushing.
* One passing.
* One kick return.
* And now one punt return.
In the last three years, Martin has 44 plays of 20-plus yards, including 13 plays of 40-plus.
He leads the Big Ten and is eighth in the nation with an 18.5-yard punt-return average this season.
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez hopes to avoid any potential agony by keeping the ball away from Martin as much as possible.
“It would help,” Rodriguez said. “He’s very explosive.
“Some guys, when the ball is bouncing around, they will let it bounce around. Not him. He wants to take every ball back. You can’t relax at all.”
Michigan State punter Aaron Bates’ advice in dealing with his teammate: “It’s a tough thing. Try to hang it up as high as you can, get him as close to the sideline as you can.”
Martin was a quarterback, receiver and defensive back during his high-school career at Westland John Glenn.
He didn’t attend the summer camps that most top players do and, therefore, went under the radar for quite a while in recruiting.
Once Michigan State’s coaches found out about him, they moved quickly.
Martin finished third in the Big Ten last season in both all-purpose yardage and kick-return average, but his receiving skills needed polishing.
“I had to improve my route-running and also my catching ability,” Martin said. “Last year I feel like I dropped a couple balls I should have caught.”
But his success on special teams, thanks to his instincts and athleticism, helped build his confidence.
“I feel like I can do anything I want when I’ve got the ball,” Martin said. “I take tremendous pride in the versatility.”
Dantonio and offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, like many coaches, are known for having some gadget plays ready for big games.
You can be certain they’re working on some stuff this week.
Shortly before the season, Martin was asked about the threats the offense has with two former quarterbacks — himself and Keith Nichol — at receiver.
“You could throw it to Keith and throw it back to me and I could throw it to somebody,” Martin said, his eyes getting wider. “You never know what could happen.
“It’s definitely in my playbook,” Martin added with a smile.
Perhaps this is the week one of those plays gets called.
One way or another, the Spartans have to get the ball to their best play-maker.
He might not be Denard hot, but Martin showed last week he can change the game almost as fast.