EAST LANSING, MICH. (AP) - Amid the fake kicks and fourth-down conversions that turned this Michigan State season into such an exhilarating story, Keshawn Martin made the biggest play nobody remembers.
With the Spartans trailing Wisconsin in the second quarter early last month, Martin caught a punt at his own 26-yard line, ran straight up the middle and then veered to his right. The Badgers couldn't catch him, and the touchdown turned the game in Michigan State's favor.
The Spartans went on to win 34-24, and that's still Wisconsin's only loss. If the teams finish in a two-way tie atop the Big Ten _ which is a definite possibility _ Michigan State would win the tiebreaker.
"It did boost us," Martin said. "I think that was a huge momentum change, and hopefully we'll get more of those."
Martin is hoping to provide another lift this weekend when he returns from a knee injury for the 11th-ranked Spartans' game against Purdue. The junior wide receiver has accounted for touchdowns five different ways in his career _ rushing, receiving, passing and on punt and kickoff returns. He's one of three active players in major college football who have accomplished that feat.
"Keshawn's a playmaker," coach Mark Dantonio said. "Every time he touches the ball, great things can happen, so obviously he'll be a big part of what we do."
Michigan State's offense relies primarily on Kirk Cousins' accurate passing and the flashy running of Edwin Baker. Martin, however, provides versatility. He caught 18 passes last season, averaging 22.8 yards per reception.
He's been overshadowed at times in 2010. The Spartans have won with aggressive play calling _ including a memorable fake field goal in overtime that beat Notre Dame in September. Martin caught eight passes for 96 yards and a touchdown in that game, but that obviously wasn't the story.
Still, the big return against Wisconsin was a reminder of how dangerous he can be.
Three weeks later, in a game at Northwestern, Martin hurt his knee. When the Spartans took the field the following weekend at Iowa, facing their biggest test of the season, Martin wasn't able to contribute. Michigan State lost 37-6 for its first defeat of the season.
All was not lost, however. Martin had to sit out again when the Spartans hosted Minnesota in their next game, but they won easily, and they're still tied for the conference lead with Wisconsin and Ohio State.
Michigan State would finish atop the Big Ten if it wins out and Ohio State drops a game _ the Buckeyes play at Iowa this weekend.
In Martin's absence, other receivers have been impressive. Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham combined to catch 17 passes for 222 yards against Northwestern, and Bennie Fowler has made a contribution as well.
"Injuries happen, like they usually do," Cousins said. "We have plenty of guys on this team who are ready to fill in when guys get hurt and go down, and that's what makes, I think, a good team great."
Like any team, however, Michigan State would like to be at full strength, and an open date last week was a big help. Dantonio said defensive end William Gholston is out for the season following shoulder surgery, but other than that, he seems fairly pleased with his team's health.
As for Martin, he says he still has some pain while cutting, but he has no intention of missing another game with so much on the line.
"By game time, I think I'll be about 100 percent," he said. "It still hurts to do some stuff, but it's much better than it was a couple weeks ago."
By Elaine Donnelly
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