In a game that saw periods of both offensive productivity and stagnancy, when the Irish coaching staff called on Michael Floyd's number, he delivered. As Floyd has proven his worth on the field, Jimmy Clausen has also shown the propensity to look to his freshman wide receiver, connecting with Floyd 10 times for 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns. This marked the most receptions in a single game by an Irish receiver since Rhema McKnight caught 10 passes against Army in 2006. The mark also broke the program record for catches in a contest by a freshman.
"He just keeps making plays," Clausen said. "That's what he's here to do, makes plays, and he's done a good job of that throughout the season."
Saturday's loss against Pittsburgh marked the fourth time Floyd has eclipsed the hundred-yard mark in the past five games. He is first on the squad in receptions with 41, second in yards with 633 and leads the team in touchdowns with seven thus far in the 2008 campaign.
"He's a competitor," Sam Young said. "He's one of those guys that you have great confidence in, where you throw the ball in his region and he's going to be able to go up and make a play."
Not only is this self-assurance increasing in the freshman with each passing game, but it is also starting to spread to other players on the team.
"Oh, absolutely," Young said. "That confidence trickles down. And you look at other guys who have that confidence. Jimmy has that kind of confidence; this offensive line is starting to have that confidence. It's just trickling down and today, we just came up short."
One skill that Floyd put on display against the Panthers was his precise route-running technique. As the contest was tied at three with just over six minutes left in the second quarter, the Notre Dame offense was pinned down at its own nine-yard line. After a Robert Hughes rush for minimal gain, Clausen looked to Floyd for a 12-yard reception and a first down. Six plays later, Floyd hauled in another 12-yard catch, once again moving the chains. Finally, with the Irish threatening at Pittsburgh's 18-yard line two plays later, Clausen hit Floyd on an 18-yard touchdown reception, putting the Irish up 10-3.
In the play, Floyd was working on Aaron Berry and ran a crisp route that completely fooled the Panthers corner. At around the five-yard line, Floyd faked the corner route and then went to the post route, causing Berry to slip and fall, leaving the freshman receiver uncontested for the score.
Later in the quarter, Floyd would strike again, picking up his second touchdown in 83 seconds. This time, he exhibited his football knowledge and understanding of his location on the field. After a Raeshon McNeil interception was returned to the Pittsburgh red zone, Notre Dame wanted to claim another touchdown to head into the half with a comfortable lead. Floyd ran a route that he has had success with inside the 10 this season, faking a slant and then quickly turning to the near pylon. Clausen hit him with a dart, and Floyd aptly caught it and dragged his feet in bounds, putting the score at 17-3.
The freshman wideout has also been an excellent teammate, and his colleagues are more than thrilled that he joined the squad and is having the success he is.
"They are great people and they're also great players," Tate said of Floyd and Kyle Rudolph. "I'm glad they're on our team, I'm glad they're helping us win games."
Coming into the season, many thought that Floyd could have an instant impact, and Tate was no exception. He didn't think, however, that the impact would be nearly as productive as it has been for the young talent.
"Absolutely not," Tate said. "I mean, I noticed that they were good players, but I didn't know that they would come in and make plays like they do and set records, but I'm glad we have them and I hope and think that they'll help us win."
Not only has Floyd's presence been an asset for the Irish to pick up wins, but the Cretin Derham Hall High School product has also freed up some of the attention that is paid to Tate and the other receivers.
"Yeah, I mean, I feel like when they're focusing on Floyd, that opens it up for Robby [Parris], [David] Grimes, me, Duval [Kamara], George [West], when he was healthy. And I feel like if the team locks on one player, it opens it up for someone else, and that's how I feel."
Since Floyd had the production he did in the first half, the Pittsburgh defense decided to make a halftime adjustment and put more pressure on the outside receivers. To neutralize the effectiveness Floyd had enjoyed throughout the contest, they started to double cover the receiver, creating problems for the Irish offense.
"Yeah, but the one thing is that they did double coverage," head coach Charlie Weis said. "So you still have that area, the fade ball is still a ball that's tougher for the safety to go ahead and get to in that situation. These guys, time and time again have made plays for us on those fade balls."
In what was a disheartening loss, it will be difficult to take many positives from the contest and implement them in the future weeks. One aspect Irish coaches and fans can take with them, however, is that Michael Floyd is a competitive playmaker who won't back down to any challenge. If his performance against Pittsburgh and the previous five games is any indication, the freshman is just scratching the surface of the potential he possesses to be a game-changer for years to come.