It's fitting that, like Derrick Mayes before him, Michael Floyd's first catch in an Irish uniform resulted in a touchdown. Both players arrived on campus as polished, game-ready freshmen receivers. And though their physical builds differed, the constant threat and pressure the two placed on opposing defenses was similar: tough, physical receivers that could be counted on to move the chains, to break arm tackles, and to win one-on-one battles downfield with exceptional body control.
And as with Mayes in the early to mid-90s, a defense's commitment to single coverage on Floyd last season generally resulted in a long day for a shell-shocked left cornerback. Working mainly as the team's wide right (outside) receiver, Floyd set school records for a freshman in receptions (48) touchdowns (7) and receiving yards (719), bludgeoning defenses outside the hash marks with a battery of out routes, hooks, and the occasional "fade-stop" in goal-to-go situations. Of course, Floyd's medium yardage assault was made possible by the threat (and reality) of early season fade routes (to the tune of seven receptions for 256 yards and three touchdowns).
Floyd's first 11 grabs were the result of outside throws (including seven catches vs. Michigan State – five out routes), but he became a whole field threat vs. Purdue (Week Four), catching both a square-in and slant route, both of which resulted in first downs and adding another square-in and post route vs. Stanford the following week (see below for a breakdown of Floyd's freshman record 48 receptions).
By late October, Floyd had evolved into the team's most consistent weapon, and if not for a Week 10 knee injury vs. Navy, he likely would have led the Irish in receptions and threatened Tate's team lead for receiving yards and touchdowns as well.
Floyd's Season Outlook:The pressure and promise of Floyd beating a defense with the deep fade or go route has created a consistent weapon for the Irish offense - mid-range monster for 2009 as underneath patterns will likely become more of Floyd's bread and butter with opposing defenses beginning to roll coverage downfield to combat ND's quick-strike duo. Moreover, though not a finished product, Clausen throws a fantastic sideline out route (to the receiver's outside shoulder, with no loft on the ball) from either hash mark, and Floyd's frame and strong hands make the play almost unstoppable for an opposing cornerback coming out of his backpedal trying to break on the ball. Likewise, Floyd's combination of size and strength allows him to cut up short zones and press coverage with equal effectiveness and defenses are in a pick-your-poison situation with the presence of Golden Tate on the other side of the field.
Floyd is already a polished deep route receiver (not just an athlete) who shows a knack for running his routes with the appropriate separation from the sideline (allowing an outside shoulder target for Clausen). Additionally, he's already mastered the single most important trick-of-the-trade for every college wide receiver: the subtle push-off (Floyd often uses his inside hand – one hidden from the field/side judge – to "ease" his defender beyond a slightly underthrown ball). He runs north-south after the catch; shields cornerbacks with his body on slants, and maintains his presence in the middle of opposing zones, regardless of the oncoming traffic.
Like most young receivers, Floyd's in-line blocking is a work in progress, but with his size, speed, and competitiveness, don't be surprised if Floyd shines with a few downfield blocks to spring Irish ‘backs in '09.
The 2009 Irish have holes to fill…a starting wide receiver that can take over a game is not one of them.
If Floyd is blessed with good health he'll graduate in 2012 as the school's all-time leader in receptions (Samardzija 179); receiving yards (Shark again 2,593); touchdowns (Shark 27) and 100-yard games (Tom Gatewood 13) – its ambitious but simple math, as four years of Michael Floyd excellence trumps two years of Samardzija and an expected three years from his teammate and fellow record-challenger, Golden Tate.
Of course, 33 to 36 more wins along the way would mean much more than any individual record, both the Floyd and a nation of Irish fans.
Mr. Inside:Floyd caught 16 passes inside the hash marks as a freshman:
- Four Slant Routes: Two vs. Washington (one each vs. man and zone coverage); one vs. North Carolina for a catch and run of 14 yards; and one vs. Pittsburgh on 3rd and 6 in OT for a 10-yard gain. Each of his four slant receptions resulted in first downs.
- Six Square-Ins: Two vs. Purdue, the first a catch of about 14 yards with yardage after the catch culminating in the 23-yard gain; the second a deep square-in vs. a zone in which Clausen zipped a 17-yard pass to his numbers. Floyd added another vs Stanford for a catch at 8 yards and eventual 13-yard gain for the first down. His deep catch and attempted pitch/fumble at North Carolina was a perfectly executed 25-yard square-in (and cannon shot from Clausen) and he added a 13-yard square-in route and eventual 31-yard gain deep in BC territory in the game's the fourth quarter (Clausen's next pass was intercepted). Editor's Note: I believe the (assumed) sixth square-in was a 12-yard gain vs. Pittsburgh but there's a glitch in that tape. It could have been another route, but Floyd was tackled inside the hash marks according to the game log.
- Two Posts: A 20-yard gain vs. Stanford and an 18-yard TD pass vs. Pittsburgh in which Floyd, on one of his few left side (less than five total) receptions over the course of the season, motioned from outside left into the slot, took off down the seam and with a beautiful one-step fake to the corner, exploded back to the post for a back-of-the-end-zone leaping TD grab from Clausen.
- Three Dig Routes: A nine-yard gain vs. Pittsburgh (in which his momentum and strength added the final six yards); a gain of 11 on 2nd and 2 at BC; and a first-quarter gain of 15 vs. Hawaii (again, about a 9-yard catch and 6-yard run).
- Floyd also caught a pass on a broken route in which he came back to the ball for a three-yard gain vs. BC.
Mr. Outside:Floyd doubled his inside production on the field's perimeter, accounting for 32 grabs on or outside the hash marks last season.
- 16 Outs/Hooks: Six for 61 yards and four first downs (and a key fumble) vs. MSU; two vs. Purdue, the first for a gain of nine, the second a blitz adjustment for a first down on 3rd and 7 in the second half. He added two vs. UNC, one for a first down the other an 8-yard gain on 2nd and 25; and four in the first half vs. Pittsburgh resulting in first down gains of 11, 12, 12, and 12 yards; Finally, Floyd posted two more, both for first downs on gains of 15 and 9 yards at BC.
- 7 Fade/Go Routes: A 22-yard touchdown to tie the score vs. SD State (the first TD of the season for the Irish); a 26-yard TD (left side) on 3rd and 11 at MSU to draw the Irish within nine; a 38-yard adjustment to the ball vs. Purdue during which Floyd gave Clausen room with a perfect split from the sideline; two vs. Stanford for gains of 48 and 41 yards, with the first resulting in an audibled touchdown from Clausen. He added a 32-yard outside shoulder grab at North Carolina, possibly Floyd's best deep route of the season; and finally, a perfect 32-yard throw from Clausen vs. Washington.
- 5 Quick Look/Bubble Screens: Two vs. Michigan, one for nine yards, the next for just a gain of one. At Washington, Floyd, with help from Kyle Rudolph and Sam Young, ran the bubble screen to perfection for a 51-yard touchdown. The Irish went back to the well after a timeout on 4th and 7 vs. Pittsburgh one week later, but the play was stopped for no gain as the Panthers smothered Floyd after the catch. Additionally, Floyd caught a two-yard quick out vs. Hawaii and drew a personal foul penalty on the sidelines.
- 2 Stop-Fades: The increasingly popular route adjustment to the fade pattern yielded two touchdowns for Floyd last season, one at North Carolina and one at Pittsburgh…both near the end of the first half.
- 2 Broken Plays: Floyd added a sideline leaping catch off a Clausen scramble for six yards vs. Purdue and another catch on an ill-conceived outside throw that resulted in a six-yard loss vs. Stanford.