Floyd Goes Down, Playmakers Step Up

The Irish lost a sophomore superstar Saturday, but a trio of juniors led the offense to a crucial bounce-back win.

Eleven catches for 320 yards. Four touchdowns. A long of 88 yards and 29.1 yards per catch. That's a career's worth of accomplishments for some receivers, but for University of Notre Dame sophomore Michael Floyd, that was just two afternoons to open the 2009 season.

Floyd was on his way to another fine Saturday against Michigan State University when a bizarre play left him clutching his shoulder and Irish fans scratching their heads.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Floyd, the absolute prototype of an end-zone target, had already caught one touchdown on the afternoon when he grabbed a pass from quarterback Jimmy Clausen for another apparent score. The officials saw something different as Floyd snatched the ball out of the air near the right-end-zone sideline and tumbled to the ground. They called it incomplete. A replay review confirmed the ruling on the field, and dumbfounded Notre Dame fans wondered what had just happened.

That was before the bad news started circulating: Floyd had a broken clavicle and was likely out for weeks.

"We had some other guys step in and make some plays," Notre Dame wide receiver Golden Tate said of the team's mindset after losing Floyd. "I thought I had to make a few more plays, but I like the pressure." Tate caught seven passes for 127 yards and a touchdown Saturday.

Tate said he told the injured Floyd, "Get better as fast as you can, because we need you."

Dropsies

Tate, while a huge factor in Saturday's victory over the Spartans, nevertheless had a couple of drops, as he did in last week's loss to Michigan. His drop in the third quarter near the goal line could have been a touchdown or led to one, but the Irish settled for a field goal.

"I guess I'm just not focusing still," Tate said, adding that he thinks he needs to keep his hands high and not let them drop. "I guess it's just a slump or something."

On his decisive touchdown catch with 5:18 to go, Tate showed his characteristic flair by taking an artful dive into the band in the back of the end zone. But it wasn't the Notre Dame band, and nobody saw fit to catch him from falling.

"The funny thing is, I didn't know there were chairs there," he said after the game, laughing about his tumble.

Five wide

Coach Charlie Weis had a plan to counter his teams' sluggish beginnings against Michigan State in recent years. The Irish blitzed the Spartans with a five-receiver attack, spreading out with Tate, Floyd, Duval Kamara, Robby Parris and Kyle Rudolph. Michigan State had no answer as Notre Dame drove for two early touchdowns. Clausen completed his first nine passes for 128 yards and a score. But he fell awkwardly while getting sacked a short time later, and while hobbled and not quite as effective, the Irish moved the ball through the air effectively all day.

"We've started off slow against them every time," Weis said of past games against the Spartans.

Catalyst

Clausen threw effectively short, long, and intermediate. He stepped up to avoid pressure, and invariably found the open man in yet another poised performance, finishing with 300 yards on 22 completions in 31 attempts with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

The five-wide, often no-huddle set was right in his wheelhouse.

"I just think that when you spread things out, it causes problems," said Clausen, who set a Notre Dame quarterback record with his fourth consecutive 300-yard passing game, "They have a good run defense. We have a lot of playmakers outside."

Wildcat

Notre Dame made frequent use of the direct-snap wildcat formation, with Armando Allen taking over the shotgun quarterback role and Tate playing the role of flanker/running back. Aside from a late-game mishap when the two collided and tumbled in a heap, it was a successful formation. Allen scored from the set on a 13-yard touchdown run for the first points of the day, and faked a run, faded back a bit and hit receiver Robby Parris for a sharp 5-yard touchdown pass on the first drive of the second half.

Weis had a bit of fun at Allen's expense at the postgame press conference.

"He ran great, and I'm going to have to hear about him throwing (the touchdown) for the next month," Weis said. When the team practiced the play, the coach added, Allen "threw it into the dirt most of the time."

Allen got tough yards on the ground for Notre Dame all afternoon, finishing with 115 yards on 23 carries, despite a long gain of only 13 yards.


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