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A steady ascent

Bill Brink | Friday, October 31, 2008

As much as Michael Floyd’s play through the first half of the season has bordered on hyperbole, his attitude and demeanor fall on the opposite end of the spectrum.

How does he feel about breaking the school freshman record for touchdown receptions? About being tied with Golden Tate for most receptions on the team? About becoming a favorite target of Jimmy Clausen’s and playing a large role in the reversal of Notre Dame’s fortune?

“It’s been pretty good,” Floyd said. “I like it a lot.”

The king of understatements.

To Floyd, though, his performance this season coincides with his goals. He said he hoped to get playing time this year and worked hard over the summer, both physically and mentally, to get there.

“It was just about paying attention a lot. I wanted to play this year,” he said. “That was one of my goals, to come in here and play. Giving a lot of attention to detail, formations and stuff like that really helped me a lot.”

It’s no surprise to him, then that his performance gets better and better every week. From his first reception, his role in the offense has helped Clausen find his rhythm, take pressure of Tate and revitalize the Irish offense.

But aside from what he does for his teammates, his personal accomplishments draw the most attention – and rightfully so.

San Diego State: one reception, 22 yards, one touchdown

Floyd’s first catch of his career went for a touchdown in the second quarter of Notre Dame’s 21-13 win over the Aztecs. In fact, it was the first touchdown of Notre Dame’s season. Considering the Irish didn’t score an offensive touchdown until week four last season (on a one-yard touchdown run, no less) Floyd’s presence signified the change the team hoped it had experienced in the offseason.

“It was pretty nice,” Floyd said of the score. “Jimmy looked at me and gave me the signal to run a fly. I saw it was one-on-one coverage and took it outside.”

The catch, he said, was his favorite of the season.

“It was exciting,” he said. “It was an easy route so I couldn’t mess up on anything.”

Floyd said the speed of practice gets him ready for the speed of the game, which could have attributed to his ability to contribute from day one.

“It depends on the speed of practice, but when we go full go it is [like game speed], because the corners give you lots of moves and you get used to it, so when you go out into the game, it’s easier to see, you can read everything,” he said.

Michigan: two receptions, 10 yards

Lest Floyd harbor any delusions of grandeur after his first-game success, Michigan defenders brought him back to earth.

“When I caught pass against Michigan, three dudes hit me, and told me, ‘Welcome to college football,'” he said. “They hit me pretty hard too. I was just laughing back to the huddle.”

Michigan State: seven receptions, 86 yards, one touchdown

Clausen found Floyd often in this game despite the fact that Notre Dame lost. Watching film together and discussing what they see helps Floyd and Clausen connect on the field, Floyd said. In this way, Floyd said, they stay on the same page regarding what routes to adjust and when Clausen should and shouldn’t look his way. The two watch film both of past games, where they watch their passing plays, and of future opposing defenses.

“He kind of talks to me about what to look for in a corner, how’s he playing, stuff like that,” Floyd said.

When the running game got nowhere in the first half, Notre Dame switched to four- and five-wide receiver spread-style offense in the second half. This suited Floyd, who played in the spread at Cretin-Durham Hall High School in St. Paul, Minn.

“For the most part high school kind of helped adjusting to the play calling here,” Floyd said. “It’s a little bit different here because there’s a lot more stuff built into the plays and things we have to do.”

Floyd said most receivers thrive in a wide-open passing offense.

“I think us wide receivers like that a lot,” he said. “Coach Weis has a lot of confidence in us, catching the ball, making big plays.”

That rapport with Clausen has continued.

“Our relationship is good right now. We just connect,” he said. “He knows how I play, I know how he plays. Getting the routine down with the wide receivers is a good thing.”

Purdue: six receptions, 100 yards

Both Clausen and Floyd say the deep routes down the sideline that put Floyd on the highlight reels this year depend on the coverage they face and the play call.

“When I’m looking at the line, the DB, it depends on how he plays,” Floyd said. “If I convert my route on him, [Clausen] knows that when I’m looking out there that I should convert my route. He knows when to throw it up and when not to.”

Those long go routes have helped Floyd rack up 533 yards on 31 receptions and five touchdowns this season. Floyd was the No. 5 wide receiver in last year’s class. Only one of the four ahead of him – Southern Miss’ DeAndre Brown – has more touchdowns than he does. The No. 1 receiver recruit, Alabama’s Julio Jones, has 444 yards and four touchdowns this season.

Floyd doesn’t care.

“I just try to do my own thing. The outcome will take care of itself,” he said. “I try not to get a big head. Players help me out with that too.”

Stanford: five receptions, 115 yards, one touchdown

Floyd displayed his hands in the previous games. Against Stanford, he showcased his physicality.

Theoretically, Floyd had met his match in Cardinal cornerback Wopamo Osaisai, the Pac-10 100 meter champion. Osaisai, at 5-11, 198, gave up some size to the 6-3, 215-pound Floyd, but surely Osaisai’s school-record 10.39 100 time would keep Floyd in check.

Not so much. Floyd torched him down the sideline for a long reception and had his best game yet.

“It’s just a challenge for me knowing that he’s the Pac-10 100 champion,” Floyd said. “So it was a challenge for me to do what I know I can do.”

Floyd’s speed and strength stems in part from his workouts before the season, he said.

“I wanted to get stronger in the summer,” Floyd said. “I know there are a lot of upperclassmen who are stronger than me, but maybe I can get them off with the quickness and the agility I have.”

Floyd said his strength and athleticism helped him run over people in high school while run-blocking, but that strategy won’t work now.

“A lot of guys are stronger, faster, you just have to use a lot of technique,” he said, adding that receivers coach Rob Ianello often critiques his run blocking along with his route running.

North Carolina: six receptions, 93 yards, one touchdown

During the first road game at Michigan State, Floyd said he was nervous. At North Carolina, however, he said knowing what the crowd would be like helped.

The final play of the game overshadowed another great performance. With less than a minute remaining and Notre Dame down by five, the Irish had the ball in Tar Heel territory. Clausen completed a pass to Floyd over the middle, and as Floyd was tackled, the ball came loose, and North Carolina recovered.

Floyd said he was just trying to get down as quickly as possible. The route called for him to go into the end zone, but he didn’t reach it.

“I was pretty down on myself,” Floyd said later.

Weis and Clausen both told Floyd to keep his head up, and so far he has. He hasn’t seen the replay.

“I want to move on.”

Washington: four receptions, 107 yards, one touchdown

Floyd’s athleticism revealed itself again when he turned a four-yard screen pass into a 51-yard touchdown. He broke away from a tackle and outran the rest of the Huskies defense to put the Irish ahead just three minutes into the game.

Floyd acted equally blasé about the response to his play from students on campus and his friends back home. “[Friends back home] just say, ‘We were watching on TV, stuff like that,” he said. “They just say great game, keep going, just positive things. My roommates always write stuff on the board, like good job.”

At least his friends aren’t inflating his ego.

Rest of season: who knows?

Floyd has dazzled in the first half of the season and has the potential to help the Irish continue to win. He speaks in simple words, and he simplified the keys to Notre Dame’s success for the rest of the season.

“Just play how we know we can play,” he said. “No turnovers for the offense.”