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Michael Floyd steps up in Rudolph’s absence

Chris Masoud | Monday, October 18, 2010

Following the announcement that junior tight end Kyle Rudolph would need season-ending surgery, Irish fans were left wondering if the offense would be able to sustain its progress. While that remains to be seen, Saturday’s 44-20 victory over Western Michigan made at least one thing very clear — Michael Floyd can pick up some of the slack.

Heading into the weekend, the junior wide receiver had been targeted on 74 passes, compared to 55 passes targeted to Rudolph. Irish coach Brian Kelly said that although he felt this was a balanced distribution from junior quarterback Dayne Crist, Floyd could handle the additional work, regardless of Rudolph’s injury.

“Michael, as we broke down who was getting the football, needed to get the football even more than that,” Kelly said. “So there was a focus in our game plan to make sure that we were creating opportunities for him. In what happened to be some one-on-one opportunities — he’s going to win one of those times.”

Kelly said Floyd’s status was questionable up until game time, as the receiver had a nagging hamstring injury that limited his participation in practice, but after racking up 157 yards on only nine receptions, including three touchdowns, playing Floyd was worth any injury risk.

“In the past two years, I’ve been sitting out for games,” Floyd said. “I just had that mentality and that attitude that I don’t want to sit out. I just have to do whatever I can to help this team win.”

Floyd’s contributions can be measured in more ways than one. His three touchdown receptions, including an 80-yard catch on the first play from scrimmage, gave the Irish much-needed points against a Broncos team that hung around well into the second half.

Perhaps just as important, Floyd’s presence on the field opened up space for sophomore tight end Tyler Eifert and senior tight end Mike Ragone, who tallied their first significant playing time of the season in Rudolph’s absence. Eifert finished with 72 yards and one touchdown on four catches, while Ragone finished with one catch for 12 yards.

Floyd attributed the success of the receivers to Crist’s decision-making and his ability to break down the opposing team’s coverage.

“It’s just what the defense offers us,” Floyd said. “He knows that they play a certain coverage, and we have to take advantage of what they give us.”

Floyd’s three touchdown passes marks the second time in his career the junior receiver has hauled in three catches for scores, the last occurring during Notre Dame’s 35-0 victory over Nevada on Sept. 5, 2009.

Saturday’s performance also put Floyd in elite company. His 22 career touchdown receptions put him in a third-place tie with Rhema McKnight (2003-2006) and Derrick Mayes (1992-1995) on the all-time Notre Dame receiving list.

“He’s a great player,” Broncos coach Bill Cubit said. “I’ve been fortunate to coach in a lot of great leagues and a lot of good people, but he’s as physical and as good a receiver as I’ve seen. And the thing about it — he plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played. He plays with passion and there’s no showboating. He’s appreciative of the game.”

While the offense continues to adapt to the absence of Rudolph, Crist said he will continue to target Floyd early and often as the Irish look to extend their winning streak to four games.

“Mike is Mike,” Crist said. “Any time you can get him the ball, like I have said before, he can score on any given play, and he showed that week in and week out. I think he’s one of the most dominating receivers in college football, and we need to do a better job — me specifically — of getting him the ball.”