Production secured…search for potency continuesSophomore slot receiver Theo Riddick and junior outside target Michael Floyd have combined to lead the Irish in yards, receptions and touchdowns through three games.
Floyd has registered three receptions in excess of 30 yards including a season-long 37-yard grab Saturday night. Riddick added a 20-yard touchdown to his totals, but neither has regularly been rewarded with an opportunity in space; rather: they've been forced to leap, extend or catch the bulk of their receptions with their backs to the defenders.
Head coach Brian Kelly noted that the onus rests squarely on the shoulders – or right arm and release – of junior quarterback Dayne Crist.
"I think this is all about what kind of ball you get from Dayne," Kelly said of the observation regarding the duo's perceived lack of space. "Do you get a level one touch pass? Do you get a bubble screen? Theo almost came out on a screen for a touchdown; (he) picked up a key first down.
"(He) had two or three bubble screens that were effective, so he's starting to move into the kind of position that we wanted with him.
"I think Dayne's got to be sure that he gets the right location on some balls to them," Kelly added.
As for Floyd, there's nothing wrong with 28 receptions for 408 yards and two scores…but Irish fans have come to expect much more from their pre-season All-America candidate.
"It's a struggle for Mike because you can't put him one place and not get two guys on him," Kelly offered. "We worked like heck to move him around and give him his opportunities. The thing with Mike is to make sure he does more than that. He's blocking very well for us; he's doing a lot of things – still catching the ball down the field but we have to move him around a lot and we do that it should open up some more things for us."
Floyd set up two touchdowns Saturday with pass interference calls; the latter in the end zone afforded Armando Allen an easy two-yard run for a score on the ensuing snap.
Prior to suffering a broken collarbone last season during the first half of Game No. 3, Michael Floyd had accumulated six catches in excess of 20 yards (with four of the six resulting in touchdowns). In exactly twice as many quarters of football this season, the junior has five such grabs – two of which occurred late when the game had been decided vs. Stanford. Floyd's only two touchdown grabs this season have occurred from 7 and 24 yards out.
(Floyd caught seven passes in excess of 20 yards last November during his four-game stretch following surgery, though only one resulted in a touchdown.)
Bumps and bruises up frontThree starters along the Irish O-Line endured minor injuries in Saturday's victory. Each is expected back for the upcoming contest vs. formidably formidable Pittsburgh.
Left Guard Chris Stewart suffered what Brian Kelly deemed "a contusion" while center Braxston Cave sprained his ankle. Kelly noted Cave was favoring the ankle Sunday morning but that was the extent of the damage.
One of the season's early bright spots, right tackle Taylor Dever, was hampered by a mild hamstring injury.
"He felt like he could go back in the game," Kelly said of Dever's injury. "At that tackle position, that's something we'll have to keep an eye on day-to-day."
In Dever's stead stepped classmate Andrew Nuss. The senior has been referred to by consecutive coaching staff's as the "sixth starter" though neither the former nor the current employed Nuss extensively to date.
Andrew Nuss is a very smart player; he's a veteran player," Kelly offered. "He doesn't have the length that Dever does at that position that we like, but a solid backup at that position."
Also cracking the lineup Saturday was the highly regarded Chris Watt, who subbed for Stewart at guard.
"Chris Watt is a real physical player; he did a nice job inside," Kelly noted. "He moves his feet very well. We feel very comfortable if he's in the game."
Watt had purportedly pushed Stewart for the starting job deep into the final week of the pre-season.
Also on the verge is junior center Mike Golic. Cave's competitor impressed Kelly in spot duty vs. the Eagles.
"The more I see Golic, the more he's capable of doing the things that we're asking him to do," Kelly said of Golic who like Watt, backs up both the center and guard spots. "We're not in a bad situation, even having to use three backups in the game. We can still run our offense," Kelly added.
Speed to burn and CAT: 2.0In his first career contest, freshman wide receiver Bennett Jackson recorded a team-best four tackles in kick coverage. The first time he touched the ball, Saturday as the recipient of the game's opening kickoff, Jackson ripped off a 43-yard return…also a team-high for 2010.
Will the playmaker's special teams prowess find him a spot in the receiver rotation sooner than later?
"Really for him, developing as a young player, the offense has been a lot for him," Kelly admitted of Jackson's assimilation to a college spread offense. "So many formations, so many splits, so many alignments; but Bennett's coming. He's making progress each week.
"He is moving that direction to take that next step," Kelly continued. "And that is playing some wide receiver."
Shembo has appeared intermittently in the team's dime defenses prior to Saturday's demolition of the Eagles. His third quarter effort in Boston assures him of future opportunities.
"Exactly," Kelly said of Shembo's solidification in Bob Diaco's Dime D. "He's a relentless guy off the edge; he's a lot like (Darius) Fleming in that he's got good hands; quick feet and he's difficult to handle one-on-one. I think we found a niche that he can come in those dime situations and give us some good pressure (on the QB)."
Shembo joined junior DE Ethan Johnson as the only true freshmen to record two sacks for the Irish in the same contest over the past decade (2000-2010).