Feed the horse…but just enoughDuring the Brian Kelly era, wide receiver Michael Floyd has caught four or fewer passes on just four occasions. Three occurred in 2010, and the team's top target accrued a whopping 171 yards and a touchdown (11 receptions) over those contests and Notre Dame prevailed in each matchup. A high-yardage total was not present in Floyd's lowest output of 2011 when he caught four balls for just 27 yards vs. Pittsburgh.
"I think there's going to be some games as it unfolds that he's not going to get 10 passes. It's just the nature of the game," Kelly offered. "That doesn't mean we're not going to continue to look at ways to get Michael the football. Certainly we're going to do that, and I think there's a number of ways that we can continue to make sure that he gets the appropriate amount of touches. But we just don't want that to be a consistent kind of scenario more than anything else."
In-game comments by announcers Chris Speilman and Urban Meyer suggested Pittsburgh defense was the aggressor, taking away Floyd as a primary option for the better part of the contest. Kelly didn't completely agree with the theory that the Panthers offered a blueprint to slow the team's star receiver.
"No, not really," he answered. "A little bit in our three by one (three receivers to one side/one to the opposite), they played a lot more man. But other than that, you know, the typical quarter, quarter-half coverage to Mike. I think we have seen quite a bit of that, even last year. I think the only difference really would be for us in terms of how to get the ball to the guys that are it (matched) one-on-one. We had a number of one-on-one situations that we didn't take advantage of, and that's what we'll make certain, that we coach Tommy (Rees) up on."
Over his last two outings, Floyd has posted six and four receptions, respectively. Notre Dame has won both. He notched career best 12-and-13-catch efforts to open the season in the duo of frustrating losses.
It's worth repeating: When Michael Floyd catches 10 or more balls in a game, Notre Dame has won once and lost five times. When he tops 100 yards, the Irish fare a bit better (6 wins, 9 losses). When he catches one touchdown (7 wins, 5 losses); two touchdowns (1 win, five losses - the second touchdown has often been desperate, late-game score such as this season vs. South Florida); three scores (predictably, 2 and 0).
Numbers can deceive, and the bulk of the odd grouping above likely has no bearing on future results – with the notable exception of the double-digit reception issue. It's not surprising that a 10-plus catch game by Floyd results in an Irish loss: the event is generally accompanied by forced throws with interceptions then intermixed. (And likely, the lack of a consistent rushing attack by the Irish offense, though that wasn't the case in Ann Arbor this season – the most recent example of reliance on Floyd in the passing game.)
And whether it's indicative of a future plan of attack or not, Notre Dame has won 11 of 16 contests in which Floyd has caught between 4-6 passes.
But if you're in search of a more reasonable indicator of offensive success, consider Floyd's yards-per-reception, where the senior's five best career efforts have yielded four wins, nine touchdowns, 31 receptions, 668 yards, and 21.5 yards per catch.
In today's horizontally-influenced passing games, it's not how many receptions you pile up, it's what you do with them after the catch.
Two to three trustworthy tights?The loss of 5th-year senior Mike Ragone to an ACL injury will have no effect on the Irish passing attack over the next nine games. Ragone's absence, however, could greatly impact the team's short-yardage rushing efforts (it did not Saturday in Pittsburgh), and also its late-game strategies and attempts to protect a lead.
"We're lacking (experience). Our next tight end in the ball game right now is a freshman. Whether it's (redshirt-freshman) Alex Welch or whether it's (true frosh) Ben Koyack," Kelly offered. "Jake Golic has been out with a broken arm, but if we put him in that situation as well, he's really an inexperienced player (a junior, Golic rarely appeared from scrimmage last year). So we're just going to have to live with a little bit of inconsistency at that position until they gain more experience.
"We like all three of them; they're all game; they're all physical guys; they all can catch the ball. We just gotta get them some work."
Kelly noted the nation's best tight end in Week Four, Tyler Eifert, has made great strides as an in-line blocker.
"He was, at times, seen as a hybrid wide receiver, (but) he's done a nice job of in-line blocking," Kelly said of the team's second-best pass catcher. "He's not perfect, but he's a pretty tough guy, and I think you gotta add toughness to (his resume)."
Eifert's position coach Mike Denbrock concurs, noting Eifert has plenty of room for improvement.
"You need to work at it. You need to do it a thousand-million times, and then you need to do it once more just to make sure you have confidence in your technique and your footwork, that you know you can hold up physically," Denbrock said. "That's the biggest part of it – it's a confidence factor as much as anything else. Knowing that you'll position yourself the right way helps you go faster and play harder.
"I think he'd be the first to tell you he's a work in progress, but one that's moving in a positive direction," Denbrock continued. "He's miles ahead of where he was last year at this time and will continue to get better."
Notre Dame converted all six of its 3rd and short (3 yards or fewer) situations Saturday, including a 4-for-4 effort on rushing plays. The Irish advanced on both 4th-and-short situations (both QB sneaks) including the game-clincher by quarterback Tommy Rees. The trio of tight ends: Alex Welch, Ben Koyack, and Tyler Eifert, were all in on the final, successful surge.
What keyed the improvement?
"Against Michigan, we were not as good as we wanted to be because we didn't handle the front that we saw," Kelly explained. "I think what we have done is we spent more time looking at multiple fronts and third-down situations, so we are prepared for any kind of front, and any kind of pressure.
"The Michigan game gave us an opportunity to really look at base plays that we want to run versus any look. It doesn't matter what the look is, no matter what practiced, we have tried to add things and I think that's helped our linemen out a lot."
Is Eddie Gaedel Available?Another game, another full yards worth of punt return action from the Irish.
Another Tuesday saw Brian Kelly answering another question regarding the team's dormant punt return game. This week's version wondered who else could be tried? Michael Floyd? George Atkinson? A freshman? Anyone? Or more important, why not try someone else?
"It's just a different skill set from any other specialty," Kelly began. "You know, kickoff (return), obviously, you've got great space. There's not anybody breathing down on you when you're ready to catch that ball.
"The ability to maintain a focus and concentration (while catching a punt) while there's three or four guys ready to knock your head off requires somebody that has, more than anything else, the confidence to do it. And secondly, muscle memory: that you can do that and repeat it. And the guy that we have back there has the best set of those things," Kelly admitted before adding, "Yeah, I'd like him also to be 4' 2" and make everybody miss. But we got what we got and we have to continue to build on that."
I've wondered (weekly) why we don't see junior Robby Toma in the role. Its possible Kelly definitely answered that question.