When in doubt, go to Floyd…
What do quarterbacks Jimmy Clausen, Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees, and Irish head coach Brian Kelly have in common? They all know where their bread is buttered.
In other words, when the going gets tough, each member of the quartet knew, or knows, to go to Michael Floyd.
The oft-targeted senior receiver offered to lend aid to the team’s woeful punt return unit and Kelly jumped at the opportunity.
“Mike actually came to me and said, ‘Coach, I'll do it. Give me a shot at it,”” Kelly said of Floyd’s initiation to the role this week, “We worked hard – and this is the great thing about Mike, he stayed after practice. Here is a guy who is one of the best receivers in the country and spent probably, you know, more time than I can remember a guy staying after practice just fielding punts so he can go in there and do it.”
Floyd’s only two opportunities resulted in fair catches/downed punts – an end result with which Irish fans have become quite familiar over the last three seasons as Notre Dame’s blockers up front have contributed mightily to the unit’s struggles.
“I think we have talked about wanting to get a playmaker out there, and John (Goodman) certainly can handle the ball for us, but lacks that big play ability,” Kelly offered. “A lot of this has been precipitated by our need to jump start that unit, and you know, Mike saw that.
“As we talked about it in every special teams meeting, which he's part of, I think he finally said you know what, I can do this, but I've never done it before. We were not (previously) looking down that road with Mike because he had never done it before, but he's such an exceptional athlete and was committed to doing it, and I think that's obviously a game changer when it comes to that.”
Notre Dame has returned 10 punts for three yards this season. Return men Theo Riddick (2) and John Goodman (1) have muffed a combined three punts, both losing one to the opponent.
The Irish have offered 13 fair catches through six games and have been penalized twice, once for roughing the punter (an automatic first down). Eight of the 10 returns have resulted in negative yardage though Goodman did return one Michigan punt for 13 yards in Week Two.
Losing two straight to begin an NFL football season is tough to swallow, but at least one team (the 1993 Dallas Cowboys) responded by winning enough games to make the playoffs, and then the Super Bowl.
An 0-2 start in college football is generally a death knell for both the program and its fan base, though the 1989 Florida State Seminoles suffered such ignominy (beginning with a loss to a guy named "Brett Favre") then went on to win 10 straight including the Orange bowl.
Kelly’s Irish wouldn’t mind duplicating the Seminoles’ late-80s feat, though they understand it’s a weekly process.
“We’ve said, listen, ‘If we want to make the playoffs, here is what we have to do, and that is win each and every week,’ Kelly said Sunday as the Irish headed into their bye week winners of four straight. “So we effectively said, ‘Let's get into the top 14 in the country, and if you get into the top 14, you're in the playoffs, and that means you've got to win a lot of games.’”
Notre Dame would likely need to win out – 10 straight including a season-ender at powerful, current #5 Stanford – to secure a BCS berth. The longest winning streak at the program over the last 17 seasons is just eight games, accomplished by three different squads:
- In 2006, Charlie Weis’ second squad won eight straight following a Game Three loss to Michigan; the streak ending in the season finale at USC.
- In 2002, Tyrone Willingham’s first team won its first eight games of the season, ascending to No. 3 in the BCS on November 2. They lost three of their final five including a BCS elimination game at USC.
Bob Davie’s 1998 Irish, his second team in South Bend, lost in Week Two to No. 1 Nebraska, won its next eight to reach 9-1, then lost the season finale at USC – sans starting quarterback Jarious Jackson – narrowly missing out on a BCS berth in the Series’ inaugural season.
Notre Dame last won 10 straight to begin the 1993 – part of a 17-game winning run that dated back to October 3, 1992.
“They know what they need to do and they know what kind of focus and attention they need when you're in a must win situation each week,” Kelly admitted. “That's kind of how we approach it, is that we focus solely on it week to week, and every game for us is a playoff game.”
Plan of Attack
The University’s mid-terms exams are on tap this week – so too then is physical, if not mental rest for Irish players during their well-time bye.
“We’ll lift on Monday; Tuesday, we’ll articulate a lot, 11 on 11, our offense against the defense with some similar looks to USC without formulating a particular game plan,” Kelly said of his early schedule this week. “Just to keep our guys moving at a fast pace. Wednesday we'll do the same but in a shorter format.
“So Tuesday and Wednesday of (this) week, we'll have an eye towards USC. We'll unveil our game plan (next) Monday with that being a bonus day for us; and that will be the official USC full blown practice.”
Ankle injuries to senior defensive end Ethan Johnson and junior linebacker Manti Te’o will receive due rest and recovery time. “We'll protect some guys…other than that, we'll get two pretty good days in and then give them about three days off,” Kelly added, noting, “We want to keep within our normal pattern. I don't like to introduce too much too early. What we'll try to do is we'll take (USC’s) base runs and passes, and their base defenses, and we'll run them ourselves…without going into a scout team situation and a demo squad,” he explained. “We are going to stay away from doing that and really go 11 on 11 so we get some good speed work.”
On board with the bunch
Year 2 of the Kelly era saw only minor changes in his staff’s assignments. According to the head coach, each benefited the program in the season’s first half.
“I've got a great group of coaches and teachers. Obviously Kerry Cooks (cornerbacks) and Chuck Martin (safeties) are coordinating the back end of our defense and they work so well together. To have two talented coaches in the back end of your defense like that is almost a luxury. So we are very pleased in that respect.
“And then on the offensive side of ball we have (Ed) Warinner who has done a great job of putting together the run game,” Kelly said of his offensive line coach. “I think that's pretty evident. I think we have had back to back over 250 yards rushing per game. You start doing that with what we can do offensively; we are very difficult to defend.
“So I think at both instances, those assignments internally have strengthened our staff.”
Cooks, who starred at safety at Iowa in the late 90s and played three seasons at the position in the NFL, worked with outside linebackers last season while Martin ran the entire defensive backfield (in addition to his recruiting coordinator duties).