When Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd went down with a broken collarbone against Michigan State on Sept. 19, it looked like his season would be over, and the Irish would have to make do without one of the nation’s top big-play receivers.
However, it’s a different story just a little over six weeks later, as the sophomore has been cleared to make his return when the Irish host Navy on Saturday.
Floyd started the season by catching four passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns against Nevada, and he followed that up with seven catches, 131 yards, and another touchdown against Michigan. Against Michigan State, he had two catches for 38 yards and a touchdown before sustaining his injury in the second quarter, and he very nearly had a second touchdown on the play on which he was injured.
So, it’s certainly understating the obvious to say that he’s been missed, with the numbers that he’d been putting up prior to his injury. However, in Floyd’s absence, Golden Tate has stepped up and then some, putting himself in position to earn at least a few Heisman votes. From the point that Floyd was injured, Tate has 42 catches for 745 yards and seven touchdowns, and he’s also run for two touchdowns.
That includes game-winning touchdown catches against Michigan State and Boston College, big grabs on key drives against Purdue and Washington (which was part of a 9-catch, 244-yard performance against the Huskies), so Tate (and his draft stock) have certainly been seen a boost with him flourishing in the role of go-to guy.
However, Floyd has definitely been missed. You know he would’ve been a target on Notre Dame's final drive against USC, when the Irish came up just four yards short of the end zone.
Not only that, but Jimmy Clausen's numbers, while excellent, would be even more so if Floyd were in the lineup. Clausen threw for 315 and 338 yards in the first two games, and he threw for 300 yards against Michigan State, but he’s been over that mark only once in the last five games and not once in the last three. That was when the Irish needed every one of Tate’s 244 yards and Clausen’s 422 yards to pull out the win over Washington.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph has been a reliable weapon, and Robby Parris and Duval Kamara have both stepped up in games, but none of those are nearly the explosive threat that Floyd is. And it’s worth mentioning that Notre Dame's ground game didn’t have a ton of success against Washington, suddenly sieve-like USC, and Boston College in three nail-biters.
Not only will Floyd’s return be an overall boost to the offense, but if anything, the return of Floyd could well help put Jimmy Clausen over the top in the Heisman race.
Clausen has consistently performed week-to-week, with clutch performances coming against Michigan State, Purdue, Washington, and Boston College (and two that came to naught against Michigan and USC), and with Sam Bradford not a factor and Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy not exactly dominating, the door’s still very wide open for Clausen if Tebow, McCoy, or Mark Ingram don‘t slam it shut.
With two of the nation’s elite receivers to throw to once again, Clausen has a chance to put up monster numbers against some quality opposition down the stretch.
The Irish follow the Navy game with a trip to Pittsburgh, who’s one bad 11-minute stretch in Raleigh away from being 8-0 and in the top 10.
Following their trip to Pitt, there’s a home game against Connecticut, who might be the best (and unluckiest) 4-4 team that you might ever see. All four of the Huskies’ losses have come in the final minutes.
Then there’s the season finale at Stanford, who’s lost to Notre Dame by a touchdown in each of Jim Harbaugh’s first two seasons and won’t be the least bit fazed by the Irish after having faced Oregon, USC, and Cal in the three weeks prior.
If ND can win out through this final stretch and finish 10-2, and Clausen posts some eye-catching numbers (and perhaps another clutch fourth-quarter performance or two), he’ll certainly nail down a trip to New York, at the very least. From there, it’ll be on the rest of the favorites to (not) do their part.
But with Floyd back in the saddle, the chances for Notre Dame to add to their collection of Heisman winners got just a little better.
This article was originally published on The Red Zone Report .