The return of Mr. Floyd

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(THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED…)

With Charlie Weis delivering the official news today at his press conference, Michael Floyd is now officially cleared to return for the Irish offense. Let’s take a look at the return of the sophomore receiver and what it means to the Irish offense.

While Golden Tate has been building up his Heisman Trophy resume, Michael Floyd has been healing his broken clavicle. Saturday’s game against Navy will represent seven full weeks the gifted sophomore has rested after his collarbone broke against Michigan State. In the two-plus games that Floyd did play, the results were pretty much transcendent.

Floyd’s 2009 season started with astonishing efficiency. He had four catches against Nevada, three of which he took to the end zone. Against Michigan, Floyd had his way with the Wolverines, and was only slowed by the pavement surrounding the playing field, which sunk a deep cut into Floyd’s leg and kept him off the field for the pivotal minutes of the game. While Floyd was out, Jimmy Clausen’s critical third down pass sailed past Floyd’s replacement, true freshman Shaq Evans, giving Michigan the chance it needed to defeat the Irish in the final seconds. Michael returned to action against Michigan State the next week, seemingly unharmed by the flesh wound and started off his afternoon with a bang, hauling in a touchdown pass from Jimmy Clausen in the corner of the end zone and moving into a tie for 9th place in the Notre Dame record books with Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown at 12 career TD receptions. Brown played 43 games in his Irish career. Floyd was playing in his thirteenth. Just minutes later, in the opposite end zone, Floyd came down with what looked like touchdown catch number 13, but a replay official somehow disagreed. While settling for a short field goal was disappointing, seeing Floyd scamper to the bench with his arm pinned to his chest was devastating.

Last year, Floyd missed the final three regular season games with a knee injury. The maturing Irish offense went 6-4 in the ten games that Floyd played during his true freshman season, averaging 285 yards in the air with him in the lineup. With Floyd out, the offense fell apart, it’s total yardage down a third and the passing yardage down to just 147 yards a game. While this  year’s offense was clearly better suited to replace Floyd, even if he was a much larger part of the offense, I had my worries.

I wrote this after the Michigan State game:

When Michael Floyd went down with a broken collarbone in the second
quarter, the Irish offense changed. With Floyd, the Irish are a dynamic
deep-strike offense, with a capable second receiver in Golden Tate and
an emerging star at tight end in Kyle Rudolph. Without Floyd, the Irish
rode the back of Armando Allen, relying on key third down conversions
from the Wildcat, or short throws to the remaining receivers. In a best
case scenario, Floyd will be back for the USC game, but a capable
second receiver needs to emerge. Duval Kamara seems to be the most
likely candidate, but we’ve yet to see any true results from the
promising start of Kamara’s career. With Floyd on the field, the Irish
can take shots down the field and open up the game with a wide array of
screen passes and runs. Without him, the Irish need to execute better
than the opposing defense, a task made more difficult with the sloppy
mental play we’ve seen thus far from the Irish. When the Irish take the
field next Saturday against Purdue, a capable second receiver must
emerge.

Golden Tate has done more than just emerge, forcing himself into the conversation for the nation’s best player. But for all the talk of the Irish offense not missing a beat, there’s been pretty good evidence that the offense has stagnated. In the red zone alone, the Irish conversion rate has plummeted. In the 10 red zone appearances the Irish made with Floyd, Notre Dame scored 7 touchdowns and kicked 2 field goals, converting 70 percent of their trips into touchdowns. In the 19 red zone appearances since Floyd was injured, the total conversion rate only dipped minimally from 90 to 84 percent, but the touchdown rate plummeted, falling from 70 down to 47 percent, dropping the Notre Dame offense to 75th in TD conversion rate.  (The 70 percent the Irish were averaging with Floyd would’ve been good for 20th.)

On a larger scale, the Irish’s total offense has also taken a hit without Floyd. While looking at yardage totals could skew the data even more, taking a look at Notre Dame’s offensive performance against the average performance of each defense does a good job comparing apples to apples. Notre Dame is gaining 91 yards more than what their opponents are giving up to the rest of their schedule. Yet to see the difference Floyd makes to the offense, note that in the games Floyd played, the Irish averaged a robust +126 yards over the average, while in the five games he missed they out-gained opponents at a more modest +68 yardage rate.

Some will argue that Floyd’s return against Navy might not be as important as getting him back and healthy for Pitt. Right now, the Irish are auditioning every week for voters and bowl representatives, and getting Floyd back in the swing of things against Navy makes a lot of sense, especially in the friendly confines of Notre Dame Stadium.

Besides, assuming he’s gotten a clean bill of health, we’ve been robbed of seeing Floyd on the field for the past six weeks. The fan in me is ready to see the Irish’s most talented player get back on the field.

(Special thanks to the always incredible FunkDoctorSpock for some statistical help…)