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December 12, 2008Golden Tate knew what was coming: double coverage.
He also knew what wasn't: the ball.
Every time the sophomore went out for a pass against USC he saw Cover-Two, the kind that turned Tate into a decoy the second the ball touched Jimmy Clausen's fingertips. Asked to describe the Trojans' strategy, Tate mumbled that deep threat deleting formation five times with an air of resignation.
"It got to the point where I just was like what can I do to help this team out?" Tate said. "They're double covering me everywhere I went."
Not any more. Not with Michael Floyd back on the field for the Hawaii Bowl after a three-week rehab following a sprained knee suffered against Navy.
Floyd deferred to Charlie Weis to quantify how much he'll play against Hawaii, but he left no doubt he's ready to accept a green light from his coach. Floyd said that earlier this week he felt he'd recovered enough to get back into the lineup where he'll try to expand his freshman records for catches (46), yards (702) and touchdowns (7).
With Floyd, Notre Dame's passing game averaged 259.4 yards per game. Without him it managed just 147.3.
"I hope he doesn't get hurt ever again," Tate said. "I'm glad to have him back. We were hurting without him."
Floyd said the injury was the first serious setback of his career and he turned to coaches and former teammates at Cretin-Derham Hall for support in addition to friends at Notre Dame. He probably needed it while watching the Irish offense turn into a one-man show as Tate proved to be the only receiver capable of stretching the field.
As the offense stagnated, Floyd wondered if he could have been the difference against Syracuse and USC.
"Just knowing that some plays might have been going to me, maybe it wasn't a catch," Floyd said. "Maybe I felt I could go in there and catch the ball too."
While Floyd said all the right things about other receivers stepping up, there's no denying the rest of Notre Dame's wide outs struggled to do so. Would-be replacements Duval Kamara and Robby Parris (also injured) combined for four catches that covered 43 yards in Floyd's three-game absence.
"Yeah, it's been tough," Clausen said. "He's a playmaker, a great player. He's a big part of our offense. We missed him a lot."
Floyd said he wasn't surprised by his freshman production, although he didn't expect a clean sweep of Notre Dame's rookie records either. The former five-star recruit continues to run a pattern of humility mixed with undeniable talent. Floyd thanked David Grimes and George West for helping him learn the system, even if that knowledge let him blow by those upperclassmen.
"You dream of having a big-time season every year, just coming into school I wanted to be able to play as a true freshman," Floyd said. "I just try to do as much as possible with my ability. I think I did an all right job."
Tate put it another way.
"He's a freshman who plays like he's been playing this game for 30 years."