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Wolverines finally slow Floyd

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- When Notre Dame traveled to play Michigan in the Big House two years ago, Irish wide receiver Michael Floyd had to leave the stadium early after suffering an injury to his leg. Still, he had posted seven receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown.

This year, in a 35-31 loss that Floyd, now a senior, described as devastating, it only appeared that he'd left the stadium after his statistics plummeted after the first three quarters and heading into the final stanza.

Two years ago, Floyd had the luxury of having Golden Tate on the field with him, keeping the Wolverines honest on defense and allowing the quick receiver to exploit single coverage. Last year, with Kyle Rudolph at tight end, it was still a big risk for Michigan to devote too much coverage to Floyd, knowing Rudolph also could expose the Wolverines' struggling secondary.

But this year, Michigan knew that if sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees threw the ball it was most likely going to end up in Floyd's hands.

So the Wolverines, looking for their third straight win over Notre Dame, spent much of the week focusing their defensive efforts on how to contain Floyd. Both senior Darryl Stonum and redshirt freshman Jerald Robinson wore No. 3 on the scout team during practices.

"You better make sure, No. 1, you're playing with great technique on him," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said early in the week. "In the back end if you don't play with perfect technique or great technique, you're going to get exposed. I think the second thing is you can't allow the quarterback all day to throw to him, and I think you have to give him a number of different coverages."

Through the first three quarters, it looked as though Michigan really had no answer for the 6-foot-3, 224-pound speedster. In the first half alone, Floyd had 112 of Notre Dame's 166 yards of total offense on seven catches. He broke tackles and made the Wolverines' defense look like last year's struggling unit.

But in the second half, Michigan slowed his progression, allowing Floyd only 37 yards in the third quarter and 10 in the fourth. He finished with 13 receptions for 159 yards. The total made him Notre Dame's all-time leading receiver wtih 2.852 yards, pushing him ahead of Tate (2,707).

Wolverines redshirt junior safety Jordan Kovacs, who's quickly becoming Michigan's most reliable player in the secondary, deserves much of the credit for helping keep Floyd in check in the final 30 minutes.

"He made catches -- you can never eliminate a guy like that or take him out of the game," Kovacs said after the game. "But that's something we tried to do, we couldn't do that at times, but at the same time I don't think he made any really big catches on us. We kind of corralled him in that aspect.

"He's gonna get his catches, we knew that. But we couldn't let the rest of the team beat us."

In the final quarter, in large part because Michigan's offense spent nine minutes on the field, Floyd had just two catches. After producing nearly 70 percent of the Fighting Irish's offense in the first half as Notre Dame took a 17-7 halftime lead, Floyd finished with less than one-third of the team's offensive production.

By changing up the defensive schemes and actually keeping its offense on the field for more than four consecutive plays, the Wolverines were able to slow Floyd.

"We gotta be perfect in everything," Floyd said after the game. "We can't just go out there and think that we're just gonna win. We gotta capitalize on everything the teammates give us, the opponents give us, and today we fell short."

Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at jenningsespn@gmail.com.