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A wide receiver needs to step up

This isn’t going to be a column about filling Michael Floyd’s void. If you’re looking for one of those, I suggest you check here, here, here, or here. (My personal favorite is Frank Vitovitch’s at very extensive.)

I could go on for paragraphs about the need for Duval Kamara or Shaq Evans to become the alpha dogs they were projected to be. I could talk about Deion Walker or Robby Paris, or John Goodman, another freshman who was targeted by Jimmy Clausen with the game on the line.

(A practice that needs to stop, in one writer’s opinion.)

But I won’t.

The one receiver that needs to fill Michael Floyd’s shoes is the best remaining receiver on the Irish roster:

Golden Tate.

I’ll never argue that Tate’s numbers this season haven’t been rock solid. His seven catches for 127 yards and a huge touchdown on Saturday likely were the difference in the game. His 9 catches, 115 yards, and two touchdowns against Michigan showed the undisputed skill and ability Tate brings to the field with him. He toyed with defensive backs, dazzled us with his moves and moxie. Yet if the Irish are going to reach their goals this season, they’re going to need Tate to do much more.

Tate’s drops are maddening. Worse still, his mental game leaves you scratching your head. Tate breaking off his route and watching Clausen’s deep pass nearly sail into the arms of a Michigan State defender had Irish fans pulling their hair in frustration. Where was the hustle to chase down the ball? Where was the urgency?

It’s much too late in the maturation process for Tate to still be playing the “getting the hang of it” game. This is Tate’s third year in the program, his third year as a wide receiver. For all that Tate has done to dazzle us with his athleticism and skill, the mental lapses he suffers shows just how much work he has left to do before fulfills his potential. Even Tate admits as much.

“I guess I’m just not focusing still,” Tate said after the game when asked about his drops. “My hands were just really low and they should be up high. I honestly don’t remember the last time I dropped the ball before last week since high school.”

With Michael Floyd gone from the offense, Tate no longer can afford the enigmatic spells, the boyish taunts, and the showman’s flash. He needs to become the rock that the Irish passing game is based around. He needs to make both types of plays regularly -- the extraordinary, and even more importantly, the ordinary.

We all know Tate has the skills needed to do it. We’ll find out shortly if he’s got what it takes.