Floyd steps up in Cissoko's absence, secondary filling in depth questions

Daily Sports Editor
Published September 27, 2009

Surrounded by friends and family after the game, J.T. Floyd bubbled with excitement. He exchanged high-fives and hugs with those close to him. The cornerback happily signed kids’ hats and footballs when asked.

Floyd didn’t seem to notice that most autograph-hunters had to peruse their game programs to figure out who he was — this was his day to shine. After watching from the sideline for the first 15 games of his career, the redshirt freshman was finally in the spotlight. And he loved it.

In the first quarter, Floyd found himself subbing in for Boubacar Cissoko after the sophomore gave up a 56-yard bomb to wide receiver Tandon Doss. And as soon as Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell saw Floyd, he began to test the youngster.

Early and often, Floyd’s number was called, and nearly every time he answered the challenge on the Hoosiers’ deep-passing game.

“I know football, and I know they’re always going to test the inexperienced guy when you got a guy like Donovan Warren on the other side,” Floyd said. “I mean, who would you go at? So, I knew it was coming, and I was just ready to get it.”

He was called for one questionable pass interference penalty on one of Chappell’s deep throws, but for the most part, his coverage was solid.

“At first, he was a little nervous, but as the game wore on, he got more and more comfortable, and he did a good job,” defensive coordinator Greg Robinson said. “He really held his own.”

If Floyd can continue to progress, he could shore up the third cornerback spot, which has been a concern since the beginning of the year. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez has made no attempt to hide his concern about the depth in the secondary, which has already seen some significant injuries this season.

Free safety Mike Williams was dinged up in the Notre Dame game, played limitedly against Eastern Michigan and sat on Saturday, leaving the starting job to former walk-on Jordan Kovacs. And at cornerback, Cissoko has struggled through a few minor injuries and some execution struggles.

“We got a lot of young guys, we got guys younger than me, so we just gotta go play hard,” Floyd said. “We’re real inexperienced, but when it comes down to it, we’re all (good) players.”

On Saturday, Robinson and Rodriguez both said it was a coaches’ decision to sit Cissoko after he gave up the big play.

While Floyd played opposite Warren for the rest of the game, Cissoko roamed the sideline near the defensive coaching staff.

“I think he was just having problems with coverages,” junior safety Troy Woolfolk said of Cissoko’s play. “So we just had to try something new. Boubacar, he’s a great athlete, and once he comes back, we’ll be able to go back.”

Even though Floyd and Kovacs held their own on individual plays, having the two regular starters on the bench definitely disrupted the continuity of the secondary. Warren blamed many of the Hoosiers’ big plays — the 85-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, for example — on miscommunication within the unit.

“We had a really good defense, but if you can’t communicate and be on the same page, then nobody can do anything,” Woolfolk said. “We just had a little problem, and we fixed that later on and shut the team down.”