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Ten players, ten reasons: Theo Riddick

Jan 1, 2013, 6:26 PM EDT

Notre Dame v USC Getty Images

The fifth in a series on ten below-the-radar players whose performances helped key the Irish’s run to the national title game. Others include Zeke Motta, Danny Spond, TJ Jones and Prince Shembo.

In one of Brian Kelly’s first meetings with the media after taking over Notre Dame’s football team, he gushed about Theo Riddick. The soon-to-be sophomore became one of Kelly’s early projects, with a move to slot receiver designed to get the ball to Riddick early and often and fill a vacancy on a roster in desperate need of pass catchers.

Yet the move didn’t bring immediate success. As much as everybody knew Riddick was a player that could make things happen, the results were a mixed bag. After a slow start in 2010, Riddick exploded against Michigan State and caught 33 balls over four games before an ankle injury rendered him ineffective the rest of the season.

Entering 2011 expecting bigger things, Kelly once again identified Riddick as one of his premiere playmakers. The Irish coaching staff bet big on Riddick’s skillset on special teams, with the hopes that he’d add a dynamic element to the return game.

“What I’ve said to Theo is he’ll take his blows on offense,” Kelly said before the Irish’s season opening game against South Florida. “If he needs a play or two because he’s playing special teams, he’ll take it on offense.

“He has to be a huge impact for us in special teams.”

Unfortunately, that impact turned out to be a negative one, as Riddick struggled mightily as the team’s primary punt returner as he looked horribly uncomfortable returning punts and fumbled the ball away to USF in their shocking season opening loss. While he rallied with two touchdowns against Michigan the next week, Riddick never resumed his role as the team’s return specialist, and a season that opened with so much promise individually for Riddick went the way of the team, with Riddick all but mirroring the production of his sophomore season — just like the Irish did with a replica 8-5 season — a disappointment for everyone, all things considered.

With Jonas Gray going down to a serious knee injury and Riddick banged up late in the season as well, the junior returned to the lineup as a back-up running back, getting eight carries for a respectable 36 yards against Florida State in the bowl loss.

After three seasons, Theo Riddick’s role on the Irish offense was still up in the air. Playing for a coach that was known for his ability to develop players, the struggles Riddick had finding his role in the Irish offense were puzzling. With a return to the backfield in store for his senior season — again to help fill a deficiency in the depth chart — even sparkling early returns after an impressive spring, left many skeptical.

Yet Riddick’s senior season has been a triumph on multiple levels. The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder went from being a mismatching piece of the puzzle to the team’s bell cow. After being a player who’s productivity was riddled by ups-and-downs, Riddick’s senior season was a marvel of consistency. Taking over as the starting running back while Cierre Wood sat for the team’s first two games, Riddick never gave up the job — trusted by Kelly to run for the tough yards and be the team’s most versatile weapon.

That Riddick was able to make that transformation again speaks to player development. And while it sometimes takes longer than you’d like it to, when the light bulb finally goes on, it’s a tremendously rewarding situation.

Running back’s coach Tony Alford — who has been Riddick’s position coach for all four seasons at Notre Dame — talked about Riddick’s transformation last week, recalling one of the key moments in the senior’s development.

ESPN’s Matt Fortuna told the story:

Shortly after Riddick’s return to the backfield — where he would bear some of his old responsibilities as a slot man, too — the senior messed up an assignment. Bad.

Head coach Brian Kelly, in no pleasant terms, let Riddick hear about it. And the response was night and day from what Alford had come to expect.

“When I saw a distinct change is when Coach Kelly ripped him a new one for a mistake that was made and got after him,” Alford said. “And instead of Theo going in the tank, which he had a tendency to do, and to shut things off when Coach would get after him, he looked up and said: ‘Yes, sir. I got it.’ He patted Coach on the rear end, said: ‘I got it,’ turned around, walked away and got it. Versus pouting, where he had a tendency to do that earlier in his career.

“Which told me that he’s finally getting it. This is not a personal attack. We’re trying to get you better.”

And Riddick’s gotten nothing but better all season. While he sometimes struggled to put up the type of production you’d expect from a No. 1 running back, he continued to be the guy Kelly counted on, the head coach willing to sacrifice a few yards in the name of stability and consistency.

“I think when we got him back with the ball in his hand as a running back he really blossomed as a complete player,” Kelly said of Riddick. “I think the stages that he went through this year were that he exerted his will. He played physical. He had a determination. He made a number of big plays during the year.”

No plays were bigger than the ones he made against USC, where Riddick carried the Irish offense as a runner, grinding out tough carries between the tackles but also showing the elusiveness and skills in the open field that long dazzled the coaching staff.

Heading into his final game for the Irish, Theo Riddick is the dynamic player many expected to see these past four years. It’s just taken a little bit longer for him to get there.

Better late than never.

 

  1. ajw21 - Jan 1, 2013 at 7:40 PM

    I dont remember what game it was this season but the light bulb turned on and he started playing as the #1 rb. Kudos to Kelly for staying with him but I still wish Wood would of got more carries this season.
    Go Irish!

  2. audiguy - Jan 1, 2013 at 8:07 PM

    Wood will be a better pro but theo’s versatility is unmatched

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Jan 2, 2013 at 1:50 AM

      I think Wood will be quality, but I’m not sure that he’ll be a better pro. But comparing them might be a mute point, cause i think that Theo and Wood won’t play the same role in the Pro game. Slowly, the Pro boys are shifting to a Chip Kelly/RGIII style offense and I think Theo would be a high value in that offense.

  3. dutch31 - Jan 1, 2013 at 8:10 PM

    The way it seemed to me was whenever there was a zone run where Kelly felt Wood didn’t make that “north/ South foot in the ground cut when it was there, he was out of the game. He would go back in but not till BK felt he made his point.

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Jan 2, 2013 at 1:50 AM

      WOW! never really thought of if like that, but now that i have, you are 1000% correct i think.

  4. dudeacow - Jan 1, 2013 at 8:16 PM

    I love how Riddick runs like a power back but makes excellent cuts like his body frame would suggest. I wonder how much he squats.

    • bernhtp - Jan 1, 2013 at 8:20 PM

      I posted right after the Blue-Gold game in the spring that I was shocked at how Riddick looked – he was totally ripped. I’ve never seen that much bulging/defined muscle from someone not in a body-building photo. I have no doubt that his squat is huge. He’s obviously put in the work with Longo and it shows on the field.

      • nudeman - Jan 1, 2013 at 8:33 PM

        I hope his ripped body is “natural” – ahem – if you know what I mean.
        OK, kill me for that if you must. Just joking. I think.

        On another topic …

        I can’t resist sharing this. Spoke to a USC guy today who has some ties to the team. That program is in full meltdown after the Sun Bowl debacle and influential alums are pounding on Haden to pull the plug on Kiffin. They are angry over the lack of leadership and the chaos; players tweeting garbage, insulting the City of El Paso, and Kiffin unable to control any of it. Alums want him gone, yesterday.

        There are also rumors that the reason Kiffin wore sunglasses yesterday because he got drilled by one of his players. Rumors.

        Bill Plaschke, clown columnist for the LA Times and apologist for USC rips them in his column. http://www.latimes.com/sports/college/usc/la-sp-plaschke-usc-20130101,0,1479771.column

        Firing him now will be tough, given that there are sanctions a new coach would have to deal with and the fact that it would result in even more defections from the recruiting class. But it’s going to be disruptive whenever he does it, and it seems like a matter of time. This guy just can’t lead.

        Good news is … how can Redfield possibly consider going there now?

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Jan 1, 2013 at 11:18 PM

      I watched NBCSports for the better part of the day as they were replaying the games they broadcast this season as well as the Undefeated special that I hadn’t yet seen. What popped out at me were all the tough yards Riddick gained over the course of the year, especially in critical situations. He has developed into a helluva running back and is one of my favorite Jersey Boys on this team.

      Regarding Kiffen, you knew there were problems there the minute that Haden had to come out with his public support of him a few weeks back. It will be disruptive to the program whenever they choose to show him the door but it’s like ripping off a bandaid, just get it over with. It might be detrimental to SC’s recruiting to keep him there. I know some on this board have advocated that the SC admin keep Kiffen because it benefits us in the long run. I see the point but would rather play and defeat SC when they are a worthy adversary without the taint (did I just say taint?) of a bad coach, NCAA violations, etc.

      • nudeman - Jan 1, 2013 at 11:45 PM

        jersey

        As far USC becoming a “worthy opponent” again … not my problem.

        I doubt USC Nation was sitting around during the Faust, Davie, Willingham, Weis years saying “ya know, I just wish ND could get back to being ND so when we beat them …”

        If it was me, I’d fire Kiffin. But if they want to keep him, fine.

        There is no team I hate more than USC, I’m happy if ND beats them 45-0 for the next 7 years, and don’t really care if they get the right coach or not. In fact I hope they don’t. I love it when they are in a constant state of misery. Schadenfreude. Effing rich punks.

      • papadec - Jan 2, 2013 at 12:07 AM

        Sooner, or later, even the slimiest of slime balls have to pay the piper. It was all over for Kiffin when Haden had to come out with a supporting statement. 150%? Give me a break – lost to ucla, lost to ND, embarrassed in a Bowl game, losing recruiting commits. Haden might overlook some of those strikes – BUT, if the alums start to withhold donations? It’s just a matter of time until Pat gets called on the carpet (if he hasn’t already been) and told to get rid of the cancer.

      • nudeman - Jan 2, 2013 at 12:17 AM

        papa
        I hope they extend Kiffin’s contract
        But if it not and they can him, I hope the next coach is WORSE.

        Chan Gailey is available. So is Crennel. And Norv and Lovie.

        In the early 60s the Cubs had the infamous “College of Coaches” where one guy would manage the team for a couple months, then turn it over to the next clown.
        It was an unmitigated disaster, even by Cub standards.

        But it just might work at USC.
        Chan takes the first 2 games, then Lovie, etc.

        And frankly they’d ALL look good in scarlet and gold.

        Just a thought, in case Haden is reading.

      • bernhtp - Jan 2, 2013 at 8:00 AM

        Nude: the USC meltdown is obviously not lost on their recruiting class. Here is another article for you:

        http://footballrecruiting.rivals.com/content.asp?CID=1455097

      • nudeman - Jan 2, 2013 at 11:05 AM

        bern
        That was interesting but that Hutchings kid ain’t coming to ND, regardless of what does/doesn’t happen at USC. Not a single thing in that interview made me feel like he’s an ND guy in any way.

        I think however ND will get Redfield almost for certain; and it seems like Vanderdoes is warming up nearly every day.

        On another note, Mike Farrell from Rivals today is predicting AQM goes to Miami.
        Sounds more and more like an academic issue.
        Would love to have him but if required to pick from Vanderdoes or AQM, easy decision. Vanderdoes all the way.

      • bernhtp - Jan 2, 2013 at 11:56 AM

        Nude: I agree that Hutchings is a long shot, at best. However, the visits we’re getting by USC commits is testimony both to our current attraction and their repulsion.

        Are you going to Miami? My liftoff is now within 48 hours. Going to some great parties (with wife) besides the game. Excited.

      • whodabigdog - Jan 2, 2013 at 12:18 PM

        The couple who sit behind me at ND games are from california and told me at the WF game that every one out there wants Kiffen out.She said after the switched jersey and football deflating incident that fans are tired of his crap.Myself I dont mind whipping his little butt every year. On a different note my plane leaves at 543 am.Leaving snowy Michigan for sunny SoBe.Cant wait.GoIRISH!! Lets do this!!!

  5. mjlamora - Jan 1, 2013 at 10:04 PM

    Apologies for going off-topic here, but I’m hopeful that this room won’t mind.

    Are there any legit non-ESPN streaming options (free or paid) for the game?

    The WatchESPN app is not an option for me. Aside from helping me out, I suspect that there are a few Domers overseas that might appreciate this info.

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Jan 2, 2013 at 12:03 PM

      My little brother uses this website…

      thefirstrow.eu

      I’ve never used it, but he says its pretty reliable. Obviously, with the “.eu” moniker, it’s a European website…or Yer’a-peein. if you a ‘Bama fan :)

  6. seanb20124 - Jan 1, 2013 at 10:47 PM

    Simple google search will answer your prayers

  7. irishadrian - Jan 2, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    Kiffin is such a pussy, the second I turned on the game and saw him in that stupid hoodie, sunglasses and gloves combo I knew they were finished. His team played like a mirror image of him and although they nay have great recruits on paper, I don’t see them as character guys who play till the end and will their team to win. Their QB was awful. I hope he dosen’t get fired because someone much better will replace him.

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Jan 2, 2013 at 12:06 PM

      I just CAN NOT figure out how a guy like Pat Haden (Rhodes Scholar/high class/high integrity), lets this clown Kiffin keep his job. Forget the FB team’s performance on the field, their shenanigans in El Paso redefined “Prima Donna”

      • nudeman - Jan 2, 2013 at 12:33 PM

        I’ve thought the same thing, but this is a defining moment for Haden.

        Maybe he’s not who we thought he was.

        Just because he did ND games, is intelligent, thoughtful and well spoken and has a great academic and business background … none of that guarantees he’ll make the right decision with integrity once he’s inside the sh**storm that is USC football.

        Seems like he’s gonna’ let himself be held hostage by their great recruiting class, which gets a little less great every day.

  8. sullyp18 - Jan 2, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    Looks like Torii Hunter broke his femur yesterday. It also looks like a few current USC recruits have scheduled visits with ND in Jan. Folston is also set to commit today.

    • bernhtp - Jan 2, 2013 at 12:03 PM

      It would be nice to get a medical report on Tori. A femur break can be anything from a hairline fracture to a compound fracture. Where the break is and its severity can have profound implications on the recovery time and prognosis.

      Was he supposed to be an EE?

      • nudeman - Jan 2, 2013 at 12:35 PM

        Don’t know how bad the break is per se, but I did read they had to put a pin in it. Not sure if that means it is a bad one necessarily though.

        Doctor in the house to weigh in on this?

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