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Riddick earns tough yards to lead offense

Chris Allen | Tuesday, November 27, 2012

LOS ANGELES – With one win left to clinch a national championship berth and facing a hostile road environment against its biggest rival, Notre Dame rode the legs of senior running back Theo Riddick to the BCS National Championship Game.

Riddick, who has bounced between receiver and running back over the last three seasons, turned in the best game of his career as the Irish defeated USC 22-13. The senior rushed for 146 yards – a career high – and added 33 receiving yards while breaking countless tackles throughout the game.

“If you want to know about the Fighting Irish, you just need to look at Theo Riddick,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “Here’s a guy that was a wide receiver for me the first two years, we asked him to move back to running back, and in game 12 he manages 140 yards, but broke countless tackles and got us the tough yards that we needed today.”

Riddick’s versatility as a running back was on display all over the field throughout the Irish victory. The senior from Manville, N.J., kept sophomore quarterback Everett Golson from pressure with flawless pass blocking and caught three passes – including a crucial third-down conversion along the Notre Dame sideline.

But it was his bruising rushing performance that earned his coach’s accolades. Many of Riddick’s 146 yards on the ground came after contact.

“You just look at his jersey after the game and you go, ‘There’s no wonder why this team has the toughness that it does,’” Kelly said.

Though the 5-foot-11, 200-pound back has gained a reputation for playing like a much larger back due to his bruising style, Riddick said his ability to run after contact is just his natural instinct.

“I was just running hard. That’s what I’m supposed to do,” he said of his performance. “The offensive line did a great job today. I was able to explore holes and make people miss.

“It was just great to see all the linemen doing their jobs up front, and moving those big guys to make great holes for us. Like I said, my hat goes off to my offensive linemen. Without them, there’s no me.”

Riddick produced the offensive highlight of the game for Notre Dame as the Irish clung to a 19-13 lead with 7:47 left on 1st-and-10 from the USC 26-yard line. Riddick took a handoff as USC defensive lineman Morgan Breslin and safety Josh Shaw broke through the line and looked sure to drop him for a loss. Riddick quickly spun away from the pursuing defenders and broke through a hole, driving through cornerback Nickell Robey downfield for a 15-yard gain into the red zone. The run set up a chip-shot field goal for sophomore kicker Kyle Brindza that proved to be the game’s final score.

“My will is the same throughout every game. I mean I never try to go down easy,” Riddick said. “I keep on fighting. I was lucky to get out of some tackles today.”

On a night Notre Dame fans will not soon forget, Riddick completed his season-long return from receiver to running back by taking 20 handoffs and running right into Notre Dame lore. For Riddick, it was the final regular-season game of a career played at multiple positions with his teammates in mind.

“What can I say? I play for my teammates. During those transitions, I didn’t really have a problem with it,” Riddick said. “Coach Kelly wanted me to play wide receiver, I played it. Getting back in the backfield, I did that too. I do it for my teammates … I’m a team guy. I have been my whole career. I’ll do anything for my teammates.”

Contact Chris Allen at callen10@nd.edu