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Ground game carries Irish past stingy BYU

Cory Bernard | Monday, October 22, 2012

Notre Dame’s starting quarterback was sidelined. BYU’s run defense was ranked third in the country, allowing only 68 yards per game. The odds seemed stacked against the Irish offense Saturday.

No one told senior running backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood.

Riddick rumbled for 143 physical yards – more than BYU had given up in a game all season – while his housemate Wood added 114 yards of his own.

The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Riddick shed would-be Cougar tacklers all day Saturday, most notably on a 55-yard scamper in the second half. Initially bottled-up at the line of scrimmage, he emerged upright from the scrum and dashed down the sidelines before being caught.

“I mean, [Riddick] has run really hard and physical for us,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “He’s been that – last year, we had [running back] Jonas Gray, who was that big physical back. Now I’m not comparing him to Jonas, because he’s not; he’s half his size. But running up between the tackles … it gives an energy to the entire team when you see backs running that physical. And those linemen, they want to start blocking for you.”

Riddick said he learned some of the nuances of running back from the now-graduated Gray.

“You have to go north and south,” he said. “Once you put your foot in the ground, you can’t dance too much, that’s when you allow the other defenders to catch up.”

The Irish entered the locker room at halftime trailing 14-7, but emerged with a renewed focus. Notre Dame only threw the ball three times in the second half, instead opting to lean on its ground game. Wood said he and his offensive peers have always been confident in the rushing attack.

“Basically, if we had to play the whole game without throwing a pass we would still win,” Wood said. “That’s what I think; that’s what all of us think as a core, as a unit. Run the ball, simple as that.”

Despite trailing in the second half, Kelly noted the importance of continuing to pursue a strong rushing attack.

“Well, we just felt like that we matched up well; that they play a lot of different coverages, and you know, if they are going to play a lot of two deep zone, we always philosophically like to go in thinking about running the football first,” Kelly said. “And then, that’s who we are. We are becoming that kind of football team on offense.  You talk about finding an identity; that’s why we talk with it. Even when we were down, we kept running the football.”

Wood may have done serious damage to the BYU defense, but he didn’t shy away from teasing his backfield partner after the game.

“Theodore, how did it feel when you ran down the sideline on that 55-yard scamper, you got hawked from behind?” Wood said to Riddick.

“I was disappointed. I got gassed a little bit but, hey, we won, right?” Riddick responded.

Thanks to the running game, yes, the Irish won.