FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Let’s play a little word association, shall we?
In a move back to his natural position, senior running back Theo Riddick was a pillar of the Irish offense this season
“Pound for pound as good a football player as they make,” he said of the senior running back that led the Irish with 880 net rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns and was third on the team with 35 catches for 364 yards and a score.
And fellow running back Cierre Wood?
“As explosive a player as they make,” Martin said of the senior, who finished the regular season with a 6.7-yard average per carry en route to 740 yards and four rushing TDs.
What about sophomore George Atkinson III (361 yards and five touchdowns)?
“Really explosive athlete,” Martin said.
The trio, along with sophomore quarterback Everett Golson (305 yards and five rushing touchdowns) of ball carriers helped Notre Dame average over 200 yards on the ground per game for the first time since the 2000 season. Between 1946 and 2001, Notre Dame had come up short of the 200-yard-average mark only 14 times.
With such a loaded backfield this fall, it made for some interesting distribution conversations among Irish coaches.
Senior Cierre Wood got off to a rocky start this year with a two-game suspension, but answered the bell behind Riddick
“Just based on what they do well day to day,” Martin explained. “We spent obviously tons of time practicing, and they all get opportunities to run all our plays and then you try to slot the guys in positions where you know they can help the team the most. Whether it be inside run, outside run, pass block in, receiving, different routes, even different style of runs, we try to utilize all their strengths.
“The truth be told, they all could be a feature back, they all could do all the things. Everybody is like, he plays more, what's wrong with him? There's nothing wrong with any of the three. We'd like to get George 20 carries a game but there's one football. Coach and I had a discussion at the beginning of the year, "We have to get George more touches," and I'm like, "I'm with you, we've got to run more plays." Whose touches do we want to take away?”
It was easy to decide in the first two weeks of the season, when Wood was suspended for violating team rules. Riddick took the lead and never looked back, but Wood seemed to accept an supporting role, as much as it must have been a hit to his ego.
“We don't want to take away any of the three,” Martin said. “It's a credit to all three of them that they've stuck with it and prepared hard every week, and some weeks they've gotten more touches, but that's the nature of the beast. But we're very fortunate to have three very talented kids at that position.”