What Riddick BringsCierre Wood might be a better "pure" runner than Theo Riddick. He might rip off more runs of 8, 10-12, 15-20, and 20+ yards. He'll be drafted higher into the NFL, and he'll finish his career with far better statistics.
But to understand why Riddick plays more than Wood, it's important to focus on the team's whole, not the sum of the offensive parts. The goal of Notre Dame's offense is to be physical. To wear down its opposition and take over games in the second half.
Changing field position to favor a nationally dominant defense is far more important than the occasional ankle-breaking move in space. Ultimately, scoring points has to be the end result, but Riddick is better equipped and more willing to handle the heavy lifting for Jobs #1 and #2 above. Scoring points often is a function of the little things that help Brian Kelly manage the game.
It was Riddick's pass protection that afforded Everett Golson time to find Chris Brown downfield for the game's decisive 50-yard gain (after Irish right tackle Christian Lombard was beaten badly). It was Riddick who banged between the B gaps no less than 16 times (among 18 rushes) because the goal is to soften up the middle to hit the defense at opportune times outside and in play-action.
He's by no means perfect -- he missed a right side hole on his first rush, he inexplicably dropped a potential game-clinching pass in the flat, and when he does get outside looks he rarely turns the corner as we thought he would. But Riddick is the better pass-catcher, the better blocker, more physical, and a superior inside runner through 8- and 9-man fronts than is Wood, and that's what the Irish face these days.
Wood is clearly better on the outside zone run and dynamic in the open field. He's used as such. Last season he lost 84 yards on rushes, so a tendency to bounce has been established (he's far better in that regard this fall).
And I'm in agreement he should receive at least 12 to sometimes 18 carries per game. If he gets hot, 20. But to be blunt, Riddick didn't jeopardize his teammate's season with an off-field transgression worthy of suspension. I assume that plays a part, too.
Notre Dame is undefeated because of both players; Riddick has successfully salted away wins vs. Purdue (a key 10 yards to set up the game-winning field goal), Michigan, Stanford (with his hands), Brigham Young (in tandem with Wood) and vs. Oklahoma last week. Wood did the same vs. Michigan State and was a force vs. Miami.
And if you're still not convinced and will never be, take solace in the fact that Wood is well-preserved, fresh, and ready to roll entering the season's final month. He'll get his chance.
Said Kelly of the debate: "We are getting way too much out of per-carry statistics. We are looking at circumstances in the game, play call, matching of personnel versus the defensive personnel that's in the game. A lot of those things are not seen within the statistical numbers."
The Future -- DaVaris Daniels and Chris BrownBrown combined with Golson for one of the game's two biggest offensive plays (Wood's untouched 62-yard touchdown the other). He's a future star, certainly by 2014, maybe next fall, because as noted in August, he's a competitive practice player that can do more than run deep, but at 170 pounds, he'd be killed used extensively on Saturdays at present.
"Competitive" is the key descriptor for Daniels, perhaps the team's most gifted receiver but one in need of fine tuning and focus.
"I think you really hit the right word: he competed," said Kelly of Daniels vs. Oklahoma. "That's what we look for from DD is competing every single play. He's a young guy starting to figure it out. You've got to compete at the highest level every single play. We're demanding that from him. I think in terms of competing, you're right on. He competed against Oklahoma. Now the challenge is to compete the same way against Pittsburgh."
Perhaps more impressive than two athletic, one-on-one receptions for first down yardage vs. press coverage was Daniels final contribution -- a wham block on Oklahoma star safety Tony Jefferson that sprung Riddick at the second level for the game's final score. One play prior, Daniels noticeably shied away from the same hit. A few series prior, Daniels was dumped on his backside trying to execute a block on LB Corey Nelson at scrimmage.
He got the last laugh on the game's final touchdown, and at 6'2" 190 with eligibility through 2012, should get plenty more along the way.
Quote to Note: "I would say that he's starting to get to the point where we can put him out there in a limited fashion. You saw how we're using Danny Smith. He's a guy that can come in there and give us some physical blocking. But Danny's not a guy that's going to get every rep out there because we're using his strength. I think Chris's strength right now is: let's push him vertically, but he's got so much more in terms of alignment, assignment, route running, as you mentioned, just his physical profile. So we think he's ready now for a part-time role, but certainly not for a full-time role yet." -- Kelly on Chris Brown in his Tuesday press conference.
The Present -- T.J. Jones and Tyler EifertTogether they've combined for more than 41 percent of the pass targets from Irish quarterbacks this season. They've combined for 36 of the team's 60 first down/touchdown receptions, and Saturday night in Oklahoma, the pair was targeted for 14 of the 27 passes thrown and eight of the 13 team receptions.
Eifert isn't a candidate for most improved, but he remains the offense's most valuable player, providing the best blocking at the position since Anthony Fasano left campus following 2005. It was Eifert who took out a pair of backside defender's on Wood's momentum-seizing touchdown sprint (one of which was tackle leader Tony Jefferson). The senior appeared in my notes for eight more quality blocks, including one pancake vs OLB Julian Wilson, and a key outside seal on Riddick's concluding touchdown run.
His juggling sideline reception vs. great coverage by Jefferson near the Irish goal set up Notre Dame's final go-ahead touchdown, a third-down plunge by Golson.
Jones caught three first downs, competed in space as a blocker, and as usual, wouldn't go down after initially hit. Its efforts like Jones on a first quarter cross and Riddick churning through contact that differentiate this offense from a decade-plus of softer competitors.
Note: Part II will examine the offensive line's sterling effort, the maturing Everett Golson, and notes throughout the roster including a special teams spark.