SOUTH BEND | The simple white placard contained the logos for Notre Dame on the left, the BCS Championship on the right.
In the middle, in thick letters, it read “Theo Riddick.” And underneath that, his position — Running Back.
As Riddick sat at a table early Monday afternoon answering questions about Notre Dame’s Jan. 7 national championship game against Alabama, the piece of cardboard sitting inches away from him served as a subtle reminder of a significant move that helped produce a stirring season.
No, Riddick’s switch back to running back hasn’t created the waves of publicity that coach Brian Kelly’s leadership, Manti Te’o’s inspiration or Everett Golson’s ascent have, but Riddick’s shift from wide receiver to the backfield this season played a role in ND’s 12-0 record and climb to No. 1 in the polls.
“It’s one thing to go back to a position where you feel comfortable,” Kelly said, “but when he went back there, he impacted our games with a senior’s kind of resolve that, ‘I’m going to find a way to win this game.’”
Riddick’s resolve will be put on display one last time — and on the biggest stage imaginable — when Notre Dame faces second-ranked and defending national champion Alabama (12-1) in the Jan. 7 BCS Championship in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. (CDT) on ESPN.
Riddick, Cierre Wood and George Atkinson III have helped ease Golson’s first year as a starter by producing 202.5 rushing yards per game, which ranks 27th nationally.
The hitch is that describing Alabama’s run defense as stingy would be a gross understatement. The Crimson Tide allow 79.7 rushing yards per game, making them the nation’s top rush defense.
“They have a great front four, great linebacking corps, great secondary. Great defense overall,” said the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Riddick. “But our approach is not going to change. We’re going to approach this game like any other game, and expect us to run the ball.
“They’re a very great defense, as everyone can see. But we’ve got some great players on the offensive side, so they’re going to have a lot on their hands also.”
If the Irish are to hoist that coveted crystal football that goes to the national champion, history in terms of success running the ball may serve as a crystal ball.
ND won the rushing battle in 10 of its 12 games this season (Purdue and Michigan were the two stalwarts).
Since the start of the 2005 season, Notre Dame has gone 43-2 in games in which it has out-rushed its opponent.
Kelly is 160-23-1, including 22-2 at ND, in games in which his team has the edge in rushing.
In the current NCAA statistics, four teams the Irish beat this year — BYU (2), Stanford (3), Michigan State (8) and Pittsburgh (24) — rank in the top 25 in run defense.
“We’ve played a lot of great defenses this year in terms of rushing, and we held our own,” Riddick said. “So we’re not really thinking about doing anything different.”
Don’t expect Riddick to do anything different in terms of running style, which has netted him 880 yards and five touchdowns this year.
He’s made defenders grab at air with a spin move.
There was the 55-yard fourth-down run against BYU in which he appeared down before emerging from a pile and breaking loose. There have been a number of collisions in which Riddick entered as the instigator and exited the winner.
“I’m trying to get a first down or a touchdown,” Riddick said. “I’ve got to get there one way or the other.”
Either way, he’s happy with the opportunity to contribute at the position he’s played most of his life.
“It’s a comfort zone where I can’t even describe to you,” Riddick said. “What can I say? I’m happy to be back there.”