Notre Dame, Alabama having success sharing the ball
BY MARK LAZERUS email@example.com January 6, 2013 10:47PM
Notre Dame running back Theo Riddick breaks out past Boston College defenders during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Boston on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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Updated: January 7, 2013 5:08PM
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The old football axiom says that if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have any. When it comes to running backs, however, Notre Dame and Alabama say the more, the merrier.
The Irish and Crimson Tide each have ridden a dynamic duo of tailbacks into the BCS championship game. Alabama’s Eddie Lacy (1,182 yards) and freshman T.J. Yeldon (1,000 yards) are the first two Tide backs to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s Theo Riddick (880 yards) and Cierre Wood (740) did most of the heavy lifting for the Irish while redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson found his footing.
While every running back wants to get 20-25 carries a game, there are clear advantages to the backfield buddy system.
“It helps out a lot, being able to rotate backs,” Lacy said. “It takes a lot off the body; it keeps you from taking unnecessary hits. It’s a long season, so when you come to games like this, you’re not really worn all the way down because you’ve been able to get rest here and there.”
For Alabama, Lacy and Yeldon weigh around 220 pounds and bring a similar bruising style. For Notre Dame, Riddick brings the power — Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin called him “pound for pound, as good a football player as they make” — while Wood is a shiftier, more explosive runner. Speedy George Atkinson III offers yet another change of pace for a few carries a game.
Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart (who recruited Atkinson) said it’s not unusually difficult to game plan for multiple backs because the Irish run a lot of the same plays with each runner. He also is used to it in the SEC — LSU rotates four backs, for example. But Smart has been impressed by what he has seen on film.
“Them two dudes are fast,” he said of Wood and Atkinson. “Riddick is probably quicker than the other two. I didn’t think a former receiver would run with that much power, but he does run with power. They’re really good backs.”
The downside, of course, is that while the team might benefit from the platoon, the individuals can suffer. Besides the natural competitive streak that makes a running back want to be the featured back, it can be difficult to get into a rhythm when you’re standing on the sideline for several series at a time.
“The advantage is it keeps us fresh,” Yeldon said. “The disadvantage is sometimes a running back can get cold, and it can be hard to stay warm on the sideline.”
Wood, who lost his starting job to Riddick after being suspended for the first two games for an unspecified rules violation, struggled early on to accept his reduced role. After all, he was coming off one of the 10 most productive rushing seasons in Notre Dame history as a junior, when he ran for 1,102 yards. Wood ran 18 times in a game twice, against Miami (118 yards) and BYU (114), but he has had eight carries or fewer in three of the last five games.
However, he has made the most of his limited carries, averaging 6.7 yards per attempt. He also has touchdown runs of 62 yards against Oklahoma and 68 against Wake Forest.
“It was a new challenge for me, but I embraced it,” said Wood, who has yet to announce whether he’ll return for a fifth season or enter the NFL draft.
Wood’s mentality is shared by both teams, and it has helped get them to South Florida.
“You’ve got to be a team player,” Riddick said. “You can’t be selfish. When your number’s called, make the best of it.”