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Riddick’s return should open up Irish offense

When Notre Dame hits the field at the Sun Bowl on New Years’ Eve, they’ll be doing it with Theo Riddick at nearly full strength, something he hasn’t been since he severely sprained his ankle against Western Michigan.

“Right now, I feel anywhere from 95 to 100 percent,” Riddick said this weekend. “Making cuts at full speed and just playing ball without thinking of my injury.”

Riddick’s injury couldn’t have come at a worst time for his development, as the sophomore had put together four straight games with at least seven catches, including a breakout performance against Michigan State.

“I knew it was bad,” Riddick said of the injury that cost him four games. “I was laying on the ground and I’ve had my share of ankle sprains, but this was by far the worst. I tried to think as positive as I could, but in the back of my mind, I knew it was bad.”

Riddick’s injury also hampered the Irish offense. Riddick’s absence showed against Navy, where Dayne Crist played one of his worst games of the season. While the Irish offense put up enough points to win against Tulsa, Irish head coach Brian Kelly mentioned that Riddick’s contributions to the offense aren’t just limited to the passing game.

“In the running game, he allows the box to widen,” Kelly said about Riddick’s presence on the field. “When we didn’t have that speed at that position we had to get into more two tight ends and really create our own seams in there by running downhill, direct snap, power football. When you have a guy on the edge now, you better go out and defend him and if you do, then it opens more of our zone game inside.”

With Tommy Rees at the helm and an effective running game, the Irish rattled off three straight wins to complete the regular season, doing so with a power running than hadn’t displayed all season. Even with Riddick back, Rees is still a freshman quarterback and Miami’s got the defensive personnel to make things difficult on him, just like the Trojans did. The Irish would be wise not to abandon the good things they developed on the ground in November that helped them get to the postseason.

That said, with Riddick back in the game plan, the Irish will have another dynamic playmaker back to keep the Hurricane defense away from focusing solely on Michael Floyd.

“Now he’s back to that second-level speed where he hits the edge of that defense and he’s gone,” Kelly said. “Even our defensive players were giving it the big ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs,’ because he’s got that gear back.”

For the Irish, better late than never.