3 Notre Dame backs share the ball like brothers

3 Notre Dame backs share the ball like brothers

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame's running back situation has all the ingredients for a rancorous relationship - even an occasional face slap.

There are three talented players: Cierre Wood, whose 1,102 yards rushing last season was the 10th best in Irish history; Theo Riddick, a receiver the past two seasons who returned to his natural running back position this year; and George Atkinson III, son of a former Oakland Raiders great defensive back and a lightning-fast runner.

All three want to be the featured back, but they also understand that there's no room for big egos as the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish (6-0) are off to their best start in a decade. Besides, the three, including housemates Wood and Riddick, say they are great friends who get along like brothers.

``Theo will be sitting on the couch and I'll just come up and smack him in the face, just because I feel like it,'' Wood said. ``Sort of take my frustration out on him. But he'll do the same thing to me. I'll be sitting there and he'll smack me in the face. But at the end of the day, it's all love.''

So far, the Irish backs have been saving their best hits for opponents, averaging 181 yards a game rushing - their highest total in 11 seasons. They've done that despite already facing two of the nation's top 10 defenses against the run in Stanford and Michigan State. This week, Notre Dame hosts Brigham Young (4-3), which is ranked third in the country in rush defense, giving up just 67.9 yards a game.

The advantages of the three-back system are that each runner is less tired as the game wears on and opponents are forced to continually adjust. But it's harder for each to get in a rhythm. Wood said that was a hard adjustment to make.

``Basically what I'm trying to do is as soon as I get the ball, I have to be in rhythm,'' he said. ``I trained myself in practice to try to make big things happen every time I touch the ball.''

Riddick is the most versatile, leading the Irish in rushing at 308 yards and his 20 catches for 170 yards leads the team in receptions. His 3.8 yards per carry is the lowest among the three, but he has been called on for some of the toughest runs. In the four games since Wood returned from a two-game suspension, Riddick has gotten the ball most often on third down and in the fourth quarter.

Wood, who split time last season with Jonas Gray and is just 16 yards from 2,000 career yards, is averaging 69.8 yards a game and 5.9 a run. Coach Brian Kelly said he doesn't see the roles of Riddick and Wood changing much in the season's second half, but he is looking to make one change.

``We have to get George some more touches,'' he said.

Atkinson is averaging an eye-popping 9.1 yards on 32 carries, breaking off a 56-yard touchdown run against Navy, a 55-yard TD run against Miami and a 32-yard run against Michigan State. Atkinson is excited about that the chance to get more carries.

``I'd be lying to say it's not in the back of your mind and you should be getting more, because it's your competitive nature,'' he said.

Kelly is looking for the three to be more disciplined in their running and more patient, allowing the linemen to block - and then to run straight ahead.

``We have a tendency to get too much of an east and west mentality. We want to be more north and south in the running game,'' he said.

He also wants Wood, who has two catches, and Atkinson, who has one, to work on their pass receiving and all three to work on their blocking. All three say they will continue to work together.

``We all help elevate each other's games. We put pressure on each other in terms of coming to work every day and performing up to our standards,'' Riddick said.

It could be a slap in the face for whoever doesn't.

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MLB All-Star FanFest: Searching for a jersey from every team

USA Today Sports

MLB All-Star FanFest: Searching for a jersey from every team

A sea of red and white Nationals jerseys flooded toward the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. But there wasn’t a Bryce Harper signing. And there wasn’t even a game. The Nationals are in New York to play the Mets. 

Then, as I turned and walked down the street I began to see random jerseys: Phillies, Yankees, Astros and Mets, among others.

It all clicked.

Ah, yes, the MLB All-Star weekend and its annual FanFest

As I walked inside the building and looked around, there was everything from memorabilia to interactive games like a speed gun, home run derby and more. 

MLB fans filled the building and the once-sea of red and white thinned out into a blob of colors. Fans from all different teams came out for the weekend’s festivities.

This left me curious: Could I find a jersey for every MLB team?

It was easy to find the big name teams. Going down the escalator, I was hit with a couple Jacob deGrom jerseys and a Carlos Correa one, as well. 

Mets, check. Astros, check.

A right turn and there was an Aaron Nola jersey, the All-Star phenom who surprised this year for the first-place Phillies. Check.

The Yankees and Red Sox weren’t far behind. 

As the day went on, my notepad of teams kept getting crossed off. The National League Central was the first division to go, and the American League Central followed suit. Surprisngly, it took me a couple hours — of course, I wasn't searching the whole time — to find the Marlins. Every other NL East team was easy.

Three hours later, I had found all but five teams: Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels. 

I decided to take another lap before I left. And standing, right by the stolen base activity, stood a man in a Randy Johnson throwback Diamondbacks jersey. 

We both look at the kids running down the line toward the base before a purple jersey caught my eye. It was another kid, waiting in line, wearing a Nolan Arenado jersey.

That left me with just three more teams. As I headed toward the exit, I was shocked I had not seen a Mike Trout jersey. One of the greatest players in modern baseball and not one Angels fan.

Then a co-worker pointed toward the MLB shop area. Finally, a Trout jersey. And then I turned around to grab my backpack and notebook. Another Trout jersey. Weird. I crossed off the name and looked up. Another Angels jersey. OK, enough. 

With just two more jerseys left and me being the stubborn person I am, I walked around the FanFest for another 20 minutes, looking for that green A’s jersey, or dark blue Rays one. 

Then, I finally found Stomper, the Athletics mascot taking photos with kids. On him was an A’s jersey — ironic, right? 

After about 10 more minutes I gave up. There were no Rays jerseys. The best I could do was a Tampa Bay tank top a woman was wearing while her kids played. But, that doesn’t count. We’re looking for jerseys.

Oh, and here are other sports apparel that I saw before that non-existent Rays jersey.

  • Atlanta Falcons Matt Ryan t-shirt
  • San Francisco 49ers Jimmy Garoppolo jersey 
  • A Texas Longhorns athletic shirt
  • France soccer jersey
  • Philadelphia 76ers shirt
  • Montreal Expos Vlad Guerrero jersey
  • Oakland Raiders Bo Jackson jersey
  • Golden State Warriors Steph Curry jersey
  • DC United Wayne Rooney jersey

And so, the search for a Rays jersey continues. 


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Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

When asked at his introductory press conference for how he will fit on the Wizards' roster from a basketball perspective, guard Austin Rivers didn't first cite his three-point shooting, his ability to affect games scoring off the bench or his speed to run the floor with John Wall and Bradley Beal. The first thing he point to was his defense.

That may have surprised some people out there as Rivers has long been known for his scoring ability and not so much his skills on the other end. It's not that he can't play defense, it's just that most of the highlights he's produced over the years have been due to his high-flying finishes at the rim and wicked pull-up jumper from three-point range.

Defense, though, is something Rivers takes pride in and he hopes to continue developing as a defender in Washington.

"With how much Brad and John have to do every night, for them to not have to always guard the best guard on the other team, that's something I can come in here and do. Try to bring that competitive spirit and be one of the defenders on the team," Rivers said.

Rivers' defensive ability has produced some controversy among Wizards fans and media members on social media. Some insist he does not bring value on that end of the floor, while some numbers suggest he does have some defensive potential.

Last season, Rivers averaged a career-high 1.2 steals per game. He was tied for fifth on the Clippers in defensive win shares.

However, his 113 defensive rating was his worst since 2013-14. It was an outlier on the Clippers and not in the good way. He also ranked nowhere near the top of the league in deflections or contested three-point shots, two hustle stats that guys like Wall and Beal fair well in.

Rivers points to two attributes that he believes make him a strong perimeter defender. One is his versatility and the other you could call scrappiness.

"On defense [the Wizards] can switch one through three or one through four. I think that gives us a lot of dangerous options," he said.

As for his scrappiness, Rivers says it comes from the early days of his career.

"I had to figure out ways to be effective without [a jumpshot] and that's how I became a defender. I guess everything happens for a reason, right? I'm happy I did have those early career struggles because it made me find a side of me that I didn't do [early on]. Because I promise you I didn't play any defense at Duke," he said.

The last line drew laughter from those gathered at his introductory press conference. Rivers insists that he now takes that end of the floor very seriously. The Wizards certainly hope he can back up his words.

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