“He has been unbelievable, especially the past three or four games of the season,” senior left tackle Zack Martin said. “It’s fun to block for him.”
Riddick indeed got stronger as the plot thickened during the Irish’s magical regular season. He rushed for at least 74 yards in five of the last six games, capped by that memorable Thanksgiving weekend night in Los Angeles, and Riddick had a combined 14 catches in the season’s final four games, filling the stat sheet in every way he could for offensive coordinator Chuck Martin’s group of grinders.
“Pound for pound as good a football player as they make,” Chuck Martin said of Riddick.
Said Riddick: “We have so many guys who are playmakers.”
And Martin has made them believe in themselves, through a season full of dramatic wins.
“He can criticize you and then lift you up,” Riddick said.
The man who once again runs first and catches passes second made his initial impact at Notre Dame on special teams, breaking the Irish single-season record with 849 kickoff return yards as a freshman. Three long and winding years later, he forms one-third of a dynamic Irish backfield brigade along with senior Cierre Wood, his “best friend since Day 1,” and sophomore George Atkinson III, who Riddick calls “NASCAR fast.”
The trio will somehow try to crack a powerful Alabama front four that Riddick couldn’t stop raving about. He knows how vital Everett Golson’s play-action passing will be, and in order for it to work even a little, the running game must be there Monday.
“You can’t become one-dimensional against this team because they can light us up in a heartbeat,” Riddick said.
Of course, nobody has done that yet to a stout Notre Dame defense that is No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense. And it’s the job of everyone among the underdog Irish to make sure, just one more time, that it doesn’t happen.
“We’re going to run our offense. We’re not going to do a lot of different things,” Riddick said. “We’re [aware of] the hype. But our approach isn’t going to change.”
Riddick, who won this season’s team Count on Me Award, has one more game to give whatever is needed, as he has for four years now. That return to ultimate glory is all that’s at stake.
“We want to leave here with that ring and that crystal ball,” he said. “We think this is our chance and our time.”