Converted RB making difference for Irish

Theo Riddick is still running with the football. He's just doing it now after he catches it.

Through five games, the former running back is leading Notre Dame with 30 catches and the Irish have yet another way to challenge defenses with their spread offense.

The adjustment hasn't always been the smoothest.

"Just getting comfortable, getting completely comfortable, knowing what I have to do and I'm reading the defense a lot better," said Riddick, who is fast and shifty and solid at 5-foot-11, 198 pounds.

Riddick had 29 carries for 160 yards as freshman last year, but the new coaching staff decided to move him to the slot receiver spot during spring practice. It's a switch that has given the offense a breakaway threat who can make plenty of yards after he catches a pass.

When Riddick hasn't quite done what's expected, he's heard about it from coach Brian Kelly. But Riddick's confidence matches his ability, and he never doubted he would make the transition and be a pivotal part of the offense. It just took some time.

Riddick is taking advantage of defenses that try to clamp down on receiver Michael Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph, a pair of NFL prospects. And if Riddick continues to play the way he has in the slot, ganging up or double teaming Floyd (28 catches) and Rudolph (23) will be more difficult or costly for defenses.

Riddick made just four catches for 52 yards in the first two games of the season but in the last three he has hauled in 26 for 268 yards, including three for TDS. He had a breakout 10-reception game against Michigan State and then added nine more last week in a victory over Boston College. The Irish (2-3) play at home against Pitt (2-2) this Saturday.

"I always knew," Riddick said when asked if he was surprised over his success after making the switch.

"It was difficult, very difficult, better days than others, but I just weathered the storm."

Riddick's been able to work mismatches against defenses — sometimes against safeties — and give quarterback Dayne Crist another option. Crist calls him the "third piece of the puzzle."

"He's able to stretch the field in ways that some other guys may not be able to," Crist said.

"And then you take into consideration teams want to roll over Mike or roll over Kyle, well, they're just creating space in the middle of the field where Theo has been able to really take advantage," he said. "And just to have an impact player at that position has been really critical for our offense."

Riddick, who rushed for 4,042 yards with 52 TDs as a star at Immaculata High School in Manville, N.J., was shifted from running back to the so-called "Z'' receiver in Kelly's offense because he demonstrated the most potential to fill the spot the way the new coach wanted it played.

"We moved him for a reason, feeling as though when we evaluated our players that he had a chance to be a dynamic player in that position," Kelly said. "He's got a long way to go, but he's giving us the ability to run our offense the way we want to run it. And if he wasn't at that level, we would still have some struggles in being consistent."