Brian Kelly's spread offense is about speed and space, yet Notre Dame was forced to overpower opponents a number of times this season to offset injuries at skill positions.
When the Fighting Irish (7-5) take on Miami (7-5) in the Sun Bowl on New Year's Eve, Kelly will enjoy having some of that quickness at his disposal once again. Sophomore receiver Theo Riddick, somewhat slow to pick up on the nuances of his switch from tailback to slot receiver, eventually performed to expectations before severely spraining his ankle. Even after sitting nearly five games, Riddick (5-foot-11, 198 pounds) has 39 catches for 412 yards and three touchdowns -- production second only to Michael Floyd among the team's pass-catchers.
"In your running game, he allows the box to widen," Kelly said. "When we didn't have that speed at that position, we had to get more into two tight ends and really kind of create our own seams in there by running downhill, direct snap, power football. When you've got a guy on the edge now, you better go out and defend him. And if you do, that opens up your running game."
Notre Dame laid down 319 rushing yards in its last three games to take a lot of pressure off freshman quarterback Tommy Rees, who has filled in for injured starter Dayne Crist since late October. With Riddick close to 100 percent, Rees has another weapon at his disposal. He'll need it against one of the best defenses in the country. The Hurricanes are No. 2 nationally in pass defense, allowing just over 146 yards per game.
“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.”