- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Theo Riddick is eager to put his shaky debut as a punt returner behind him. More specifically, he wants the public to forget about what it saw from Notre Dame as a whole in its season-opening loss to South Florida.
"I have put it in the past, it's nothing around there," Riddick said. "But I'm just eager just to play Michigan. It's a huge rivalry not just for us but for this university, and I can't wait to display this team because I feel as if last week, that wasn't us."
For Riddick, that means forgetting the negative-2 yards he netted on a pair of punt returns, which includes a lost fumble at his own 20-yard line. And it means not letting his play in one facet of the game carry over into another, which is another way of saying he expects to do more than catch just three passes for 32 yards in his role as slot receiver.
"It's his fundamentals got away from him, that's just the bottom line," offensive coordinator Charley Molnar said. "He didn't become a worse receiver in the three hours during the game; he just lost his fundamentals.
"Maybe it was just playing in a game -- it could have been a million things on his mind. Maybe returning punts and playing receiver. So we just are getting back, doing the basic drill work of what brought Theo Riddick from Point A to Point B and getting him back to where he was coming out of camp."
Riddick emerged out of camp as the Fighting Irish's No. 2 threat at receiver despite having played less than a full season at the position. But the converted running back showed flashes of promise in his new role in 2010, catching 40 passes for 414 yards and three touchdowns despite missing four games toward the end of the season because of a right ankle injury.
Riddick, who had 885 career kick return yards in his first two seasons, entered 2011 with a renewed focus on special teams, as he would be handling punt returns for the first time as well. Head coach Brian Kelly had said before Week 1 that any breathers the junior would get in the course of a game would come on offense.
Kelly reiterated this week that Riddick is still his guy on punt returns, though he may remove him in short-field situations since a return is unlikely.
"The things that he has to work on, obviously is his body language," Kelly said. "He can't get down on himself, because we're gonna keep coming to him. He's gonna be our guy. He's got to fight through a very difficult set of circumstances that were presented to him."
Riddick said he went through exercises in practice Tuesday that featured coaches hitting him with bags while others threw towels at him during returns.
Kelly recalled a drill last week in which Riddick was not allowed to field a punt without holding another football in one of his hands.
"I think he dropped one in five days," Kelly said. "So he's capable of doing it. He's got to get over that traffic that's coming down on him and concentrate on catching the ball."
Added defensive line coach and special teams coordinator Mike Elston: "We have a whole checklist of things that we do with the punt returner, and that's one of them. There's other things that we do with them -- catching in a crowd, hitting him with things while he's catching it, crowd noise, yelling at him, guys whizzing by him, running backwards to catch punts, running forward, running sideways, catching rugby punts. We go through everything to try and prepare him for what the team is gonna do, because you never really know what the first opponent's gonna do."
Riddick saw what his first opponent -- along with Mother Nature -- did this past Saturday. Now he's hoping to weather the bells and whistles that come with playing the first night game in the history of the Big House.
"I've been here for three years and I'm accustomed to it, but I just had a bad day," Riddick said. "It was the first game, a first-time thing, and I just gotta move on and play better this week."