Too Early To Give Up on Riddick

Theo Riddick - Notre Dame WR
Theo Riddick had a rough outing on Saturday, but has shown enough promise at wide receiver in the past to warrant a few more games to prove himself. (Photo / Icon SMI)

In the aftermath of Saturday’s extremely disappointing season opening loss to South Florida, one of the popular topics on the message boards since then is idea of moving Theo Riddick back to running back after his underwhelming performance.

While Riddick’s performance certainly left a lot to be desired, it’s much too early to give up on him as the slot receiver after the promise he showed last year in the position.  Before suffering injuries last year Riddick was starting to emerge as a legit playmaker and his hands were never a problem – at least not to the extent they were this past weekend when he dropped multiple very catchable passes that simply need to be caught.

It’s tough to say what the cause of Riddick’s struggles were Saturday.  Perhaps too much is being asked of him right now before he is fully settled in at wide receiver?  Notre Dame is using Riddick as the slot receiver and the top kick and punt returner right now.  That’s a lot to ask of one player – especially one who is struggling at his primary position at the moment.

Kelly was asked on Sunday if Riddick would remain as the punt returner and despite conceding that Riddick didn’t look good back there, he said the junior would be back out there again this week. “We’re going to start Theo again at that position. He’s a one-time starter,”  Kelly said yesterday.  “Obviously he didn’t look great back there. I was probably as nervous as anybody else when the ball went up in the air. But we’ve got to get him through that. He’s capable of doing it.”

I can’t help but wonder however if reducing Riddick’s workload and letting him focus on just being the slot receiver right now might alleviate some pressure and allow him to focus on making plays in the passing game.

Notre Dame certainly has some other options as a punt returner.  John Goodman, while not flashy, showed solid hands as a returner last year even if he did fair catch the vast majority of the fields field – at least he caught them.  Riddick struggled securing punts with one brutal fumbled punt and another two he nearly fumbled.  Notre Dame has several other options at kick returner such as freshman George Atkinson.

Even with some other options though, Kelly sounded determined to see some production from Riddick as a returner when asked about him after the game on Saturday.  “”He’s got to do it,” Kelly said.  “I told him to get his butt back out there. If we’re going to have the kind of playmakers we need at that position, we don’t have a waiver wire, we can’t trade for anybody. We’ve got to get him to that position.””

Whatever course of action Kelly and staff decide to take, wide receivers coach Tony Alford has his work cut out for him this week as Riddick was shown looking very distraught on the Notre Dame sideline a few times throughout the course of the game.  Alford needs to restore Riddick’s confidence in a hurry because Riddick has the ability to make big plays for this offense starting this weekend when he will be a matchup problem for the Michigan defense.  Of course being a matchup problem for a defense is only really a problem for them if you come down with the ball.

Based on Kelly’s comments Saturday it’s obvious he’s aware that a player he has labeled as a playmaker for this team is in need of a confidence boost at this point.  “The only thing I reminded Theo is he can’t let his disappointment or emotion show in the way he plays. He’s got to bounce back, and he’s going to have to bounce back for us next week and have a great game,” Kelly said following Saturday’s loss.

It will be very interesting to see how Riddick bounces back this week.  There should be plenty of opportunities for him this weekend where Notre Dame can get him in favorable matches as they did this last weekend.  If he can make the most of them, the talk of him moving back to running back should quiet down – even if the depth at running back looks a little more precarious that it did in the pre-season when it was highlighted as one of the areas of concern for this offense.  A few more drops, however, and the calls for Riddick to be replaced will only grow louder and louder.

Where’s Toma?

While it certainly is too early to give up on Riddick as the slot wide receiver, it’s not too early to wonder where Robby Toma was on Saturday.  Toma played well with Riddick sidelined last year but he wasn’t heard from at all on Saturday despite Riddick’s struggles.

Toma didn’t light the world on fire with just 14 catches for 187 yards in 2010, but his game is tailor made for the slot and is one of the most sure handed receivers on the team – a trait that ought to earn him some additional playing time consider all of the dropped passes we saw last weekend.

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  1. Where is Riddick now? Second game: two touchdowns; game against Pitt: 6 catches; against Purdue: one over the head throw? What gives?

  2. Let him try slot position only for the 1st half and see how he does. If he seeems to be having a good 1st half, maybe then look at returning punts. I agree a lot with John1985, try the other 3 to see what they do in the game. GO IRISH!

  3. Let me see. Riddick, and his dropped passes, are the main reason Crist’s numbers are bad, but we bench Crist and allow Riddick to play. Of Crist’s eight incompletions/interceptions, five were drops of balls that should be caught. While I wouldn’t bench Jones and Riddick, I’d like to see Goodman, Toma and maybe even Daniels play. I do agree that Riddick should not be the punt returner. Put Goodman back there. At least, he’ll catch the ball, and until we figure out how to keep punt coverage teams a reasonable distance away from our return men, we’ll still be fair catching most punts.

    1. I think it is a different issue with Riddick vs Crist. Riddick played very solidly last year but Crist struggled and has never been very consistent. And Riddick was not the only reason Crist struggled or looked back on Saturday. How many passes sailed high or wide? Riddick dropped a couple that he should have caught but Crist threw more inaccurate passes than accurate dropped passes. Rees came in a proved he could make more accurate passes and stay cool under pressure. I think Kelly made the right decision there. Rees at least gave us a shot to win but it was too little too late.

      1. Besides the one interception, Crist only threw 2 uncatchable balls that both sailed on him. Rees is a little more accurate inside of 15 yards, but he can’t make nearly as many throws. He also throws interceptions at twice the rate of Crist. For us to win on Saturday, that has to improve.

  4. I have confidence Riddick will bounce back big time in Ann Arbor. He’s too good of a player to let one bad game get him down. The same with TJ Jones.

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