Picking your poison
SOUTH BEND - First Theo Riddick was invisible. Now he's leading the Notre Dame football team in receptions.
And what Irish first-year head football coach Brian Kelly is learning at breakneck speed is that both scenarios are viewed as a crisis in some corners of ND nation.
Because apparently future NFL first-round draft choices Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph are supposed to have bigger numbers.
Heading into Saturday's Irish home matchup with Pitt (2-2), ND's sophomore converted running back leads ND (2-3) with 30 receptions - 26 in the past three games -- for 320 yards and three touchdowns. Floyd, ND's junior Biletnikoff Award candidate, is at 28 for 408 and two TDs. Rudolph, perhaps the top tight end in the country, has 23 for 290 and three TDs, but just two catches for three yards combined in his past two games.
"We have to utilize both of them within our offense," Kelly explained of Floyd and Rudolph, "but we're not going to throw them the ball if they're double-covered or they're not within the structure of our offense. We feel like we can score enough points.
"If you want to put a guy over the top of Michael Floyd, we still think we can get him the football. But we're not going to be silly at it. (Running back) Armando Allen has been probably our playmaker, if you look at everything that he's done in terms of running and catching. And if (defenses are going to) continue to give us Armando Allen, we're going to continue to take him."
Kelly stuck with Riddick early in the season, when the sophomore was dropping passes and running the wrong routes on occasion. His patience has been rewarded over and over since a breakout 10-catch game against Michigan State.
Riddick's emergence influenced the Boston College game Saturday night by effectively taking standout strongside linebacker Mark Herzlich out of the game. Herzlich finished with two tackles, his lowest total since he was a freshman reserve in 2006.
"Theo out in space with nobody over him is probably not a matchup that teams want," Kelly said. "(So Herzlich) has got to stay out over Theo Riddick the whole game. If we can do that, it allows Armando to run and allows some other things to occur."
Even with the extra attention, Riddick had a game-high nine receptions for 69 yards and a TD in the 31-13 Irish romp.
"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," Kelly said of Riddick. "And if he wasn't at that level, we would still have some struggles in being consistent."
Knock on Wood
The numbers might obscure the potential, but not in Kelly's eyes.
Since racking up an impressive 58 yards on seven carries in his collegiate debut Sept. 4 against Purdue, Irish sophomore running back Cierre Wood has accounted for 19 yards on 10 carries since.
And Saturday at Boston College, he fumbled for the second time this season.
"Here's why I like Cierre Wood," Kelly said. "It seems to be a big topic of conversation, my sideline demeanor. When I went to talk to him about that play -- talk to him about the play -- he said, 'Coach, it's inexcusable what I did. I can't tell you why it happened. That's ridiculous.' He immediately took accountability for his actions. I didn't say another word to him."
Nor has Kelly lost faith at all in the 6-foot, 210-pounder from Oxnard, Calif.
"I'm a Cierre Wood fan," Kelly said. "We're going to keep developing that young man, and he's going to be a good football player. He just needs to continue to develop, gain more confidence. He needs recognition awareness. When he sees things, he's got to go, and he's still thinking too much. When we can get that out of him, when he can just react, man, he's going to be fun.
"You can't put the ball on the ground in a competitive situation. But what I loved about the kid is immediately it wasn't, 'Well, I didn't get the call, I didn't hear it. I was getting a little tired.' We hear a lot of that around here at Notre Dame, and we hear about it too much. And I didn't hear it from Cierre Wood. And that's why I'm in his camp and we're going to keep getting him to move forward and be a really good player for us."
Dress for success?
Saturday the Notre Dame players will wear pink armbands and/or wristbands against Pitt, and Kelly and his staff will wear an adidas line of apparel and headwear that will commemorate National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Tuesday, Kelly wore a plain old suit and tie with no special significance -- or did he?
A reporter intimated at Kelly's press conference that the coach had seemingly worn a tie with one of the opponents' school colors in it each week of the season to his Tuesday presser.
Kelly admitted there was a rhyme and reason to his wardrobe -- just not the one the reporter was stabbing at.
"You know, I have Winnie The Pooh matchables," he said. "My wife lays them out, and it's just whatever matches."
* In an admittedly small sampling, Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist's career interception rate (2.34 percent) is the lowest in Irish history. Jimmy Clausen and Brady Quinn are tied for second (2.43).
* Senior kicker David Ruffer's consecutive field goal streak, which started with a 42-yarder at Pittsburgh last Nov. 14, now stands at 13 heading into Saturday's Pitt game.
Nick Tausch, who still holds the school record for consecutive field goals made (14), was a late scratch due to injury in that game, and Ruffer has been in the lineup ever since.
* Upon further review, ND's five rushing yards allowed Saturday at Boston College was the second-fewest since a 1996 matchup with Rutgers (minus 6 yards). Stanford had minus 11 yards rushing against the Irish in 2005.
* Pitt is 9-4 in its last 13 road contests, but has dropped its last two, including a 27-24 overtime setback at Utah in the season opener.
* Pitt sophomore Ray Graham's 277-yard performance against Florida International last Saturday is the most rushing yards by a Division I-A (FBS) player this season. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson's 258 against Notre Dame on Sept. 11 is No. 2.
* Displaced running back Dion Lewis (143 yards on 47 carries this season) had the fourth-most prolific season for a freshman running back in Division I-A history last season (1,799 yards), surpassed only by Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson (1,925), Wisconsin's Ron Dayne (1,863) and North Texas' Jamario Thomas (1,801).
* Kelly is 2-1 in his career against Pitt.
* Former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis will be back in the state of Indiana on Sunday, for the Kansas City Chiefs' road test against the Indianapolis Colts.
Weis is the offensive coordinator for the unbeaten Chiefs (3-0). For the record, KC ranks 30th among the 32 NFL teams in total offense, dead last in passing offense, but a surprising 12th in rushing offense.
A very limited number of tickets for Notre Dame's home football games versus Pittsburgh on Saturday and Western Michigan on Oct. 16 will go on sale to the public at 8:30 a.m. EDT Wednesday through the Notre Dame Ticket Office.
The sale is a result of Pittsburgh and Western Michigan returning a portion of their respective ticket allotments.
Tickets are $70 each and may be purchased in person at the Joyce Center Ticket Office; by calling 574-631-7356 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT or by visiting www.und.com/tickets. Services charges will apply.
Staff writer Eric Hansen: firstname.lastname@example.org 574-235-6470
* Who: Notre Dame (2-3) vs. Pittsburgh (2-2)
* When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. EDT
* Where: Notre Dame Stadium; South Bend
* TV: NBC
* Radio: WNSN (101.5 FM), WSBT (960 AM)
* Line: Notre Dame by 6
* Online: Discuss ND football at IrishFanNetwork.com
* Quoting: "He's very purposeful in what he does. He's somebody we can point to in our senior class and say, 'That's mental and physical toughness.' He's displayed that each and every week." -- Irish coach Brian Kelly on ND cornerback Darrin Walls