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Irish run 3-headed attack

Running backs help control clock and punish opponents

– Brian Kelly dialed back the up-tempo, pass-heavy offense this season that he brought from Cincinnati to Notre Dame three years ago, and instead, the No. 1 Irish (12-0) have relied on controlling the clock and have used three running backs to punish opponents this season.

Notre Dame enters Monday’s BCS championship game against No. 2 Alabama (12-1) ranked No. 10 in time of possession at 32:34, and running backs Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood and George Atkinson III have helped the Irish average 202.5 rushing yards per game.

“We spent obviously tons of time practicing, and they all get opportunities to run all our plays and then you try to slot the guys in positions where you know they can help the team the most,” Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said Friday on using the three running backs. “Whether it be inside run, outside run, pass block in, receiving, different routes, even different style of runs, we try to utilize all their strengths.

“The truth be told, they all could be a feature back, they all could do all the things.”

Riddick, who moved back to running back after spending the previous two seasons as a receiver, ran for a team-high 880 yards on a team-high 180 carries. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior scored five touchdowns, and he also caught 35 passes for 364 yards with a touchdown.

Wood, who was suspended for the first two games this season, ran for 740 yards on 110 carries. The 6-foot, 215-pound senior scored four touchdowns.

Atkinson ran for 361 yards on 51 carries with five touchdowns. The 6-1, 210-pound sophomore averages 7.1 yards per carry.

“Them two dudes are fast,” Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said of Wood and Atkinson. “They are really fast. We recruited Atkinson, so we knew that, and the other guy is just as fast.

“Riddick is probably quicker than the other two. Great one-step quickness, the ability to make you miss, good stiff arm. Didn’t think a former receiver would run with that much power, but he does run with power. They’re really good backs.”

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