(The Rock Report) – 2012 will go down as a season with some of the ugliest scores since the 60s. 20-17, 13-6, 20-13(ot), 17-14, 29-26(ot), 22-13… wretchedly ugly when viewed on a schedule, but so, so beautiful when you also see the heart behind the score.
During this unbeaten run it seemed as if a different player rose to the occasion each game, pulling the team with him to victory.
That’s the mark of greatness.
It’s not Zorich and Rice that define the 1988 championship team for me as much as Green, Eilers, Stams and Smagala; unheralded players who fought and clawed their way to victory. When those types of players play championship football, you know you’ve got the makings of a title contender.
Likewise, while Teo is invaluable, its players like Theo Riddick and Matthias Farley who signal that this is a special team to me. Riddick has spent most of his time as a slot receiver, but appeared to lose his job last year to Robby Toma and began this year backing up Cierre Wood. Farley was the 82nd ranked 3-star cornerback on Scout who was forced into action this year after star senior Jamoris Slaughter went down.
Those two players had sensational games last night and have, at times, saved this team. Farley’s play has been nothing short of outstanding this year. Last night he led the team in tackles making saving tackles on McNeal, hits in the backfield and leading coverage the helped keep USC to their lowest point total of the year.
No one likely remembers Riddick’s twisting diving catch of a Tommy Rees pass on a critical 3rd and 8 vs. Stanford, but without that play, Notre Dame might not be going to the championship game. And he did it again last night.
Riddick knifed the Trojans, spinning and juking and, at times, plowing through Trojan defenders for 146 yards at a clip of over 7 yards a carry. That’s remarkable given he had no long runs. In fact, Riddick never had a run of less than 2 yards and 17 of his runs were 4 yards or more, that may seem like a trivial stat, but what it means is that Notre Dame’s offense never went backward and consistently put USC on the defensive. It was a Mark Green performance circa 2012.
Like Green, Riddick proved himself the heart and soul off the offense last night and his effort may have been the difference between a nine-point win and a nail-biter. His words told much about him and this 2012 team.
“It’s who we are as a team. When you have 11 brothers out there that put it all on the line, then you can believe. You have to get after it every play, every snap, because you never know. It’s fighting. Fight until you die.”
Riddick picked up yard after yard after the first hit and those yards were demoralizing and frustrating and oh so pretty to watch. It’s been a gift watching Riddick fight through the down times to become a legend in the making. As much as anybody, he symbolizes this team and when this season’s story is finally written, Theo’s name should be mentioned in same sentence with Teo’s.
I remember thinking the new helmets looked like garish Christmas ornaments under the lights during last season’s debacle in the bend against USC, but last night, those same helmets, slightly nicked and chipped with Trojan pain, sparkled atop the beautiful ugliness of victory underneath.