Kevin C. Cox
Breaking down the size, speed, and talent at running back for the national championship.
Eddie Lacy, RS Junior
- 6'0" 220 pounds
- '12 stats: 184 carries, 1,182 yards, 16 TD; 20 catches, 172 yards, 1 TD
- Career: 335 carries, 2,262 yards, 29 TD; 33 receptions, 321 yards, 1 TD
T.J. Yeldon, Freshman
- 6'2" 216 pounds
- '12 stats: 154 carries, 1,000 yards, 11 TD; 10 catches, 131 yards, 1 TD
- Career: Same as above
Theo Riddick, Senior
- 5'11" 200 pounds
- '12 stats: 180 carries, 880 yards, 5 TD; 35 catches, 364 yards, 1 TD
- Career: 234 carries, 1,132 yards, 5 TD; 119 catches, 1,257 yards, 7 TD
Cierre Wood, RS Junior
- 6'1" 215 pounds
- '12 stats: 110 carries, 740 yards, 4 TD; 4 catches, 27 yards
- Career: 446 carries, 2,445 yards, 16 TD; 51 catches, 386 yards, 2 TD
George Atkinson III, Sophomore
- 6'1" 210 pounds
- '12 stats: 51 carries, 361 yards, 5 TD; 2 catches, 4 yards
- Career: 60 carries, 388 yards, 7 TD; 3 catches, 14 yards
DEPTH & PRODUCTIVITY
Notre Dame has a bit of an edge in this department with two very experienced players at running back in Riddick and Wood plus a viable third option in Atkinson with solid but limited experience.
Eddie Lacy shared the backfield with Mark Ingram & Richardson in 2010 (still getting 56 carries which speaks volumes to his talent) and backed up Richardson in 2011 before ascending to the starting role this season.
Somehow Lacy really hasn't been given the credit he deserves for the production he's accumulated since 2010, which probably has to due with his predecessors and that he hasn't really grabbed a true starting role. Yet he's averaging 6.75 yards per carry for his career, and has effectively ran for 2,200+ yards with a full season's worth of carries since 2010.
Lacy shares carries with true freshman T.J. Yeldon in the same way that Riddick does with Wood. Yeldon has had a tremendous season amassing 1,000 yards even---the most ever by a freshman in Alabama history. Yeldon's yardage was also the 2nd most by a freshman in the country behind Georgia's Todd Gurley.
Atkinson does provide additional depth for the Irish, although I'm not sure he'll have much of a role as a running back in this game. Still, GA3 did get carries in every game he played except for the Oklahoma game which he missed with the flu. Alabama's third option, true freshman Kenyan Drake, has 39 carries and 5 touchdowns on the year but isn't much of a factor in big games with just 1 carry against the Tide's 4 ranked opponents.
I'd make a case that Lacy should be the first running back off the board in this April's NFL Draft---I think he is that good.
Lacy's combination of size and speed is frightening and he is the poster-boy for running angry. He doesn't have the best moves in the world and if you make him shuffle his feet looking for a hole he can be neutralized to a degree, but he has great vision and constantly runs down hill. Not many weaknesses for Lacy, and his power and speed break more tackles than a shiftier back anyway.
Yeldon reminds me a lot of Cierre Wood---possibly better which is scary given that he's a true freshman. Yeldon has the height but he still runs like a smaller back speed-wide and brings a lot of power to the equation as well. I love his burst and ability to shake off contact down field and still pick up extra yards. For someone 6'2" his foot speed is out of this world.
This is probably the best running back duo the Irish have faced since 2010 when Pitt trotted out Dion Lewis and Ray Graham, and if not that pair then back to the days of Reggie Bush and LenDale White at USC. There is a lot for Notre Dame to worry about in this game because this is a well-rounded Alabama team but nothing more so than Lacy and Yeldon.
The Alabama backs are certified elite and while the Irish running backs have been knocking on the door to that club there is a discernible skill difference in favor of the Tide.
Clearly to Alabama.
However, if the Theo Riddick from the USC game shows up the gap between these two teams at this position shrinks considerably.
Lacy and Yeldon are capable pass catches (combined 30 receptions in 2012) but neither are the versatile down field receiver that Riddick can be. The Irish will have to be careful of the screen passes to the Alabama backs, but Alabama is going to have to deal with Riddick split out wide in a mismatch with a defender.
Riddick's versatility is going to be a major key to this game but Cierre Wood is going to have to be a big factor as well. Last year Wood was a versatile pass catcher but he's received roughly 8 targets in the passing game this season, a major drop-off. Without catching the ball Notre Dame is really going to need some big gashes of the Bama defense from Wood.
We're not taking into account the running backs going against opposing front seven's and the lines blocking for them here. Nevertheless, on a talent versus talent outlook, Notre Dame can't lose this running back battle by much and still win the game. If Alabama runs for 150 yards, the Irish have to get around 130 and make this matchup as much of a draw as possible.
Easier said than done.