Cutting down on mistakes keys turnaround for Irish

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Cutting down on mistakes keys turnaround for Irish

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Ask any Notre Dame defensive player about Alabama's offense, and the words "mistake-free" will pop up somewhere in their answer. The Tide have one of the best turnover margins in college football at 1 per game, keyed by A.J. McCarron only throwing three interceptions all year.
Notre Dame has a painful firsthand knowledge of how turnovers can torpedo a season. The Irish coughed the ball up 10 times in losses to South Florida and Michigan to open the 2011 season, setting the tone for a sloppy 8-5 year marred by 29 turnovers, the 10th-highest total among FBS teams.
There's some part of turning the ball over that involves luck. For Notre Dame, there was plenty of it last year, and coupled with poor decisions and the so-frequently-mentioned need to improve the team's "attention to detail" it cost the Irish a season.
That's why going in to spring practice, the emphasis on Notre Dame's quarterback battle was on keeping hold of the football. Everett Golson didn't have a turnover in the team's spring game, while Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix both did. And while there was plenty about Golson's game that was frustrating for coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin, his ability to hold on to the football was a big point in his favor.
Four months later, it's telling that Golson didn't field any questions about turning the ball over from the throngs of media assembled around him at Monday's media day. In 2011, that's all anyone could talk about -- how was Notre Dame going to stop turning the ball over so much?
The answer hasn't just been inserting Golson in as the team's starting quarterback. He's still turned the ball over, throwing five interceptions and losing four fumbles. But it's also telling that, after Golson quarterbacked Notre Dame to a road win over Michigan State this year, the freshman was universally praised -- by everyone outside the team, that is.
"Michigan State, (the media) applauded him -- but if you really broke down what he did against Michigan State, he ran around a little bit, he scrambled and threw an ESPN play of the day, and that kind of overshadowed the rest of the game," Martin said. "Where in his mind, he knew he didnt play great at Michigan State.
" Michigan State game, I almost pulled him away from you guys and said you stink,'" Martin added.
But consider this: the worst turnover margin among the last five national champions was Auburn's 0.36, good for 33rd nationally in 2010. Notre Dame was at -1.15 in 2011, third-worst among 120 FBS schools. In 2012, the Irish are 0.75, ranking 23rd nationally.
Couple that with a defense that's gone from good to great, and Notre Dame is going from the Champs Sports Bowl to the BCS Championship.

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Dexter Fowler won't be making a surprise return to the Cubs next season.

Fowler is closing in on a deal to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale.

The Cubs signed outfielder Jon Jay last week to a one-year deal, pretty much sealing Fowler's future with the Cubs.

In two seasons in Chicago, Fowler batted .261/.367/.427 with 30 home runs and 94 RBI, and a World Series ring.

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Yanic Perreault came onto the ice as the Blackhawks wrapped up practice on Thursday.

It’s been a relatively common sight the last few seasons. Most of the time, Perreault has helped out when a particular player is struggling from the faceoff dot. That was true with Artem Anisimov earlier this season. But with Jonathan Toews sidelined the Blackhawks have been even more focused on improving upon and winning faceoffs. Thanks to the extra diligence, they’ve done that.

The Blackhawks’ overall faceoff performance has steadily improved. They’ll see how it goes again on Friday night when they face the New York Rangers, their eighth consecutive game without Toews.

“We’re working almost every practice and trying to get better on faceoffs,” Anisimov said on Thursday. “If we win the faceoff, we start with the puck and it’s pretty good. You can go to the offensive zone or win in the offensive zone you start with the puck and you have the opportunity to shoot the puck all day and get chances. It’s a big part of the game.”

Enter Perreault, who was a great faceoff man during his NHL career. The Blackhawks players say Perreault offers a wealth of information in each session.

“It’s different every day. The whole science behind it, he’s been great since he was brought in,” Marcus Kruger said. “He always has something new he wants us to work on, whether it’s just timing or body-positioning or something like that. It’s a lot of different stuff and we work on new stuff every day.”

Rasmussen agreed.

“It’s a lot of things you can work on,” he said. “You try to work on being in a low position so you get stronger. [There are] a lot of small things on how you can go against other guys that do it certain way, and you have to find your own way, too.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Their first game without Toews, against the Anaheim Ducks, was dismal. Part of that is the Ducks having some tremendous face-off guys. But Toews is the Blackhawks’ best at the dot – he’s won 60.3 percent of the time this season – so that first game without him was rough.

Here’s how things have progressed for the Blackhawks, with faceoffs won and lost and percentage, in Toews’ absence.

Opponent Wins-Losses Percent
Ducks 18-49 27 percent
Kings 21-37 36 percent
Panthers 39-35 53 percent
Devils 22-27 45 percent
Flyers 22-31 42 percent
Jets 31-27 53 percent
Coyotes 30-28 52 percent

So yes, there’s been improvement.

“I think we hold our own,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Yan works well with our center men, they take pride in trying to be the best they can and now they’re taking some important faceoffs and some they probably haven’t taken in the past, whether they’re defensive or special-teams faceoffs. They’ve all won some important faceoffs for us at key times, too.”

The Blackhawks have done their best filling the void left by Toews, especially on faceoffs. There’s been a lot of work put into it, especially with Perreault following practices. But the results have been there.

“We know we’d like to start with the puck, and we had a couple of tough games when Jonny went down initially,” Quenneville said. “But it’s been much better since.”