Golson, Notre Dame seeking discipline in opener against Navy

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Golson, Notre Dame seeking discipline in opener against Navy

All eyes will be on Everett Golson Saturday morning, as the sophomore quarterback makes his collegiate debut against Navy at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. But he won't be the only one on Notre Dame playing his first game at the NCAA level.

Most, if not all of, Notre Dame's young group of wide receivers -- Davonte Neal, Chris Brown, Justin Ferguson and Da'Varis Daniels -- should see playing time. Tight end Troy Niklas, who played as a linebacker last year, could make his debut on the offensive side of the ball. And true freshman KeiVarae Russell, who came to Notre Dame as a running back, will start at cornerback.

"It can all be decided and look perfect in practice, and when the lights go on -- we all know from being around this game that, when the lights go on, kids react differently," offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said, referencing Notre Dame's quarterbacks earlier in August. "Some kids play better than they ever play, and some kids play worse."

Golson's performance will carry the most weight. While coach Brian Kelly and his coaching staff would like to stick with the same quarterback from Week 1 through bowl season, a change does exist as a possibility. But Kelly sounded like he'll be a little more patient with Golson than he was last year with Dayne Crist, who was yanked after two quarters in Notre Dame's season-opening loss to South Florida.

"Let's make it clear, (Golson) will make mistakes," Kelly said. "I think if we really look carefully at the mistakes that we made (last year), they were turnovers in the red zone. They were turnovers in the end zone, they were heightened within the game. He's going to make some mistakes, and we know that and we are going to have to obviously try to overcome those. But it's those poor decisions that we have to eradicate."

Defensively, Navy may be a good team for Golson and the Irish offense to open his college career against. The Midshipmen lost three of their top cornerbacks and a trio of defensive ends from their 2011 squad, which struggled on defense to begin with. Pressure often begets mistakes, and if Golson can stay poised, Kelly expects him to succeed.

"Our entire offensive staff feels as though he's disciplined in his approach, that he understands the routine of the quarterback position that he's going to minimize the mistakes," Kelly said. "He's shown that over the past month. If he's not out of character on Saturday, I will safely say he will do a very good job of taking care of the football."

For Russell, the Navy matchup could be even more favorable. The Midshipmen only attempted 135 passes in 12 games last season, and their leading receiver won't play Saturday. Comparatively, perhaps it's a positive for Russell's confidence to be introduced to college football against an option offense that rarely throws the ball.

"Yeah, that's one way to look at it," Kelly said with a wry grin. "But if you're not disciplined, the ball goes over your head like that.

"We think he's got the ability to do the job against Navy, a different job than it will be against Purdue, but we think he's got that ability to do the job. I don't want to say pick your poison, but they are so different in terms of the roles that he's going to be asked to be performing. We would not put him in this position if we didn't think he would perform this role."

That's not to say Russell won't be tested -- it just might come in a different form. Navy's option can drive defenses mad, and often times it's like a 99-mile-per-hour fastball in baseball: You know what's coming, but that doesn't mean you'll succeed against it.

"Thats the challenge, you know what theyre going to do," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "They know that you know. You always have to stay disciplined, keep your eyes on your key, keep your eyes on your guy and take care of your responsibility. When somebody doesnt do their responsibility, they get out of their fit, they lose their eyes, thats when big things happen for Navy."

One thing that Notre Dame players didn't expect to be an issue -- at least, before they left for Dublin on Wednesday -- was the time-zone change. An 8 a.m. (CST) kickoff is three hours before the usual early-kickoff start time of 11 a.m., but Irish captain Zack Martin didn't expect a few messed up internal clocks to hinder Notre Dame's chances.

"I know that the coaches will do a great job letting us rest," Martin said on Tuesday. "Like coach Kelly said and like weve all said, if we cant get up for our opener, were in the wrong business."

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

In doing some post-season wrapping up of my Nerdy NFL Notebook as we begin turning the page to the 2017 season, part of it involves compiling where each team finished in big-picture team offensive and defensive categories: overall ranking (total yards), as well as team rushing and passing ranks on both sides of the ball.

So if the Bears wound up ranked 15th overall in total yards gained and allowed, they should've finished…oh, 8-8, right? It adds to the deception of some of the deeper issues that focus on a lack of playmakers, which tied into their inability to make plays when it matters most. In John Fox's 9-23 start, 18 of those games have been decided by six points or less. They've won just six of those games. 

Offensively, the Bears ranked higher in total offense than five playoff teams: Kansas City (20), Detroit (21), Miami (24), New York Giants (25) and Houston (29). They wound up 17th in rushing offense, better than four teams who advanced: Seattle (25), Green Bay (26), New York Giants (29) and Detroit (30). And their 14th-ranked passing offense ranked better than the Giants (17), Kansas City (19), Dallas (23), Miami (26), Houston (29).

On the other side of the ball, they'd be even better off before allowing 109 points over the final three losses. Their total defense ranked better than Detroit (18), Green Bay (22), Kansas City (24), Atlanta (25), Oakland (26) and Miami (29). After being gashed for 558 rushing yards the last three games, they fell to 27th in the NFL against the run (better than only 30th-ranked Miami). But the seventh-ranked pass defense, despite collecting a measly eight interceptions (among only 11 turnovers), was better than nine playoff teams: Miami (15), Pittsburgh (16), Kansas City (18), Detroit (19), the Giants (23), Oakland (24), Dallas (26), Atlanta (28) and Green Bay (31).

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

What do all the hollow numbers indicate? A lack of complementary, opportunistic football, playmakers on both sides of the ball, a minus-20 turnover ratio, and a lack of quality and continuity at the quarterback position — to name a few. All of those playoff teams have more impact players (or kept more of their impact players healthy) than the Bears in 2016.

While some of the numbers aren't that bad to look at, and some even raise an eyebrow, there's still a deep climb from the most significant numbers: 3-13.

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Fremd's Grace Tworek

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Fremd's Grace Tworek

This week's Wintrust Athlete of the Week is Fremd senior Grace Tworek. 

Tworek has led the Vikings on and off the court this season. Last week, the Harvard commit put up a career-high 29 points in a win over Wheeling. 

Learn more about Tworek's success in the video above.