Irish defense locks down after streak ends

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Irish defense locks down after streak ends

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Midway through the second quarter, BYU did something no team had done in well over a month: score a touchdown on Notre Dame's defense.

Riley Nelson found a wide-open Cody Hoffman in the Notre Dame end zone with 8:25 remaining in the second quarter, snapping Notre Dame's streak of not allowing a touchdown at 17 quarters (plus an overtime period).

After a Tommy Rees pass went through the hands and off the facemask of DaVaris Daniels for an interception, BYU marched 30 yards and scored again, this with with 6:07 remaining in the half. From afar, the turnaround compared to a pitcher losing a perfect game and crumbling soon thereafter, but coach Brian Kelly didn't see any sort of mental breakdown in his team's defense.

"I went over to the sideline sand there wasn't one guy pointing a finger," Kelly said. "It was about, let's just communicate out here. They felt like they let some plays outside the defense -- I know a couple of times they felt like they should have been there. And then I think (defensive coordinator Bob Diaco) made a couple of nice adjustments on their quick screens and we started to roll the coverage a little bit.

"They knew we were going to make a couple of adjustments and they needed to clean up a couple things. I went over there twice and really felt a good energy with the defense."

The response from Notre Dame's defense was to lock down in the second half. After allowing BYU to gain 200 yards in the first half, the Cougars gained just 43 in the final 30 minutes of the game, allowing Notre Dame's offense to score 10 points to take the lead back and win.

"I hope a lot of people out there realize that we're not going to give up," defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who had 1.5 sacks in the game, said. "We had an opportunity to give up in the first half, be like this team scored on us, first team to score on us. We could've gave up, but we didn't."

Tuitt admitted Notre Dame's defense came out sluggish, and eventually BYU took advantage of that. But Kapron Lewis-Moore said he didn't see anyone panic, and eventually the resiliency of Notre Dame's defense -- led by Manti Te'o -- materialized.

"It just shows the kind of character we have, not only on defense but as a team," Te'o said. "Coach Diaco really came in and helped us to settle. We just had to settle and play our brand of football."

That brand of football is one that's led Notre Dame's defense close to the top of the defensive heap at the FBS level. Entering Saturday, the Irish had the second-best scoring defense in the nation, only behind the all-world D residing in Tuscaloosa.

"It goes back to the saying, defense wins championships," Te'o explained. "I think our defense, we want to do whatever it takes to win and those 14 points upset us a lot. So I think it just goes to show how far our defense has come."

Jonathan Toews' late goal sends Blackhawks to win over Canucks

Jonathan Toews' late goal sends Blackhawks to win over Canucks

Jonathan Toews recorded a four-point night, including the game-winning goal, and Corey Crawford recorded his 200th career victory as the Blackhawks beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 on Sunday night.

Crawford, who had struggled in recent starts, stopped 25 of 27 shots in this one. Brian Campbell garnered his 500th career point with his primary assist on Panik's goal. Toews recorded two assists, moving ahead of Jeremy Roenick for 13th among the Blackhawks' all-time assist leaders (330).

Marian Hossa, who recorded an empty-net goal late, garnered his 400th point in a Blackhawks uniform.

The Blackhawks had one of their best first periods on Sunday night, outshooting the Canucks 18-9 and taking that 2-0 lead. Richard Panik scored his 11th goal of the season from the slot off Campbell's feed and Patrick Kane scored his 15th goal of the season.

The third wasn't nearly as good as Troy Stecher scored a power-play goal and Bo Horvat scored 46 seconds later. But Toews scored off a carom off the backboards with 1:18 remaining to regain a 3-2 lead, and Hossa’s empty-net goal sealed it.

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

From the high ground of hindsight, what unfolded in the Metrodome that day in 1995 was actually quite a big deal. But not for reasons that you could have really understood at the time watching the Bears stun the Minnesota Vikings 35-18 in the wild card round of the 1994 playoffs.

It was not so much the game alone. It was the overall context of the time for the Bears, before and after.

Though the 1995 season would get off to a 6-2 start for the Bears before their near-historic collapse, the Minnesota game would prove to be the high-water mark for the coaching tenure of Dave Wannstedt. This was the postseason, and the Bears looked to be going where then-president Mike McCaskey envisioned when he made the play to beat the New York Giants in securing Wannstedt, who was unquestionably the hot coaching prospect coming out of the Dallas Super Bowl pantheon after the 1992 season.

To fully grasp the situation, you need to understand the undercurrent of venom that had developed between the Bears and Vikings. Bears-Packers might have been the glitzy rivalry, but what had grown between the Bears and Vikings was true hostility, with little of the respect that the Bears and Packers had managed. The Vikings carried grudges for Pro Bowl slights going back almost to the Bears' Super Bowl win. One Bears defensive lineman remarked that his most hated opponent was Minnesota right tackle Tim Irwin, adding, "He's a guy that, if I ran over him with a car, I'd back up over him to make sure I got him." Dwayne Rudd's backpedaling taunt after an interception came a couple years later, but you get the idea.

What's easily forgotten looking back through the mists of time was the epic decision made by Wannstedt to make a quarterback change, from a quarterback he wanted in free agency to one he knew well from their time together at the University of Miami. That was every bit the turning point of the season and the real reason the playoff trip and win ever happened.

The Bears had been annihilated in their first game against the Vikings in the 1994 season — 42-14 — and something was really, really wrong, which become glaringly more evident just a few weeks later, even though the Bears were reaching a 4-2 mark under quarterback Erik Kramer, the centerpiece of an aggressive offseason foray into free agency. But the Bears then lost — badly — to the Lions and Packers, with Kramer throwing three interceptions against Detroit and two against Green Bay, the latter in only 10 pass attempts.

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I talked privately to Kramer after the Green Bay game, specifically about why it was that he was playing his absolute worst against Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota, all teams with which he was intimately familiar. My thought: You know those defenses and where their people are going to be.

Kramer shook his head: "The 'other guys' I know. It's my own guys. I don't know where they're supposed to be."

It wasn't a comment on his receivers whatsoever. It was Kramer admitting bluntly that he was not getting the West Coast scheme of coordinator Ron Turner and its timing element.

Wannstedt knew it wasn't working and made the change to Steve Walsh, who'd been the Hurricanes' quarterback under Jimmy Johnson when Wannstedt was the defensive coordinator.

That was the tipping point, and Walsh and Wannstedt are among the principals of "Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon," airing on Monday at 8 p.m. on CSN.

Anyone with any time spent in or around the NFL knows that beating a team three times in a season is incredibly difficult. The Bears had been blown out in the first Minnesota game but had pushed the Vikings to overtime in the second and would have won had Kevin Butler not missed a 40-yard field goal try.

The playoff meeting was No. 3, and after the Vikings put up a field goal in the first quarter, the Bears scored with a Lewis Tillman touchdown in the second and just pulled steadily away from the winner of the only NFL division that produced four teams with winning records.

From there it would be another decade-plus — 2006 season — before the Bears would win a playoff game.