It's a trap? Irish looking to avoid letdown vs. BYU

919025.png

It's a trap? Irish looking to avoid letdown vs. BYU

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- "Trap" games are all too real a phenomenon in college football. West Virginia fell into one last week, with its powerful offense being stymied by an underrated Texas Tech defense. That's just one example, though. There are sure to be plenty more in the next month and a half.
Notre Dame doesn't want to be one of them.
But with a showdown in Oklahoma that carries serious BCS implications looming next weekend, if the Irish start looking ahead that could be the case.
"Why does that happen? Well, you forget how you got here," coach Brian Kelly said. They are trap games if you forget how to go to work ask do those things. We've already talked about it with our team, and we'll make sure that we do everything to prepare the right way."
BYU has the profile of a classic "trap" team, one that's only 4-3 but has had plenty of defensive success this year. That changed last week, as Oregon State hung 42 in Provo. But by Football Outsiders' defensive S&P rankings (explained here), BYU still has a top-10 defense fueled by a run defense that's only allowing 67.9 yards on the ground per game.
Given that Notre Dame's rushing attack has been the strong suit of its offense this year, that could play right into BYU's hands. If Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III are neutralized, it'll put the pressure on whoever's starting at quarterback, be it Tommy Rees, Everett Golson or even Andrew Hendrix. Kelly will announce the starter before Saturday's game, but whoever it is may need to power Notre Dame's offense.
The mantra this week in South Bend was all about BYU, and how the players will focus on Oklahoma next week. Senior captain Manti Te'o is leading that charge, and feels the experience Notre Dame possesses will keep the team's focus on this weekend.
"I think it's only a trap game if you're dealing with a young team, a team that is not focused on one singular goal, and that's to take that day by day, week by week," Te'o said. "So our team has done a great job of just focusing on the next opponent. We don't have Oklahoma this week. We don't have Stanford, we already played Stanford. Right now it's BYU, and that's all we're focused on.
"Until Sunday comes, you know, we'll stop focusing on BYU. Until then, it's all BYU."
A win over BYU would likely secure a BCS berth for Notre Dame, unless an unexpected slip-up happens against the likes of Pittsburgh, Boston College or Wake Forest -- three teams the Irish should easily beat. Even if Notre Dame loses at Oklahoma and USC, they'd have 10 wins. And it's unlikely a BCS bowl would pass at the opportunity to take Notre Dame, an option those committees haven't had in six years.
That's a big picture view, and it's one the team isn't taking.
"We don't have a list of goals that says, hey, we want to go to the Sugar Bowl, we want to go to the Fiesta Bowl, we want to win the National Championship. We don't have any of those goals," Kelly explained. "They are not written down. You won't see them anywhere. They are not in our locker room.
"All you'll really hear us talk about are the goals as it relates to playing the game, and if you hit these goals, you've got a great chance to win and then how do you get there and so that's how we deal with it on a daytoday basis."

Morning Update: Bulls fall to Blazers; Could Chris Sale be on the move?

Morning Update: Bulls fall to Blazers; Could Chris Sale be on the move?

Five Things to Watch: Bulls in Detroit for fourth game in five nights on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Coyotes tonight on CSN+

Despite Chris Sale rumors, White Sox say they have contingencies in place for a rebuild

Kenley Jansen? Wade Davis? Cubs keeping an open mind for the ninth inning

Slow start to fourth dooms Bulls in loss to Blazers

Back from scary concussion, Leonard Floyd playing like franchise pass rusher Bears craved

Scott Darling takes the reins for Blackhawks in Corey Crawford’s absence

White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf knows 'it will be very hard to trade' Chris Sale

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

Rajon Rondo used foul language with Bulls assistant coaches following loss to Mavs

Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Living well is indeed the best revenge, and sometimes nothing feels sweeter than proving doubters wrong. Akiem Hicks is savoring that exact feeling.

When the New Orleans Saints made Hicks their third-round pick in the 2013 draft, they typecast their big (6-5, 318 pounds) young defensive lineman as a one-trick pony.

“There were people in New Orleans that said, ‘You can’t rush the passer,’” Hicks recalled after the Bears’ win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers. “They told me from my rookie year, ‘You’re going to be a run-stopper.’”

This despite Hicks collecting 6.5 sacks and 3 pass breakups as a senior at Regina in Canada. The Saints forced Hicks into the slot they’d decided he fit – nose tackle – then eventually grew disenchanted with him and traded him to New England last year – where he collect 3 sacks in spot duty.

Interestingly, Bears GM Ryan Pace was part of the Saints’ personnel operation. Whether Pace agreed with coaches’ handling of Hicks then isn’t known, but when Pace had the chance to bring Hicks to Chicago for a role different than the one the Saints forced Hicks into, Pace made it happen.

Pace likely saw those New England sacks as a foreshadowing or a sign that the New Orleans staff had miscast Hicks. The Bears defensive end now is under consideration for NFC defensive player of the week after his 10-tackle performance against San Francisco. Signing with the Bears last March 13 as a free agent was the career break Hicks has craved. For him it was a career lifeline.

“They have given me the ability to go rush the passer,” Hicks said. “So I love this organization – [GM] Ryan Pace, coach Fox, Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] – for just giving a guy the capability to put it out there and do what you feel like you can do.”

[MORE BEARS: Back from scary concussion, Leonard Floyd playing like franchise pass rusher Bears craved]

Hicks has been showing what he can do, to quarterbacks. For him the best part of win over the 49ers was the two third-quarter sacks of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those sacks gave the massive lineman, who the Saints said couldn’t rush the passer, 6 sacks for the season – more than any member of the Saints defense this season. It has been a classic instance of putting a player in position to maximize his skills, not jam someone into a bad fit.

“Akiem has been in a couple of different types of packages before with New Orleans and New England,” said coach John Fox. The Patriots switched from a long-time 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 but “we’re more of a New England-type style. But we’re playing him more at end; he played mostly a nose tackle [in New Orleans]. He’s fit really well for us as far as his physical stature.

"But he does have pass rush ability. It shows a little about his athleticism. So he’s got a combination of both.”

That “combination” has been allowed to flourish at a new level, and the Bears’ plan for Hicks was the foundation of why he wanted to sign in Chicago as a free agent. The Bears do not play their defensive linemen in a clear one-gap, get-upfield-fast scheme tailored to speed players. Nor do they play a classic two-gap, linemen-control-blockers scheme typically built on three massive space-eaters on the defensive line.

They play what one player has called a “gap and a half” system, which requires being stout as well as nimble.

One Hicks rush on Kaepernick featured a deft spin move out of a block, not the norm for 336-pound linemen. He got one sack with a quick slide out of a double-team.

“I’m not freelancing,” Hicks said. “But I’m rushing ‘fast.’ There’s a portion of the defense where you have the [run] responsibility and don’t have the freedom or liberty [to rush]. It’s a great system for me and I love what they’ve let me do.”