Notre Dame preparing for physical test against Stanford


Notre Dame preparing for physical test against Stanford

Last week was fast and athletic. This week, it's big and physical.

Miami came out swinging last week, and would've jumped out to an early lead had wide receiver Phillip Dorsett not dropped two sure-fire touchdown passes. Notre Dame weathered that storm and went on to hold the 'Canes to just three points, extending the team's touchdown-less streak to 12 quarters.

On Saturday, Notre Dame's opponent has a different offensive profile.

"Theyre a run-first team, theyll try to smash it down your throat and then throw a shot pass or something, so you really gotta be locked in on your assignment each and every play," safety Matthias Farley said of Stanford's offense. "If you have a tight end, then you have to be locked in on the tight end or whatever it is, because the tight ends are big, theyre fast, theyre physical and they can lull you to sleep with the run."

Tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo are matchup nightmares for a defense, and the pair top Cardinal pass-catchers in receptions. But running back Stepfan Taylor is who makes Stanford's offense go, carrying 119 times for 555 yards and five touchdowns.

"He's fast, he's strong, he's a powerful runner, and he keeps his legs moving, which makes it hard for opponents to bring him down," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "I played against him my sophomore year, and the strides he's made to improve his game have really shown. He's doing really good."

In two games against Notre Dame -- both wins for Stanford -- Taylor has rushed 226 yards on 48 carries. He's gone above 100 yards on the ground in both games, acting as an offspeed pitch for an offense led by Andrew Luck.

This year, though, the roles are reversed. Taylor is the go-to guy, while Stanford's passing game is the change of pace.

While Notre Dame has seen opposing defenses roll coverages to keep the ball out of Tyler Eifert's hands, teams haven't been able to do that against Stanford. Roll to Ertz, they'll throw to Toilolo, and vice versa.

"It's basically a skinnier lineman running up that can catch that has some speed," Te'o said. "Whenever you have that threat, it's similar to the threat, a dual threat quarterback."

"It's a nightmare," coach Brian Kelly explained. "Tyler Eifert is the same problem if we split him out, if we put the ball in a good location he's going to catch it every time so we've got to have some answers there. If it just becomes a matchup every time, we're going to have to look at some different key coverages. So we're aware of what our problems are and we'll have to address them if the game shows them to be real issues."

Stanford's offense was at its best last week, scoring 54 points in a shootout win over Arizona. Taylor rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns, while Ertz and Toilolo combined to catch 11 passes for 205 yards and two scores. On the flip side, though, Stanford's defense gave up 48 points and 617 yards to an offense that had quarterback Matt Scott throw 69 times.

"I think Arizona's quarterback was outstanding. I don't know that he played at a level that he's never played before because I didn't have enough film to watch, but I hadn't seen a guy play that well so the quarterback was outstanding," Kelly said. "Arizona got worn down. They're not a big, physical team. Stanford started to exert their will on them and that's how that game got up into the higher numbers. The quarterback was outstanding for Arizona, and then Stanford just wore them out."

Stanford has shown it's equipped for a shootout, even as uncharacteristic as that sounds. Notre Dame hasn't shown that -- largely because they haven't had to -- but chances are, this Saturday won't replicate last Saturday in the box score.

A key here for Notre Dame, though, is Stanford has only been tested once on the road this year. That was a 17-13 loss at Washington, a game in which Taylor only ran for 75 yards and Stanford's offense didn't score a touchdown. The Cardinal only mustered 235 yards of offense against Washington, so there is a blueprint out there.

The national spotlight is back on Notre Dame this weekend, with College GameDay posting up in front of Hesburgh Library and NBC sending Doug Flutie, Hines Ward and its college football crew to South Bend. The first batch of BCS standings will be revealed on Sunday, and if Notre Dame wins, they could be in the mix for the No. 1 spot.

But the mantra all week, and all year, has been to tune out the noise.

"For us, I think I our team is at a point where we're mature enough where we understand where our mindset needs to be, where our focus needs to be," Te'o said. "That's on Stanford. It's going to take all hundred and something of us, players and coaches, to be focused on Stanford in order to beat them."

He’s back: Kyle Schwarber takes center stage at World Series

He’s back: Kyle Schwarber takes center stage at World Series

CLEVELAND – Kyle Schwarber walked into the Progressive Field interview room at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, becoming the biggest Game 1 story at the World Series. He didn’t have a hit all season – and hadn’t played for the Cubs in almost seven months – but there was his name in the No. 5 spot in the lineup against Corey Kluber and the Cleveland Indians.

“Once I hit that line, a lot of emotions will come pouring out,” Schwarber said. “I’ll probably cry at some point today. It was a long road, but once we step in between those lines, it’s game time. I’m going to be locked in. I’m going to be ready to go (and) try to win this.”

It’s hard to overstate how much the Cubs love Schwarber’s energy, presence and powerful left-handed swing, from the time they saw his hard-charging style and football mentality at Indiana University. Theo Epstein’s front office drafted him fourth overall in 2014 – at a time when that almost looked like a reach for a designated hitter with an unclear defensive future behind the plate or in the outfield.

Instead of sending him to Arizona, the Cubs also allowed Schwarber to rehab in Chicago and remain a part of the team after undergoing major surgery on his left knee in the middle of April, making him untouchable in any trade talks, even as the New York Yankees dangled game-changing reliever Andrew Miller, who now looms as an another World Series X-factor in the Cleveland bullpen.

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After getting a better-than-expected progress report last week from Dr. Daniel Cooper – the head team physician for the Dallas Cowboys who reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL – Schwarber went full speed ahead.

“I called Theo right away and I was like: ‘Hey, I’d love the opportunity to try,’” Schwarber said. “Knowing that I had the opportunity to try and get back, it would kill me deep down inside if I didn’t. And I knew going into it there were no guarantees.

“I didn’t want the media attention. I didn’t want any of that. I did it for my teammates. I did it for me, too. That’s the competitor in me.” 

After playing in the Arizona Fall League in front of about 100 fans on Monday, Schwarber flew on a private plane from Mesa to Cleveland, where he could change franchise history with one big swing, the way he drilled five homers during last year’s playoffs and became a Wrigleyville folk hero.

“It’s going to be a complete 180,” Schwarber said. “You know you’re going in front of a packed stadium here. It’s going to be awesome. That’s what we live for as baseball players. We live to feed off that, especially since we’re in such a hostile environment here in Cleveland.

“I love that. It’s going to be great for our team. We’re in for a really hard-fought battle.”

Cubs confident Indians baserunners won't take Jon Lester off his game

Cubs confident Indians baserunners won't take Jon Lester off his game

CLEVELAND - Jon Lester's yips have been on full display this postseason, but it hasn't mattered.

Lester's issues throwing to bases haven't come back to haunt him in his first three October starts, in part because he's only allowed 16 baserunners in 21 innings.

The opposition can't take Lester off his game if they can't steal first base.

The Indians, however, are one of the game's best baserunning teams and had 134 stolen bases in the regular season, good for fourth in Major League Baseball.

And they don't plan to sit idly by when they get on against Lester in Game 1 of the World Series.

"I can't see us changing now because it's the World Series when it's worked (all season)," said Rajai Davis, who is leading off against Lester in Game 1 and stole 43 bases in 49 chances in 2016.

The Cubs understand the Indians have a clear advantage of the basepaths entering this best-of-seven series.

During Media Day at Progressive Field Monday afternoon, Jake Arrieta brought it up unprompted.

"Their stolen base threats are there," he said. "It's just gonna be up to us to control that."


"I think this time of year - the World Series more so than any other time during the regular season - you don't want to give up 90 feet for free," Arrieta said. "We're gonna have to do our best to hold the ball, vary our times [home], pick when we need to and some good throws from the guys behind the plate."

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Arrieta's attitude embodies the Cubs' mentality all year - embracing the pressure instead of running from it.

The Cubs haven't been able to cure Lester's mental block throwing to first base, but they've found ways to minimize the damage.

Sure, runners stole 28 bases off Lester this season, but they've also been caught 13 times thanks in large part to Lester's quick delivery home and David Ross' excellent throwing and pop-up time behind the plate.

The Cubs also boast maybe the best tagger the game has ever seen in Javy Baez at second base.

In his World Series press conference on workout day Monday, the first question Lester fielded was about pitching with runners on and he put all the credit on his defense behind him.

It's not just when guys get on, however. The opposition is also trying to throw Lester off his game by bunting and forcing him to field his position and make throws to first.

FanGraphs reports Lester fielded 20 ground balls or bunts this season and turned 19 of those into outs without one throwing error.

So it's a risk for teams to weigh - do they want to take the bat out of their hitters' hands in trying to bunt and when they do actually reach base, is it worth the risk to try to run on Lester and Ross?

The Los Angeles Dodgers tried to play all kinds of games with Lester and wound up scoring just two runs off him in 13 innings between two games and lost both.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo isn't worried about it now, on the nation's biggest stage.

"We have fun with it," Rizzo said. "I think [Lester is] very underrated in that aspect, to where if he wants to, he could pretty much do whatever he wants.

"He's so quick to the plate where he knows that - especially with Rossy behind the plate - he kinda challenges people to run on him. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out."