Pressure is key to stopping Oklahoma QB Jones

921445.png

Pressure is key to stopping Oklahoma QB Jones

Notre Dame hasnt faced a quarterback this year as good as Landry Jones, who's thrown for 1,644 yards and 12 over Oklahomas six games. But there exists an avenue for beating Jones, one that a few teams have followed over the last four seasons -- including Texas Tech and Kansas State, which became the third and fourth teams to win in Norman during the Bob Stoops era.

Oklahoma has cruised in its last three games, beating Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas by a combined 108 points. In each of those games, OU got out to an early lead and was able to comfortably run its offense against a good defense (Texas Tech) and two fairly bad ones (Texas and KU).

But against Kansas State, Jones and the OU offense didnt get off to a quick start, and had to play from behind for a good chunk of a game the Sooners wound up losing. The same slow-start issues popped up in OUs first game of the season, a 24-7 win over UTEP in which Jones only threw for 222 yards.

NFL scouts have taken notice of Jones performance in those two games, and in turn, one thinks the OU quarterback is nothing more than a mid-round pick.

If he gets hit a couple times, hes done, the scout told NFL.com earlier this month. (via Pro Football Talk). Lots of skill, absolutely -- great size, good arm, accurate, tons of production the last three years. But hes killing himself. ... He shows he can do everything we want him to do, he just hasnt shown he can do it consistently in pressure situations.

Hes great if his team gets a lead early and mixes it up on offense. If they get behind, and hes got to lead them back with a defense pinning their ears back, he struggles.

So theres the blueprint for Notre Dame to stop Jones. Put pressure on him, and try to punch Oklahoma in the mouth early. If Stephon Tuitt gets loose early and Notre Dames running game can grind out points in the first quarter, that could set the tone for the rest of the game. But if Jones is able to get comfortable in the first 15 or 20 minutes, it could be hard to break him out of that groove.

Oklahomas offense isnt all about Jones, though -- the Sooners have a pair of running backs averaging over six yards per carry, and Kenny Stills and Penn State transfer Justin Brown have been more than reliable pass-catchers for Jones.

It's the balance on offense. It's not just Landry Jones. If it's just Landry Jones, then they're not where they are, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. It's their ability to run the football equally as well as throwing the football. It's one of the most balanced offenses in the country in terms of they can play physical, they can throw the ball, and of course Landry Jones has got those weapons that allow him to be so successful. The offense is certainly about Landry Jones, but more importantly it's the balance that they have.

Whether Notre Dame can disrupt that balance early could decide which way Saturdays game goes.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you’re ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

- NBC Sports App FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Blackhawks: All of the most recent news and notes

- See what Blackhawks fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Blackhawks Pulse

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

The Cubs are preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson, hoping the talented, frequently injured pitcher can stay healthy and provide insurance for their rotation.

Anderson posted a telling message on his Twitter account on Monday night, hinting at what would be another offseason check mark for the defending World Series champs.

The physical for the agreement — first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and MLB Network — won't just be a formality as Anderson underwent back surgery last March and appeared in only four games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

But Anderson fits on paper as a left-hander who will turn only 29 on Feb. 1 and won't have to carry front-of-the-rotation responsibilities or feel Opening Day urgency on a team with five projected starters.

The Cubs had been willing to gamble around $6 million on Tyson Ross, who recently signed a similarly structured one-year deal with the Texas Rangers as he recovers from surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome.

The calculus would essentially be the same with Anderson. The Cubs have to factor in last year's grueling playoff run into early November, this season's sky-high expectations, the organization's lack of high-end, upper-level pitching prospects and the uncertainty surrounding the 2018 rotation.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Anderson finished sixth in the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year voting with the Oakland A's, but he's reached the 30-start mark only one other time and never accounted for 200 innings in a single season.

Anderson underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2011 season, and the injuries piled up from there, dealing with a strained right oblique, a stress fracture in his right foot and a broken left index finger.

Anderson had such a fragile reputation that he accepted the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Dodgers after a strong platform year in 2015 (10-9, 3.69 ERA). The Dodgers only got 11 1/3 innings out of Anderson, who didn't pitch during a playoff run that ended at Wrigley Field in the National League Championship Series.

The Cubs stayed exceptionally healthy while winning 200 games across the last two seasons and need to be prepared in case John Lackey sharply declines at the age of 38 or Mike Montgomery experiences growing pains while transitioning from the bullpen.

Whether or not Anderson is ultimately the answer, the Cubs will be looking to place a sixth starter into their plans.

"I don't know if a six-man rotation on a permanent basis is the wave of the future," team president Theo Epstein said earlier this winter. "But we certainly endorse it on a temporary basis as a nice way to pace guys for the whole season.

"We can get them some rest, whether you do it in April to preserve depth and ease guys into the season, especially after a deep October and November run. Or after the All-Star break in the summer to kind of get through the dog days and give guys a little bit of a breather as you ramp up for the stretch run.

"I think it would be tough to pull off all season long. But it's something that (could certainly work) in the right spot."