Competing for title is biggest reward of Motta's life

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Competing for title is biggest reward of Motta's life

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The ups and downs Zeke Motta has experienced in four seasons at Notre Dame will be validated by the final game of his college career.

The senior free safety of the 12-0 Irish has been through a 6-6, bowl-less campaign, a high-profile coaching change, he has switched positions and also watched this season as his secondary was crushed by injuries.

So as he prepares for the Jan. 7 BCS Championship Game against Alabama -- the programs first national title game appearance in 24 seasons --- Motta knows he has been more than repaid for an already-enjoyable four years in South Bend. As if the chance to play for a national title isnt enough already, Motta also gets to play in Miami, a little more than two hours from where he grew up in Vero Beach, Fla.

I dont think Ive had a better reward in my life at this point, Motta said. Being able to say that I played at Notre Dame, my senior year 12-0 and now I have a chance to compete for the national championship -- its the biggest reward that Ive had. So yeah, its pretty awesome.

Members of the Irish staff have used the same superlatives this season to describe Mottas play.

Coach Brian Kelly singled Motta --- who has 61 tackles, two passes defended and a fumble recovery --- out in a press conference earlier this month for his incredible play and leadership in the secondary. When you consider the turmoil caused by injuries its easy to understand why.

Expected starter junior Lo Wood hasnt played a down at cornerback after he ruptured his Achilles in preseason camp while Jamoris Slaughter tore his Achilles in the teams third game. Those injuries forced KeiVarae Russell, who never played corner before August, and Matthias Farley, a converted wide receiver, to take starting roles in the secondary. Corner Bennett Jackson, another convert, also is in his first season as a defensive starter.

The inexperienced group has led Motta, who had played in 38 games through his first three seasons, to modify his game.

Jamoris had been the guy that had kind of driven the engine back there and made a lot of the decisions and communication, safeties coach Bob Elliott said. And Zeke really worked off Jamoris. When Jamoris went down, Zeke had to assume that role. He did a really good job of that, getting our guys lined up, making the right checks. Zeke really came a long way in that respect.

Motta attributed much of the way he adapted to previous seasons to when he played alongside Harrison Smith, who now plays for the Minnesota Vikings. He also enjoys how the secondary has developed from inexperienced bunch full of question marks to a strong suit.

I realize these guys are out here and they need somebody to communicate and be on the same page, Motta said. Thats kind of the role I accepted and it was great to see how our players on the back end competed and shook off all the negative hype and stuff like that and came to work each day ready to play.

Motta has done the same throughout his career. He began as a linebacker in 2009 and rotated between there and safety for Charlie Weis squad. Weis was fired after the 2009 season and Kelly took over. Even though he accumulated 16 starts over his first three seasons, Motta didnt get a full-time opportunity until this season. As far as Motta sees it, its all part of the journey, one he has enjoyed thoroughly.

To be a part of this program for the past four years, its been so memorable, Motta said. I couldnt ask to come to a better place, especially to see the evolution and the way things have kind of progressively gotten better and better since Ive been here. Theyve brought in all great coaches and great chemistry and everybody has pretty much the same mentality. That has helped shape me into the person I am and the player I am and Im a better man for it.

Blackhawks look to keep rolling vs. Coyotes

Blackhawks look to keep rolling vs. Coyotes

The last time the Blackhawks faced the Arizona Coyotes was the first game the current top line of Nick Schmaltz, Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik were thrown together.

Yeah, the combination's worked out well. So has the Blackhawks' game in general, as they've won seven of eight including that Feb. 2 game. Now the Blackhawks will try to keep the momentum rolling with their lines and their game when they host the Coyotes Thursday night at the United Center.

The Blackhawks' current run of success started in the desert and part of that has been finding more consistent lines. Everything else has gradually improved off of that, from goal scoring to puck possession.

"I think it's puck possession, puck control, pace to the game," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we were very inconsistent in that early and we were defending way more than we were accustomed to. You're vulnerable for penalties, you're vulnerable for quality scoring chances against and not generating enough. I think that's the progression in our game now, it seems like all four lines are having the puck and having some zone time and having some rush chances, zone chances and it seems like every line's contributing there, and that's the big difference."

[RELATED: By the bye - Blackhawks keep rolling following break]

The Blackhawks' top line didn't have immediate chemistry but Quenneville kept them together and let them work on it. But as Toews said, it was about the group keeping the all-around game going, points or no points.

"Sometimes you just gotta work until things start clicking," Toews said. "Everyone seems to start paying attention when you start scoring goals, regardless of [the fact you're] doing things right. It's nice that we're scoring but we have to stick with what's making us a successful line at both ends of the rink right now."

Corey Crawford will start vs. the Coyotes. Niklas Hjalmarsson did not skate this morning but is expected to play. Quenneville said Michal Rozsival could draw into the lineup.

Broadcast information

Time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: CSN
Live stream: CSNChicago.com

Blackhawks lines

Nick Schmaltz -Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Dennis Rasmussen-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa
Ryan Hartman-Tanner Kero-Vinnie Hinostroza

Defensive pairs

Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Michal Rozsival-Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Goaltender

Corey Crawford

Injuries 

None

Coyotes lines (via Arizona Republic)

Tobias Rieder-Martin Hanzal-Radim Vrbata
Brendan Perlini-Christian Dvorak-Shane Doan
Max Domi -Alex Burmistrov-Ryan White
Jamie McGinn-Jordan Martinook-Josh Jooris

Defensive pairs

Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Luke Schenn
Alex Goligoski-Anthony DeAngelo
Jakob Chychrun-Connor Murphy

Goaltender

Mike Smith

Injuries

Lawson Crouse (lower body), Brad Richardson (tibia)

Ranking the five best games Mark Buehrle pitched with the White Sox

Ranking the five best games Mark Buehrle pitched with the White Sox

The White Sox will retire Mark Buehrle's No. 56 prior to June 24's game against the Oakland Athletics, a deserving honor for one of the best pitchers in franchise history. The left-hander compiled a 3.83 ERA and won 161 games during 12 seasons with the White Sox, and perhaps more impressively, he threw over 200 innings every year he was a full-time member of the team's starting rotation. 

So with the White Sox announcing Buehrle's number retirement ceremony for this summer, let's take a look back at the best games the St. Charles, Mo. native pitched with the White Sox. 

1. July 23, 2009: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 6 K vs. Tampa Bay. Time of game: 2:03

Buehrle's perfect game, complete with Dewayne Wise's legendary catch, sits at the top of mountain of Buehrle's historic achievements with the White Sox. This was a vintage Buehrle game, with him working quickly and getting plenty of weak contact. It just turned out that Tampa Bay couldn't get anyone on base in it.

2. April 18, 2007: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K vs. Texas. Time of game: 2:03

By game score, this was actually the best game Buehrle pitched in his career thanks to the two more strikeouts he had than in his perfect game. And in no-hitting the Rangers, Buehrle still faced the minimum — after walking Sammy Sosa, he picked off the former Cubs slugger. 

3. April 16, 2005: 9 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 12 K vs. Seattle. Time of game: 1:39

The 99-minute game might get lost in Buehrle's career thanks to his no-hitter and perfect game, but it's right up there in terms of how impressive it was. Not only did Buehrle set a career high in strikeouts against Seattle, but only one Mariners player got a hit that day (Ichiro, who naturally had all three). And it was the first — and still only — nine-inning game to be completed in under 100 minutes since 1984.

4. Aug. 3, 2001: 9 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 3 K vs. Tampa Bay. Time of game: 2:12

Before Buehrle was an All-Star, World Series winner and no-hitter/perfect game thrower, he took a perfect game into the seventh inning against the Devil Rays before Damian Rolls singled to break it up. This wasn't Buehrle's first great start of his career — that came in a three-hit shutout of the Detroit Tigers on May 26, 2001 — but it stood up for a decade and a half as one of the best games he pitched in the majors. 

5. July 21, 2004: 0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 3 K vs. Cleveland. Time of game: 2:31

This was another brush with perfection for Buehrle, who only allowed a one-out, seventh-inning single to Omar Vizquel (he got Matt Lawton to hit into a double play after, allowing him to face the minimum for the first time in his career). This is the longest game in Buehrle's top five thanks to the White Sox blasting Cliff Lee and the Indians for 14 runs, but even then, barely over two and a half hours was a relatively brisk pace.