Trying to improve red zone efficiency, Irish get tricky

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Trying to improve red zone efficiency, Irish get tricky

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- In an effort to combat one of the worst red zone touchdown rates in the nation, Notre Dame's offense has tried some new looks in practice leading up to the BCS Championship. The actual specifics aren't important, since everything the media saw this week in South Florida was calculated. More importantly, there's a greater sense of urgency permeating Notre Dame's offense when it gets inside the red zone.

For a team that's only found the end zone 46 percent of the time when its offense gets inside its opponents' 20-yard line, something had to change.

"I think once we got to the red zone, for a lot of people, it was 'let's get in the end zone' but it wasn't -- I don't want to say there wasn't a want to, but it wasn't do-or-die for us," wide receiver T.J. Jones said. "And that's what we've established.

"It's taken that month to work on what you do in the red zone to flip your mindset when you're in the red zone to know it's do-or-die," he added.

Notre Dame beat USC despite seeing drives stall on far too many occasions. If Kyle Brindza attempts six field goals against Alabama, Notre Dame's probably in trouble.

"Coach Kelly is going to set up some things to actually let us score touchdowns, because we have to," running back Theo Riddick said following Notre Dame's win over USC. "We have to get better at that, being in the red zone."

The other part of this equation deals with Alabama's red zone defense, which is among the best in college football. Opponents have converted red zone opportunities into points about three in every five tries against Alabama this year, although the Tide have allowed 14 touchdowns -- six more than Notre Dame -- on those chances.

But with only 27 opponent red zone attempts (tied for the lowest among FBS teams) at which to look, Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin doesn't have a whole lot of tape to work with.

"The few clips when teams get inside their 10 so you can really game plan and organize a good plan, the score is typically 48 to nothing, and there's none of the starters on the field for Alabama," Martin said. "It's hard to game plan against what they do late in the game when they're up by 50 points. That's the other task for them is you're trying to see how you can attack them and what they're going to do against you or certain formations, and you know they've got their backups in and they're just kind of finishing out the game."

A way to fight that unknown is to toss in an unknown as well, as in a play or two Alabama hasn't seen on film. But Kirby Smart's defense -- which prides itself on a "war zone" mentality inside the 20 -- expects some new wrinkles to Notre Dame's red zone offense.

"In a game like this, you got what, five weeks to prepare, you know there's going to be some trick plays that'll be thrown into it," cornerback Dee Milliner said. "You gotta focus in, read your keys and just know when they like to throw in a trick play here or there. We got a great coaching staff that have us prepared when they do run a trick play, just reading our keys and it's up to us to make the plays."

If one of those plays is a wildcat formation with Theo Riddick taking a direct snap or even a fake field goal -- both plays witnessed in practice this week -- the key for Notre Dame is to catch Alabama off guard. The Irish rarely did that during the regular season.

In a championship game, teams will pull out all the stops. Refrigerator Perry scored a touchdown in Super Bowl XX -- although don't expect Notre Dame to use the same line of thinking with its own large defensive tackle.

"I don't want give it away, but they have put the ball in my hands a couple times in practice," Louis Nix joked, hushing his tone and leaning in with a smile. "It's a special option with me and (defensive end Stephon) Tuitt. It's going well. I'll show a pass to him, if I want. I'm a selfish guy so I might just fake it and just keep it. We scored on it a couple times.

"Alabama, be on the lookout for it."

Sheryl Swoopes under investigation for coaching practices at Loyola

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Sheryl Swoopes under investigation for coaching practices at Loyola

Loyola women's basketball coach Sheryl Swoopes is under investigation for coaching practices at the university.

The investigation was sparked after 10 of the team's 12 players have transferred or have requested releases — nine having been recruited by Swoopes. Loyola began an "independent and comprehensive university investigation" on April 15.

According to Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune, five former players have stated that Swoopes' "unusual coaching style" was the reason behind their exits.

Swoopes has declined to comment on any allegations, according to Ryan. Loyola released the following statement on Thursday:

"Until the investigation is completed, the athletics department and women's basketball coaching staff are conducting business as usual as we prepare for the 2016-2017 season."

Swoopes is listed as one of the greatest WNBA players of all-time. She was hired to coach Loyola's women's basketball team in 2013.

Click here to read the full story from the Chicago Tribune.

NCAA final rematch: Loyola-Lewis in men's volleyball MIVA semis Wednesday on CSN+

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NCAA final rematch: Loyola-Lewis in men's volleyball MIVA semis Wednesday on CSN+

A rematch of the 2015 NCAA men's volleyball final between Loyola and Lewis will be aired on CSN+ on Wednesday at 7 p.m..

The two-time defending NCAA Champion Loyola men's volleyball team will take on Lewis, which the Ramblers defeated in five games in last year's final, in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association tournament semifinal.

The two Chicagoland schools are again among the best teams in the country with the Ramblers currently ranked No. 10 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division I-II Men’s Coaches Poll and the Flyers coming in at No. 12. Loyola is the No. 2 seed in the tournament while the Flyers hold the No. 4 seed.

This is the fifth straight year the two teams have met in the MIVA tournament, including meeting in the tournament final each of the past three years.

Local products feature heavily on both teams. Jeff Jendryk, a graduate of St. Francis High School in Wheaton, leads the Ramblers with 266 kills, Cary-Grove grad Jake Selsky leads Loyola with 180 digs and Ricky Gevis (Benet Academy) has 174 kills. Key Chicagoland players for Lewis include kills-leader Mitch Perinar (Minooka), blocks-leader Bobby Walsh (Mt. Carmel), digs-leader Jake Walenga (Lincoln-Way North) and setter Scott Fifer (Sandburg).