Trying to improve red zone efficiency, Irish get tricky

975059.png

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."

Preview: Eastern Illinois, Southern llinois in action today on CSN

montell_goodwin.jpg
AP

Preview: Eastern Illinois, Southern llinois in action today on CSN

College basketball is back on CSN on Saturday as two local teams will be featured in live conference matchups.

In the first matchup at 11 a.m., Eastern Illinois will host Austin Peay in an Ohio Valley Conference clash on CSN+ while the second matchup has Evansville hosting Southern Illinois in a Missouri Valley Conference game at 1 p.m. on CSN.

Eastern Illinois (9-8, 1-3) is coming off of a conference loss to Murray State. Junior guard Montell Goodwin leads the charge for the Panthers as he's averaging 14.8 points per game on the season. Austin Peay (5-13, 1-3) just earned a tight win over SIU-Edwardsville to help end an 11-game losing streak. Junior Josh Robinson is having a strong season despite the losing as he's averaging 21.2 points per game for the Governors.

The second game will be on the main CSN at 1 p.m. as Southern Illinois (10-8, 3-2) tries to bounce back from a loss to Bradley. The Salukis are led by sophomore guard Armon Fletcher as the Edwardsville product leads the team at 13.7 points per game.

Evansville (10-8, 1-4) is coming off of three consecutive losses as the Purple Aces are trying to figure things out at home. Senior Jaylon Brown has been one of the Valley's premier scorers this season as he's putting up 20.9 points per contest.

MVC basketball doubleheader on CSN

loyolabasketball.jpg
USA TODAY

MVC basketball doubleheader on CSN

Missouri Valley Conference basketball is back on CSN on Wednesday as a doubleheader begins at 6 p.m.

In the first game, Loyola will travel to Wichita State to face the Shockers in a 6 p.m. tip while the second game features Northern Iowa traveling to Bradley in a game that tips at 8 p.m.

Loyola (12-5, 2-2) has won two straight games as Chicago products Milton Doyle (Marshall) and Donte Ingram (Simeon) are both playing well. Doyle barely missed a triple-double in a win over Northern Iowa and followed that up with a career-high 35 points in a win over Bradley. Ingram has returned from a knee injury to give the Ramblers a boost as he had 25 in the win over Northern Iowa.

Wichita State (14-3, 4-0) has won five straight as they once again look like one of the Valley's best teams. Junior forward Darral Willis Jr. leads the Shockers in scoring at 12.1 points per game while sophomore Markis McDuffie is putting up 11.8 points per game. 

[RELATED: Complete NCAA coverage]

The second game of the doubleheader features Northern Iowa taking on Bradley. The Panthers (5-10, 0-4) have dropped five straight games as they're struggling to find help for senior guard Jeremy Morgan.

Bradley (7-10, 2-2) is coming off of a home loss to Loyola but they've had a solid bounceback season in head coach Brian Wardle's second year. The Braves only won five games all of last season as the roster has been revamped for this season.

Freshman guard Darrell Brown paces the Bradley offense at 12.2 points per game while junior forward JoJo McGlaston is putting up 9.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.