Notre Dame tops USC to move on to Miami


Notre Dame tops USC to move on to Miami

LOS ANGELES -- Notre Dame no longer needed anyone ahead of them to lose. All they had to do was win, and an early January trip to Miami was in their grasp. Nobody had to lose on Saturday night but USC, and Notre Dame made that happen, securing a spot in the BCS Championship with a 22-13 win over the Trojans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

"We just find a way to win, week in and week out," running back Theo Riddick said. "That's our message."

Riddick was Notre Dame's offensive star Saturday, rushing 20 times for 146 yards and a touchdown. When the Irish needed yards, Riddick was the go-to guy, breaking tackles and garnering plenty of yards after contact.

That's pretty good for a running back-turned-wide receiver, who returned to the backfield for his senior season.

"If you want to know about the Fighting Irish, you just need to look at Theo Riddick," coach Brian Kelly said. "Here's a guy that was a wide receiver for me the first two years. We asked him to move back to running back, and in game 12 he manages (146) yards but broke countless tackles and got us the tough yards we needed today.

"You just look at his jersey after the game, there's no wonder why this team has got the toughness that it does."

Notre Dame's offense started strong, slicing through USC's defense to take a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. Everett Golson looked calm and poised, while Riddick scrounged up a handful of important plays, including a nine-yard touchdown run late in the first. But Notre Dame wasn't able to pull away early, only managing field goals on a pair of promising drives bookending Riddick's touchdown and setting the tone for the team's offensive output Saturday night.

"I think not getting touchdowns came back to make it a little more difficult on us, and I knew it would," Kelly said. "Every time we had to kick a field goal where we missed an opportunity -- we're still in the process there. We're not there yet. When we start clicking down in the red zone, we'll be really good."

But the Irish didn't ultimately need to convert those red zone opportunities, although the collective blood pressure of Notre Dame may say otherwise. That's because the Irish defense once again locked down, only allowing a touchdown and two field goals to an offense that remained high-powered despite injured quarterback Matt Barkley spending the entire game in sweat pants on the sidelines.

After a shaky start, first-time starter Max Wittek settled down, completing seven straight passes and leading USC to 10 first-half points, keeping the Trojans within striking distance. Notre Dame couldn't capitalize off a Manti Te'o interception to open the second half, with Brindza missing a 34-yard field goal.

That interception, though, sparked a defensive struggle for most of the third quarter. Notre Dame and USC traded punts throughout the quarter until Golson hit Tyler Eifert for a 36-yard gain late in the period, setting up Brindza's third successful field goal of the game to put Notre Dame up by nine. USC only managed 24 yards in the third quarter.

"The entire game was managed the way we managed each and every game -- minimize the big plays, they had the one great completion late in the game," Kelly said. "We minimized the big plays and we ran the football, and our quarterback was able to manage the run game for us."

That big completion Kelly referred to was a 53-yarder to Marqise Lee, which set USC up on the Irish two-yard line late in the fourth. Even with Notre Dame leading by nine with time ticking away, the thought of a Trojans comeback was hardly far-fetched.

After a slew of pass interference calls on KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame stopped Wittek on a pair of QB sneaks, then dropped Curtis McNeal for no gain on the one-inch line. And when Soma Vainuku dropped what would've been a touchdown pass, Notre Dame pulled off another miraculous goal-line stand. Their last one led to a win over Stanford, which athletic director Jack Swarbrick saw as a benchmark for the team's title hopes.

"Coming into the year, I thought Stanford was the test," Swarbrick said. "I just think that in the past few years, they were more physical than we were, bigger and tougher than we were, and I thought that's going to be our benchmark. And when we survived that, especially the way we did, that's when I thought we had a chance."

Notre Dame survived Stepfan Taylor, and on Saturday, survived USC's goal-line efforts in the same manner.

Only this time, that goal-line stand is sending Notre Dame to Miami.

Fast Break Morning Update: Scott Darling leads Blackhawks to win over Blues

Fast Break Morning Update: Scott Darling leads Blackhawks to win over Blues

Here are the top Chicago sports stories from Sunday:

Scott Darling shines in fill-in duty as Blackhawks break late tie to best rival Blues

White Sox pitchers headed for World Baseball Classic look sharp in win over Rockies

What if… Cubs GM Jed Hoyer’s takeaways from epic World Series Game 7

Quick hits: Blackhawks start strong in win over Blues

Illini keep NCAA tournament hopes afloat with dominant win over Nebraska

White Sox: Happy with progress, Brett Lawrie tries to clear final hurdles

How Indians regrouped and reloaded after losing unforgettable Game 7 to Cubs

Jim Thome: Getting into baseball Hall of Fame would be indescribable

Kurt Busch steals a monster of a win in Daytona 500

Michigan State gets big win to boost tourney hopes, while Wisconsin loses for fourth time in five games




Scott Darling shines in fill-in duty as Blackhawks break late tie to best rival Blues

Scott Darling shines in fill-in duty as Blackhawks break late tie to best rival Blues

Scott Darling found out at 8 a.m. Sunday that he was starting for an ailing Corey Crawford. Considering he did this back in December for a few weeks, adjusting quick for one game was fine.

"It's kind of my job," Darling said.

And Darling, once again, did his job.

Darling stopped 30 of 32 shots and Patrick Kane scored his 24th goal of the season as the Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on Sunday night. The Blackhawks have won nine of their last 10 games. They're one point behind the Minnesota Wild, who made their splashy trade-deadline move in acquiring Martin Hanzal on Sunday. But the Blackhawks, thanks to veterans regaining their form, a top line finding its rhythm and youth consistently improving, are just rolling right along.

"We had a great start to the game. I thought Darls was excellent all night, great stretch there in the last 10 minutes where we fight through some tough shifts, particularly in the last couple of minutes in our end. But good win," coach Joel Quenneville said. "You look at the nice plays on the goals, it was kind of a comparable ending to the outdoor game: tied and about the same time they scored, we scored (tonight). Big two points for us."

Jonathan Toews scored his 16th of the season and Artem Anisimov scored the game-winning goal with 5:20 remaining in regulation. Tanner Kero added an empty-net goal with 2.6 seconds remaining in the game.

The Blackhawks already knew they'd be without Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) for at least a day or two when they found out Crawford couldn't go this morning. As Quenneville said Darling was strong once again, denying the Blues all but twice (a 2-on-1 goal from Magnus Paajarvi and a power-play goal from Alex Pietrangelo).

Toews and Kane (power-play goal) staked the Blackhawks to a 2-0 lead early before the Blues tied it in the second. But late in the third period Anisimov took the feed from Artemi Panarin to give the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead.

"I saw the puck all the way. It was easy to pick up," Anisimov said. "When you don't see the puck at the last moment and it comes, it's hard to receive and prepare for the next move. But I saw it all the way. Easy to prepare for the next move."

Speaking of next moves, do the Blackhawks make any more before the trade deadline. General manager Stan Bowman said on Friday, following the acquisition of Tomas Jurco, that he'll keep talking and listening but likes the group he has right now. If Bowman's made moves it's for what the Blackhawks have needed, not because of another team's trades. The Blackhawks like what they have right now. Winning nine of 10 and continuing to trend in the right direction, they should be careful not to disrupt what they've got going.

"I think we're, as we've said lately, trending the right way. We're playing solid. I think all four lines are contributing in every which way," Toews said. "I love our group right now. Everyone is getting better individually, contributing more and more and it's a lot of fun to see the way we're playing right now. We know that the ceiling is way higher and we can keep getting better too."