Rees guides Notre Dame to victory, but Golson still the starter

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Rees guides Notre Dame to victory, but Golson still the starter

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame is off to its best start in a decade, and Everett Golson is still its starting quarterback.

In the second quarter of Notre Dame's 13-6 win over No. 18 Michigan, Golson was pulled in favor of Tommy Rees, just as he was two weeks ago late in the Irish's 20-17 win over Purdue. Rees' insertion into that game was explained in baseball terms by coach Brian Kelly, who said it was similar to a manager pulling his starter for a closer at the end of a contest.

But since closers generally aren't used in the fourth inning of baseball games, this instance was different. Golson had thrown two interceptions, and both were potentially costly. The first came backed up in Notre Dame territory, the second came in its own end zone.

"I don't really believe it's a matter of confidence as much as he just has to settle down," Kelly said. "He was not as comfortable as I could have liked after playing the Michigan State game, where he was in an incredible environment. He just needs to settle down a little bit, and he's going to be fine."

But Golson wasn't appearing to be fine on Saturday, and Notre Dame's coaches turned to Rees, who completed eight of 11 passes for 115 yards. More importantly, Rees didn't turn the ball over, allowing Notre Dame's stout defense to hold Michigan to just a pair of field goals.

"He's just a great asset to have if you need him," Kelly said. "To close out a game, we'll continue to go that route. We'd like to continue to develop Everett so we don't have to do that, but we're still going to try to win football games any way possible."

Rees has done plenty of 180s in the last few months, going from Notre Dame's turnover-plagued starter in 2011 to off the depth chart completely to sliding in as Golson's safety net. Rees threw his share of back-breaking interceptions last year, but in 2012 he's gained the trust of his coaching staff to hold on to the football.

Golson hasn't got there yet.

"Having dealt with poor performances and coming back, I'm going to give him my two cents," Rees said of what he'll say to Golson. "He'll listen and we'll continue to work hard and get ready."

The Golson-Rees relationship has grown ever since the pair roomed together during fall camp. Back then, Rees wasn't under consideration for the No. 1 quarterback job, as he was relegated to the sidelines thanks to a one-game suspension. Golson lauded Rees' attitude during August, and a month later it was Rees lauding Golson's attitude toward being temporarily benched.

"He was real supportive, and he talked to me about some things he was seeing," Rees said. "He couldn't have been more positive.

"I didn't know him all that well before spring ball and camp, but he's a great kid. He's got high character. I've really enjoyed getting to know him and being close, and I think our relationship is going to continue to grow and continue to get better."

Saturday's contest may be a microcosm for Notre Dame's season: a defense-oriented, grind-it-out victory in which the offense doesn't do anything special. The Irish forced five Denard Robinson turnovers, four of which were interceptions, the product of a swarming defense that put pressure of the star Michigan quarterback all night long. And with a seven-point lead and time winding down, Notre Dame bled the clock out.

Rees' 38-yard strike to Tyler Eifert sealed the deal, and stood in stark contrast to the myriad of woes that faced Notre Dame late in games during the 2011 season.

"That's what different about this team. Last year, we couldn't do that," said running back Theo Riddick, who also played an important role in the fourth quarter Saturday. "It was so many games that we lost just because we couldn't pull it out. This year, we have gained that mental capacity and determination overall to just do our job and settle down when we know what we have to do."

Notre Dame didn't execute with Golson under center in the fourth quarter. Instead, it was Rees, although Kelly insisted Golson is the team's starting quarterback going forward, even if there's the potential for him to be pulled in favor of Rees.

"Regardless of what you say, Everett's our guy," Riddick said. "Tommy did a great job today and we commend him for rallying us up and getting this W."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jason Benetti stops by to talk the future of the White Sox

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jason Benetti stops by to talk the future of the White Sox

There's a lot of buzz around the future of the White Sox.

White Sox announcer Jason Benetti joined SportsTalk Live on Wednesday to discuss the team's exciting young prospects and how soon they'll be making their way to the South Side.

Also joining Pat Boyle on this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast are the Tribune's David Haugh, Pro Football Weekly's Hub Arkush and WGN Radio's Sam Panayotovich.

The guys also react to Mike Glennon's recent comments and Kevin White’s uncertain status at OTAs.

Plus, they wonder if Kyle Schwarber has finally found his spot in the Cubs' lineup.

Take a listen to the latest episode below:

Preview: Confident Fire face tough test vs. FC Dallas Thursday on CSN

Preview: Confident Fire face tough test vs. FC Dallas Thursday on CSN

The Chicago Fire are on a three-game winning streak, but those wins have come against struggling teams. FC Dallas, Thursday’s opponent, provides a different level of opposition.

Dallas won the Supporters’ Shield and the U.S. Open Cup last year and was the last team in Major League Soccer to lose this season, only getting knocked off for the first time Saturday against San Jose.

The Fire host Dallas at Toyota Park on CSN with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live. The Fire (6-3-3, 21 points) have more points, but Dallas (5-1-4, 19 points) has played two fewer games.

“You can test yourself against one of the best teams in the league and kind of gauge where you’re at,” Fire defender Brandon Vincent said. “We’re confident and we want to go out there and battle with them.”

Vincent has been part of a defense that has two straight shutouts, although those came against the two-worst goal-scoring teams in the league in Colorado and D.C. Dallas’ attack isn’t the most prolific in the league (14 goals in 10 games), but is very dangerous on the counter.

“They have a ton of attacking talent,” goalkeeper Matt Lampson said. “They’re actually just a solid team throughout and we expect a very hard game, but we are a completely different team. I think we’ve started to prove that and it’s going to be a very good game.”

While the defense will be busy containing Maxi Urruti (6 goals, 2 assists), midfielder Kellyn Acosta has been a crucial two-way player for Dallas. The 21-year-old has become a key player in the middle with playmaker Mauro Diaz, who was third in MLS with 13 assists last year, still out with an Achilles tendon injury.

Dallas has allowed the fewest goals in the league this season, seven through 10 games. Both centerbacks, Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman, have emerged as national team prospects for the U.S.

Dallas has the talent, experience and credentials of a top team. The Fire are new to being a contender. Vincent and Lampson, both in their second years with the Fire, said they haven’t seen the team have this much confidence since they joined the team.

“This is something special,” Lampson said. “That just proves that guys like Juninho, Dax (McCarty) and Bastian (Schweinsteiger) coming in, the culture has completely changed and we have guys who will do anything to win. When you have every guy on the team that’s like that, then you’re going to get results, you’re going to have confidence when you play well and everybody on the field is going to play for each other.”

Chicago Fire vs. FC Dallas

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

TV: CSN Chicago

When: Coverage begins 7 p.m. Thursday with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (6-3-3, 21 points), FCD (5-1-4, 19 points)