Preps Talk

It's a trap? Irish looking to avoid letdown vs. BYU

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It's a trap? Irish looking to avoid letdown vs. BYU

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- "Trap" games are all too real a phenomenon in college football. West Virginia fell into one last week, with its powerful offense being stymied by an underrated Texas Tech defense. That's just one example, though. There are sure to be plenty more in the next month and a half.
Notre Dame doesn't want to be one of them.
But with a showdown in Oklahoma that carries serious BCS implications looming next weekend, if the Irish start looking ahead that could be the case.
"Why does that happen? Well, you forget how you got here," coach Brian Kelly said. They are trap games if you forget how to go to work ask do those things. We've already talked about it with our team, and we'll make sure that we do everything to prepare the right way."
BYU has the profile of a classic "trap" team, one that's only 4-3 but has had plenty of defensive success this year. That changed last week, as Oregon State hung 42 in Provo. But by Football Outsiders' defensive S&P rankings (explained here), BYU still has a top-10 defense fueled by a run defense that's only allowing 67.9 yards on the ground per game.
Given that Notre Dame's rushing attack has been the strong suit of its offense this year, that could play right into BYU's hands. If Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III are neutralized, it'll put the pressure on whoever's starting at quarterback, be it Tommy Rees, Everett Golson or even Andrew Hendrix. Kelly will announce the starter before Saturday's game, but whoever it is may need to power Notre Dame's offense.
The mantra this week in South Bend was all about BYU, and how the players will focus on Oklahoma next week. Senior captain Manti Te'o is leading that charge, and feels the experience Notre Dame possesses will keep the team's focus on this weekend.
"I think it's only a trap game if you're dealing with a young team, a team that is not focused on one singular goal, and that's to take that day by day, week by week," Te'o said. "So our team has done a great job of just focusing on the next opponent. We don't have Oklahoma this week. We don't have Stanford, we already played Stanford. Right now it's BYU, and that's all we're focused on.
"Until Sunday comes, you know, we'll stop focusing on BYU. Until then, it's all BYU."
A win over BYU would likely secure a BCS berth for Notre Dame, unless an unexpected slip-up happens against the likes of Pittsburgh, Boston College or Wake Forest -- three teams the Irish should easily beat. Even if Notre Dame loses at Oklahoma and USC, they'd have 10 wins. And it's unlikely a BCS bowl would pass at the opportunity to take Notre Dame, an option those committees haven't had in six years.
That's a big picture view, and it's one the team isn't taking.
"We don't have a list of goals that says, hey, we want to go to the Sugar Bowl, we want to go to the Fiesta Bowl, we want to win the National Championship. We don't have any of those goals," Kelly explained. "They are not written down. You won't see them anywhere. They are not in our locker room.
"All you'll really hear us talk about are the goals as it relates to playing the game, and if you hit these goals, you've got a great chance to win and then how do you get there and so that's how we deal with it on a daytoday basis."

High School Lites features several teams with long winning streaks

High School Lites features several teams with long winning streaks

High School Lites is focused on the small schools this week as the show sticks with Class 1A and Class 2A teams that you need to get familiar with before the state tournament. The show has some long winning streaks to keep an eye on as teams with 15, 14, 13 and 12-game winning streaks will all be featured on Friday night.

Be sure to catch an all-new edition of High School Lites on Friday on 11 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago.

Thursday

Fenger at Corliss, 6:30 p.m. -- We head to the Public League White-South for this one as Corliss hosts Fenger. Corliss (16-2, 7-0) is riding a 14-game winning streak as they've only lost to one Illinois opponent this season. Senior big man George Conditt is a major All-Area threat as the Iowa State commit is putting up massive numbers. Fenger (8-7, 2-5) has dropped three straight games as they try to earn a win over a rival to get back in the conference mix.

Friday

Aurora Christian at Mooseheart, 7:30 p.m. -- Undefeated Aurora Christian heads to Northeastern Athletic rival Mooseheart in this one. The Eagles (15-0, 5-0) are the only unbeaten team left in the area as they feature senior guard Jake Wolfe, an All-Area candidate and Lipscomb commit. Mooseheart (8-2, 4-1) is also in the midst of a solid season as they had an easy win over Alden-Hebron in their last game. 

Alden-Hebron at Westminster Christian, 7:30 p.m. -- Staying in the Northeastern Athletic, Westminster Christian hosts Alden-Hebron. The Warriors (13-3, 5-0) have won three straight games, including an important win over Mooseheart that helped keep them tied for first place with Aurora Christian. Alden-Hebron (2-13, 1-4) wil try to earn its first win in over a month.

Burlington Central at Marengo, 7:00 p.m. -- Two of the better teams in the Kishwaukee Valley play here. Marengo (10-5, 1-1) is coming off a 10-day layoff after beating Genoa-Kingston on the road. Burlington Central (16-2, 3-0) has won 13 straight games as they won the Plano Christmas Classic and their own Martin Luther King event. 

Crane at Collins, 5:00 p.m. -- Two unbeatens collide in the Public League White-South in this one. Collins (11-5, 7-0) has won three of its last four as they held off Jones for a win earlier this week. Crane (11-8, 7-0) is also hot as they've won three straight games heading into this one, as they also got a win earlier this week over Clemente. 

Momence at Watseka, 7:30 p.m. -- A matchup of unbeatens teams in the Sangamon Valley in this one. Watseka (13-5, 2-0) has won four straight games as they look to take the lead in the conference. Momence (14-2, 3-0) had an 11-game winning streak snapped when they lost to Herscher on the road. 

Northridge at Latin, 6:00 p.m. -- The Independent School League's top two teams do battle in this one. Latin (12-6, 5-1) is trying to catch up with Northridge for the conference lead as they just had a major test against Niles North in a non-conference loss. Northridge (12-5, 6-0) is coming off a win earlier this week against Morgan Park Academy as they 

Beecher at St. Anne, 7:00 p.m. -- The River Valley is one of the most hotly-contested conference races in the area, as four teams sit within one game of first place. St. Anne (8-8, 5-1) currently leads the league over three other teams as they've won four of the their last five games. Beecher (9-11, 4-2) gave St. Anne its only conference loss with a 52-44 win on Nov. 30 at home. Now the Bobcats see if they can pick up the season sweep on the road.  

Christ The King at Hope Academy, 7:30 p.m. -- A Chicago Prep Red conference game in this one. Hope Academy (15-4, 1-0) has won seven of its last eight as they're one of the better small schools in the city. Christ the King (10-7, 1-1) is coming off a win over Eisenhower earlier this week as they try to gain a game on Hope Academy in the league standings. 

Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week

Ellison at Northtown, 6:30 p.m. -- Our Viewers' Choice Game of the Week heads to the Chicago Prep Black as two conference unbeatens play. Northtown (13-4, 1-0) has won 12 straight games since a 1-4 start as they haven't lost since Nov. 30. Ellison (9-10, 2-0) has won two straight games as they try to take the conference lead. These two teams also play a second conference game at Ellison later this season on Feb. 5.

Vic Fangio delivers some refreshing honesty about the state of the Bears' defense

Vic Fangio delivers some refreshing honesty about the state of the Bears' defense

Vic Fangio took the podium at Halas Hall on Thursday after coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich fielded questions for about 30 minutes, and began his press confernece with a classic quip. 

“Alright, let’s continue this lovefest,” Fangio said. 

For a Bears team coming off a 5-11 season — the fourth consecutive double-digit loss season for the franchise — there’s been plenty of positivity pinging around Halas Hall since Nagy was hired last week. But Fangio showed up with a reality check on Thursday, at least as it relates to the defense he’ll return to coach for a fourth year. 

“There’s no doubt strides were made," Fangio said. “Not enough. I think it’s a wrong picture to paint that the defense was great and the rest of the team wasn’t. We were 5-11. 

“If we were a great defense we’d have more than five wins. There’s a lot of room for improvement there — a lot — and we need to do that.”

The Bears opted for continuity in enticing Fangio to return to coach their defense, which ranked 10th in total defense and 9th in points last year, but was 14th in defensive DVOA. This was a good, not great defense that won the Bears a few games (most notably, the 17-3 win over the Carolina Panthers) but struggled at times, too. 

A great defense? That’d be the Jacksonville Jaguars, which on the back of one of the league’s best pass rushes and secondaries has vaulted Blake Bortles into the AFC Championship game. A great defense wouldn’t have let Brett Hundley post a 110.8 passer rating against it in Week 10; a great defense wouldn’t have allowed Matthew Stafford to scythe through it on two occasions. 

And that Fangio — who’s generally honest and brings a no-B.S. attitude to his press conferences — acknowledged that eight and a half months before the 2018 season starts was refreshing to hear. It’s almost been easy to forget the Bears lost their 11th and final game of the 2017 season less than three weeks ago with a new, young, offensive-minded coach stepping into Halas Hall. 

There will be plenty of turnover on the offensive side of the ball — possibly an entirely different receiver corps than was regularly on the field in 2017 — but the defense will have some consistency, starting with Fangio and extending to his defensive coaches, who he said Thursday he expects to be back. This is a group that needs more talent at edge rusher and cornerback, Fangio is more concerned with developing the guys who are already here — and were why this was a “good” defense last year. 

“Guys like Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, Leonard (Floyd), Eddie Jackson, I know I’m going to miss some, I think they all have a lot more to give to us than we’ve seen,” Fangio said. “And it’s our job to get them to improve and become even better players. That will be more important to us than anybody we can acquire between now and whenever our first game is. 

“So, and I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency, etc., but we’ve got to get our so-called good players playing even better. And that will be critical.”

And that approach — moreso than his lengthy experience in the NFL — is why retaining Fangio made so much sense for the Bears. Nobody knows the strengths and flaws of the Bears’ defense better than Fangio; and keeping Hicks, Goldman, Trevathan, Floyd, Jackson etc., in the same scheme with the same coordinator and same coaches gives this Bears’ defense the best chance to go from being “good” to great.