Bears

Kelly happy with Notre Dame's demeanor after ascending to No. 1

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Kelly happy with Notre Dame's demeanor after ascending to No. 1

Brian Kelly wanted to get a gauge on his team's attitude toward being No. 1 this morning, so he eavesdropped on a few conversations his players were having in Notre Dame's training room. The result was exactly what he was looking for.

"A couple of the guys were congratulated by a couple of the trainers, and their first response was, yeah, but it doesn't mean much if you don't beat USC, so that's really all I needed to hear," Kelly said.

Kelly had about a dozen friends and family over at his house last night to watch Kansas State-Baylor and Stanford-Oregon, and responded with a "heck yeah" when asked if he joined in on the loud cheering for Baylor and Stanford.

"It's like being selected for the playoffs," Kelly said. "Now you know you're in if you take care of business, and you've got to win each week. I think it's more about just the feeling that you're included now in the race for a championship."

While the BCS won't give way to a playoff system until 2014, Notre Dame, Alabama and Georgia play what amount to playoff games this week and next. For Alabama and Georgia, they'll need wins over heavy underdog rivals in Auburn and Georgia Tech before moving on to face each other in the SEC championship. For Notre Dame, a win over USC means they advance to the BCS title game.

The Trojans are in disarray, coming off a 38-28 loss to UCLA in which quarterback Matt Barkley suffered a shoulder injury that could keep him out of Saturday's contest. If he doesn't play, redshirt freshman Max Wittek -- who's thrown a total of nine passes at the collegiate level -- will get the start.

But regardless of who's under center for USC, Notre Dame's gameplan won't change.

"(Marqise) Lee and (Robert) Woods and the running back situation, they've got two great backs," Kelly said, referring to Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal. "We're going to have to defend all of those players, not just one. Certainly if Barkley is playing, which we'll prepare for him like he is playing, the offense is still going to be about getting the ball to their play makers. So it really won't change much in terms of what we do."

While Woods' production has dropped off in recent weeks, he still has 66 catches for 721 yards with 10 touchdowns on the season. It's been Lee, though, who's emerged as USC's top wideout, with the sophomore racking up 107 receptions for 1,605 yards and 14 touchdowns. Barkley or not, defending that pair of receivers is a tall order for Notre Dame's secondary.

"Tackle, tackle, tackle, tackle and tackle," Kelly said of the key for Notre Dame's defense.
"They're incredibly skilled with the ball in their hand, and if they have a lot of space, they're going to make you pay. You know, we felt that we had to against Oklahoma limit some of the catches and the extended runs. We'll have to do a great job tackling, and that will be paramount to our success against USC."

Over the last month, Kelly has noted plenty of times that his team can't get ahead of itself, that it can't afford to overlook an opponent. Notre Dame did just that against Pittsburgh, and it nearly cost the team its shot at championship. The way Kelly has seen things early in the week, perhaps that experience will pay off.

"They understand the importance of the USC game," Kelly said. "I was happy to see that they had that kind of maturity to know that it's all about how we play against USC."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?

Dry humping and second-guessing: Joe Maddon defends his Game 2 bullpen decisions

Dry humping and second-guessing: Joe Maddon defends his Game 2 bullpen decisions

Joe Maddon has no easy decisions.

With the way his tattered bullpen has pitched this postseason, there's a very real possibility that any guy he calls on to pitch is the "wrong" guy or the right guy in the "wrong" spot.

For everybody wanting Maddon to ride Wade Davis as a workhorse this fall — something the Cubs skipper has already done just to get to this NLCS — remember how much flak he took for overusing Aroldis Chapman a year ago at this time.

Davis also hasn't been superhuman this postseason, allowing a pair of runs (including a homer) and seven baserunners in 4.1 playoff innings, good for a 4.15 ERA and 1.62 WHIP.

So when Maddon sat in the dugout late Sunday evening watching helplessly as John Lackey served up a walk-off homer to Tormund Giantsbane Justin Turner, the "Madd Scientist" immediately found himself in the crosshairs of Cubs fans and the media.

The first question he fielded in his postgame press conference was about not using Davis and there were several follow-ups. That and the offensive futility is about all anybody wanted to talk about after the Cubs fell down 0-2 in the NLCS.

Maddon explained Davis was available only in a save situation due to workload issues — the Cubs closer was in uncharted territory Thursday night/Friday morning, throwing the most pitches (44) and innings (2.1) he's thrown since Aug. 24, 2013 when he was still working as a starter. That's a span of 1,511 days.

"Wade knew that going into the game, it was going to be with the say," Maddon said. "We caught the lead, he's in the game. So whatever the narrative was, it's really a false narrative. He was not coming into that game until we grabbed the lead. He was not going to pitch more than three outs. That's it."

How does Maddon respond to his second-guessers?

"Doesn't matter," Maddon said. "First of all, social media, the moment I start worrying about that, I really need to retire. Second of all, that was all predetermined [Sunday] night again."

Davis also has a recent history of arm troubles (he was on the disabled list twice in 2016 for a forearm issue) and also saw his workload jump in September just to help the Cubs get to the postseason. In the final month of the regular season, Davis threw 237 pitches, 42 more than he threw in any other month of 2017. The last time he topped 200 pitches in any month was May 2015.

TV cameras showed Davis throwing in the Cubs bullpen alongside Lackey at one point in the ninth inning, leading to surprise by a huge faction of the (*looks around and whispers*) social media fanbase when the game broadcast resumed after commercials and the pitching change was to bring Lackey — not Davis — into the game.

"Wade was not warming up to come in that game," Maddon said. "Wade was probably just testing his arm at that point. We had talked about it before the game — up and in. 

"For those that aren't involved in Major League Baseball and professional baseball in general, when a guy's throwing too much, it's very important to not dry hump him, as the saying goes. Get him up and put him back down and bring him back in later. So I wasn't going to do that."

(Wow, really was not expecting to hear or write the phrase "dry hump" regarding this story.)

Maddon insists health is not the problem with Davis.

"Yes [he's healthy]. Oh yeah," Maddon said. "Listen, this guy just did yeoman kind of work — I love that word — in Washington and was not prepared to go more than three outs. I don't understand why that's difficult to understand.

"And furthermore, you have to also understand it wasn't the last game of the year or the second to last game. It was about winning eight more games. All these things are factors."

Maddon has a point. This isn't a Buck Showalter case where the Baltimore Orioles manager failed to use his best reliever — Zach Britton — in a non-save situation in a winner-take-all American League wild card game because he wanted the closer to be ready for a save.

The Cubs went down in a game that was tied 1-1 with their best reliever failing to get in the game even though he hadn't pitched in the last two days. 

But Davis can't cover every inning in relief, especially when the Cubs' two starters (Jose Quintana and Jon Lester) lasted just 9.2 innings against the Dodgers, leaving the Cubs bullpen to account for the other 8+ innings somehow.

The rest of the Cubs bullpen has to step up, too, which they did before the ninth inning of Game 2.

Still, Maddon couldn't resist getting one more defensive shot in before putting the matter to bed:

"I really hope you all understand that social media doesn't count at all," he said. "Twitter doesn't count at all. And really, as sportswriters, you should do a better job than relying on Twitter to write a story, quite frankly."

Well then.