Blackhawks

Notre Dame preparing for physical test against Stanford

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Notre Dame preparing for physical test against Stanford

Last week was fast and athletic. This week, it's big and physical.

Miami came out swinging last week, and would've jumped out to an early lead had wide receiver Phillip Dorsett not dropped two sure-fire touchdown passes. Notre Dame weathered that storm and went on to hold the 'Canes to just three points, extending the team's touchdown-less streak to 12 quarters.

On Saturday, Notre Dame's opponent has a different offensive profile.

"Theyre a run-first team, theyll try to smash it down your throat and then throw a shot pass or something, so you really gotta be locked in on your assignment each and every play," safety Matthias Farley said of Stanford's offense. "If you have a tight end, then you have to be locked in on the tight end or whatever it is, because the tight ends are big, theyre fast, theyre physical and they can lull you to sleep with the run."

Tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo are matchup nightmares for a defense, and the pair top Cardinal pass-catchers in receptions. But running back Stepfan Taylor is who makes Stanford's offense go, carrying 119 times for 555 yards and five touchdowns.

"He's fast, he's strong, he's a powerful runner, and he keeps his legs moving, which makes it hard for opponents to bring him down," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "I played against him my sophomore year, and the strides he's made to improve his game have really shown. He's doing really good."

In two games against Notre Dame -- both wins for Stanford -- Taylor has rushed 226 yards on 48 carries. He's gone above 100 yards on the ground in both games, acting as an offspeed pitch for an offense led by Andrew Luck.

This year, though, the roles are reversed. Taylor is the go-to guy, while Stanford's passing game is the change of pace.

While Notre Dame has seen opposing defenses roll coverages to keep the ball out of Tyler Eifert's hands, teams haven't been able to do that against Stanford. Roll to Ertz, they'll throw to Toilolo, and vice versa.

"It's basically a skinnier lineman running up that can catch that has some speed," Te'o said. "Whenever you have that threat, it's similar to the threat, a dual threat quarterback."

"It's a nightmare," coach Brian Kelly explained. "Tyler Eifert is the same problem if we split him out, if we put the ball in a good location he's going to catch it every time so we've got to have some answers there. If it just becomes a matchup every time, we're going to have to look at some different key coverages. So we're aware of what our problems are and we'll have to address them if the game shows them to be real issues."

Stanford's offense was at its best last week, scoring 54 points in a shootout win over Arizona. Taylor rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns, while Ertz and Toilolo combined to catch 11 passes for 205 yards and two scores. On the flip side, though, Stanford's defense gave up 48 points and 617 yards to an offense that had quarterback Matt Scott throw 69 times.

"I think Arizona's quarterback was outstanding. I don't know that he played at a level that he's never played before because I didn't have enough film to watch, but I hadn't seen a guy play that well so the quarterback was outstanding," Kelly said. "Arizona got worn down. They're not a big, physical team. Stanford started to exert their will on them and that's how that game got up into the higher numbers. The quarterback was outstanding for Arizona, and then Stanford just wore them out."

Stanford has shown it's equipped for a shootout, even as uncharacteristic as that sounds. Notre Dame hasn't shown that -- largely because they haven't had to -- but chances are, this Saturday won't replicate last Saturday in the box score.

A key here for Notre Dame, though, is Stanford has only been tested once on the road this year. That was a 17-13 loss at Washington, a game in which Taylor only ran for 75 yards and Stanford's offense didn't score a touchdown. The Cardinal only mustered 235 yards of offense against Washington, so there is a blueprint out there.

The national spotlight is back on Notre Dame this weekend, with College GameDay posting up in front of Hesburgh Library and NBC sending Doug Flutie, Hines Ward and its college football crew to South Bend. The first batch of BCS standings will be revealed on Sunday, and if Notre Dame wins, they could be in the mix for the No. 1 spot.

But the mantra all week, and all year, has been to tune out the noise.

"For us, I think I our team is at a point where we're mature enough where we understand where our mindset needs to be, where our focus needs to be," Te'o said. "That's on Stanford. It's going to take all hundred and something of us, players and coaches, to be focused on Stanford in order to beat them."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks face Golden Knights for first time

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks face Golden Knights for first time

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Vegas Golden Knights Tuesday on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 8:45 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Corey Crawford vs. ... Oscar Dansk? 

The Golden Knights have seen both Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban go down with injuries, so they're scraping for goaltenders at this point.

On one end of the ice, you have one of the best netminders in the league and a two-time Stanley Cup champion in Crawford. On the other, you have a 23-year-old rookie in Dansk making his first official NHL start who will be backed up by a 24-year-old rookie in Maxime Lagace, who has never appeared in an NHL game.

In his first game action, Dansk stopped 10 of 11 shots in relief during Saturday's 3-2 overtime win over St. Louis.

2. Fast start.

The Blackhawks are tied for second in both goals scored (13) and fewest goals allowed (four) in the first period, which has a large reason for their early season success.

The Golden Knights aren't the kind of team that gets out to a blazing start. They've allowed only five goals in the opening frame, but they've scored only five as well, which ranks among the bottom 10 teams in the league. 

3. Beware of James Neal.

The Golden Knights became the first team in NHL history to win six of their first seven games of their inaugural season. And they probably don't have half of those wins if it weren't for Neal, who scored the game-winning goal in each of their first three games.

He leads the club with six goals and eight points, and serves as the motor for a team that doesn't have much offensive talent. He's the go-to guy, and somebody you have to keep an eye on when he's on the ice.

 

Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against LeBron and the Cavaliers

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against LeBron and the Cavaliers

Here are Three Things to Watch in the Bulls' Tuesday night tilt against the Cavaliers on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live.

1. LeBron James will be on your television

Love him or hate him, LeBron James is must-see TV. Now in his 15th NBA season, James has shown no signs of slowing down. Despite playing just one preseason game (against the Bulls), James has shown anything but rust in three games, averaging 25.0 points on 60 percent shooting, 8.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists in nearly 37 minutes. He's a threat every night to do something you've never seen on a basketball court, His Airness included. Justin Holiday and Paul Zipser will have their hands full against the game's best player.

2. Lauri Markkanen, Week 2

Small sample size alert! But through the season's first week Markkanen and Ben Simmons are the only rookies averaging a double-double (Dallas' Dennis Smith has played just one game, averaging 16 points and 10 assists). While the Bulls have struggled through two games, Markkanen's net rating is third best on the team and he leads the Bulls bigs in rebounds per game and rebound percentage. Markkanen has shown some versatility offensively, and his 7 free-throw attempts have been a nice surprise as well.

3. Don't forget: The Bulls swept the Cavaliers last year

OK, so expecting a victory Tuesday night in Cleveland isn't smart. The Bulls will be underdogs just like they were in each of the four games last season, all of which were Bulls winners. It was the first time in 52 division series that LeBron James had been swept, which is pretty remarkable considering the Bulls were the No. 8 seed and the Cavs coasted to a third straight NBA Finals. We're not over here predicting a win. But just remember: the Bulls have fared well against James in the regular season.