Bears

2011 loss to USC still resonates with Notre Dame

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2011 loss to USC still resonates with Notre Dame

It was one of the greatest spectacles seen at Notre Dame Stadium in recent memory, the first night game in two decades complete with music blaring over the loudspeakers and shiny new helmets. And Notre Dame fell on its face last year, losing 31-17 to USC and sending the Irish reeling to 4-3 on the 2011 season.

For some, that game represented a turning point in the program. Notre Dame beat itself with a bevy of mistakes, headlined by Dayne Crist muffing a snap and watching as it was returned 80 yards for a touchdown. When Tommy Rees threw an interception down two touchdowns with under seven minutes left, it sealed Notre Dame's fate.

"Guys really learned that you can't get caught up in all the hype that's going in to the game," center Braxston Cave said. "Last year, it was our first night game, and we had new helmets and obviously the whole ND nation was coming down on you because they want this win so bad. I think a lot of guys got wrapped up in all of this and it really affected the way we played."

Notre Dame entered the contest winners of four in a row, looking to take out USC and keep alive the hope of a BCS bowl berth. With the loss, Notre Dame fell to 4-3 -- but since then, the Irish have only lost two games, both at the back end of the 2011 season.

"That game in particular was certainly one where it required all of our players to really examine how they're going to be consistent winners," coach Brian Kelly said.

A loss to Andrew Luck and Stanford in Palo Alto was certainly forgivable, but Notre Dame's loss in the Champs Sports Bowl to Florida State -- again, the product of untimely turnovers -- looked like more of the same. Really, the lesson of the USC game was the lesson of the 2011 season.

"We learned that we have to stop beating ourself, and when we do that we'll come out with the victory," wide receiver John Goodman said. "That's kind of what we built this year and what will hopefully happen this Saturday."

Notre Dame paid the price of getting caught up in everything surrounding the USC game last year. This year, it'd be easy to do just the same, what with a bid to the BCS Championship on the line in Los Angeles. Notre Dame is No. 1 in the polls, graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and has dismissed claims of irrelevancy over the last three months.

But after what happened last year on that late October evening, Notre Dame players say they're laser-focused on the task at hand.

"We know we got one shot to get to 12-0, and if we don't stay focused and do our job then we have no chance of accomplishing that," Cave said.

Matt Nagy calls Kevin White a 'great weapon' with a new future

Matt Nagy calls Kevin White a 'great weapon' with a new future

Former first-round pick Kevin White hasn't caught a break -- or a touchdown -- through the first three years of his career. He has more season-ending injuries than 100-yard games and after an offseason focused on upgrades at wide receiver, White's future in Chicago beyond 2018 is very much in doubt.

Ryan Pace declined the fifth-year option in White's rookie contract, making this a prove-it year for the pass-catcher who once resembled a blend of Larry Fitzgerald and Dez Bryant during his time at West Virginia.

He's getting a fresh start by new coach Matt Nagy.

"He is healthy and he's really doing well," Nagy told Danny Kanell and Steve Torre Friday on SiriusXM's Dog Days Sports. "We're trying to keep him at one position right now so he can focus in on that."

White can't take all the blame for his 21 catches, 193 yards and zero scores through 48 possible games. He's only suited up for five. Whether it's bad luck or bad bone density, White hasn't had a legitimate chance to prove, on the field, that he belongs.

Nagy's looking forward, not backward, when it comes to 2015's seventh pick overall.

"That's gone, that's in the past," Nagy said of White's first three years. "This kid has a new future with us."

White won't be handed a job, however.

"He's gotta work for it, he's gotta put in the time and effort to do it," Nagy said. "But he will do that, he's been doing it. He's a great weapon, he's worked really hard. He has great size, good speed. We just want him to play football and not worry about anything else."

Nagy on Trubisky: 'He wants to be the best'

Nagy on Trubisky: 'He wants to be the best'

The Bears concluded their second round of OTAs on Thursday with the third and final set of voluntary sessions scheduled for May 29-June 1. Coach Matt Nagy is bringing a new and complicated system to Chicago, so the time spent on the practice field with the offense and quarterback Mitch Trubisky has been invaluable.

"We’ve thrown a lot at Mitch in the last 2 ½ months,” Nagy told Dog Days Sports’ Danny Kanell and Steve Torre on Friday. “He’s digested it really well.”

Nagy’s implementing the same system he operated with the Chiefs, an offense that brought the best out of Redskins quarterback Alex Smith. The former first-overall pick went from potential draft bust to MVP candidate under Andy Reid and Nagy’s watch.

Nagy admitted he and his staff may have been a little too aggressive with the amount of information thrust upon Trubisky so far.  It took five years to master the offense in Kansas City, he said, but the first-year head coach sees a lot of similarities between his current and past quarterbacks.

"These guys are just wired differently,” Nagy said when comparing Trubisky to Smith. “With Mitch, the one thing that you notice each and every day is this kid is so hungry. He wants to be the best. And he’s going to do whatever he needs to do. He’s so focused.”

Smith had the best year of his career in 2017 and much of the credit belongs to Nagy, who served as Smith’s position coach in each season of his tenure in Kansas City. He threw for eight touchdowns and only two interceptions during the five regular season games that Nagy took over play-calling duties last year.

Nagy said Trubisky has a similar attention to detail that Smith brought to the Chiefs’ quarterback room.

"Each and every detail that we give him means something. It’s not just something he writes down in a book. He wants to know the why,” Nagy said of Trubisky. “He’s a good person that is in this for the right reason. His teammates absolutely love him. It was the same thing with Alex [Smith] in Kansas City.”

A locker room that believes in its quarterback is a critically important variable for success, one that Nagy already sees exists in Chicago.

"When you have that as a coach and when you have that as being a quarterback, not everybody has that, and when you have that you’re in a good spot.”