Bruins, Devils look to stay in Pac-12 South race

Bruins, Devils look to stay in Pac-12 South race

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) When UCLA plays Arizona State on Saturday, the outcome will go a long way toward determining which team is a true challenger to favored USC in the Pac-12 South.

The Bruins (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12) already have an ugly road loss at California. A victory on Saturday would put UCLA back into contention with three of its final four games at home, capped by visits from Stanford and USC.

Arizona State (5-2, 3-1) must regroup from its Duck debacle at home, a loss to No. 2 Oregon far more one-sided than the 43-21 score would indicate. A victory over the Bruins could be essential for the Sun Devils to remain relevant heading into a pair of tough games at Oregon State and USC.

``This is a big, important game,'' Sun Devils coach Todd Graham said. ``Our guys have a lot to play for and this is the time. This is the end of October and November when you decide your fate.''

Both teams are something of a surprise under first-year coaches Graham and UCLA's Jim Mora.

While the Sun Devils have had a bit of extra time since their Thursday thrashing by Oregon, the Bruins have had a whole week off since beating Utah 21-14.

UCLA brings two components with significant Arizona connections. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone was part of Dennis Erickson's staff at Arizona State. Then there's UCLA freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, who grew up in nearby Chandler, Ariz.,

``It'll be fun,'' Hundley said. ``All my family is going to be there, family and friends. Everybody I know is from Arizona, so they'll all be there. It'll be a fun time.''

Hundley has thrown for 14 touchdowns, just three shy of the school freshman record of 17 set by Tommy Maddox in 1990.

While Mazzone is extremely familiar with several of Arizona State's players, they also are familiar with the offense the UCLA coordinator runs.

``The thing that we've got to be concerned about a little bit is that they have a great knowledge of our offense. Their players played against our offense in practice for the years that Noel was there,'' Mora said. ``We're going to have to change some things up a little bit, try to keep them off guard, but still, you can't scrap everything and start over. It still comes down to calling good plays and executing those plays.''

The Sun Devils may not have arguably their best player, defensive tackle Will Sutton, out with a knee injury. If Sutton plays, any offensive adjustments would be minor, Mora said.

``You can't make wholesale changes to your team, especially to your blocking patterns, depending on one player,'' Mora said. ``You've certainly got to have emphasis on him, but we've just got to do our thing and do it as well as we can, and if he's in there, help when we can help, and if we can't help, the guy who's blocking him has got to do a good job on him.''

Graham's main defensive concern is slowing running back Johnathan Franklin, who is just 184 yards shy of the school rushing record of 3,731 yards set by Gaston Green (1984-87).

``Their offensive line does a good job blocking the zone and the things that they do are very simple in the run game, and most people that are good at it are,'' Graham said. ``I think the number one thing offensively, is their ability to run the football. He is a very physical runner and a guy you have to tackle.''

The Sun Devils plan to get their up-tempo spread offense back in high gear under the control of quarterback Taylor Kelly. Mora realizes the challenge. He discounts the one-sided loss to Oregon. Just about everyone has a one-sided loss when they play the Ducks.

``I see a team that's physical, that's explosive, that can make plays on both sides of the ball, that runs well. Their quarterback is excellent on the move, especially moving out to his right. You've got to do an excellent job of keeping him in the pocket,'' Mora said. ``They're just a solid team. They operate offensively at a pretty good pace, but that's nothing new, because that's the trend in college football.''

Graham sees no sign of an extended hangover from the Oregon defeat.

``Anybody that says they have a hangover because they got beat the last week, that is just an excuse,'' he said. ``You have to get your guys ready to play every week. You go out there and you play well, you can have a hangover or have a letdown because you just won a big game, so it is about being mature. It is about being a competitor. You have to come back and compete every week.''


AP sports writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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Redskins Draft Countdown: Could Da'Ron Payne be the final piece to the D-line puzzle?

Redskins Draft Countdown: Could Da'Ron Payne be the final piece to the D-line puzzle?

Redskins draft countdown

Da’Ron Payne

Defensive tackle

Stuff the run in the middle of the line? Check. Get outside to stop stretch plays? Check. Get after the passer? Check. Yes, Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne checks all the boxes the Redskins are looking for on the D-line.

He can be the immovable object, taking on double and triple teams, and he also can chase down the quarterback. At 311 pounds he could be the Redskins’ nose tackle in base and move outside in nickel.

Height: 6-2
Weight: 311
40-yard dash: 4.95

Projected draft round: 1

What they’re saying

Payne possesses one of the most impressive combinations of strength and athleticism that we've seen from an interior lineman. He will be the premier run-stuffer in this draft, but he may have enough in the pass rushing toolbox to project as a better pro than college pass rusher. Payne is a game-ready starter who immediately upgrades a defense's ability to slow the run.

Lance Zierlein,

How he fits the Redskins: This just in—the Redskins need a nose tackle. Of course, if you’re reading this you know that, and you’ve known it has been the case ever since the Redskins went to the 3-4 defense in 2010.

In very closely related news, they need to play better against the run, too. You probably noticed that they were dead last in the league in rushing defense last year. And that the NFC East has two very strong rushing teams in the Eagles and Cowboys and a Giants team that could well take Saquon Barkley with the second pick in the draft. If they don’t fix their rushing defense they could literally get run over.

Payne could help them a lot. He can take on double and triple teams and clog up running lanes in the middle. If they try to go around him, he has the quickness to penetrate and disrupt outside runs.

And a defensive lineman taken in the top half of the first round should be able to provide some pass rush pressure. As noted by Zierlein, Payne has the potential to do that. He’ll never be a double-digit sack guy, but if he can kick in four to six per year and get some pressure up the middle, that would be fine.

Film review: vs. Tennessee, vs Georgia (national title game)

Like most players, Payne can’t get much in the way of a pass rush when he is double and triple teamed. But when they tried to block him one on one he consistently got pressure. Payne didn’t get many sacks, but he did make a difference. Against Georgia, one pressure resulted in an interception and another forced a third-down incompletion.

Payne is very difficult to move off the spot in the running game, even when the offense tries to do it with two or even three players. Running backs did not get by him on a regular basis. In the second half in particular, Georgia tried to move the ball with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, both of whom are likely to get selected in the top 100 in the draft next month. But they kept running into a mass of humanity in the middle of the line with Payne in the middle of it.

He played well during the Tennessee game during the regular season, but he didn’t have a lot of impact. The only time his name was called was when he was hit with a roughing the passer call.

Potential issues: At 311 pounds, Payne may not be the ideal size to fill the chronic hole at nose tackle. It should be noted, however, that defensive line coach Jim Tomsula has said that the Redskins aren’t necessarily looking for the 350-pound nose tackle and that a relatively smaller player can get the job done. Ziggy Hood played the nose at 305 pounds last year. The Redskins finished last against the run, although that’s not necessarily cause and effect.

Bottom line: The Redskins went 20 years without taking an interior defensive lineman in the first round before taking Jonathan Allen last year. Nobody could legitimately complain if they doubled up on first-round D-linemen after so many years of neglect.

Payne should be there when the 13th pick goes on the clock. Unless the Redskins address the nose tackle spot in free agency Payne will be under strong consideration. The defensive line improved last year with the additions of Allen in the draft, Stacy McGee as a free agent and the second-year emergence of Matt Ioannidis. Payne could be the final piece of what could be a dominant defensive line.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.


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Wizards at Spurs: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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Wizards at Spurs: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:


Where: AT&T Center
Tip-off: 9:30 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (pregame coverage begins at 8:30 p.m.)
Live stream:
Radio: 1500 AM

Wizards are trending up

The Wizards have had some steep ups and downs in recent weeks. They lost three in a row from Feb. 28 through March 4 and that turned into five losses in seven games, their worst stretch since John Wall injured his left knee. But now, with two straight wins, the Wizards appear to be in good shape. They have won four of their last six games and all of those wins came against teams currently holding playoff spots.

The Wizards enter Wednesday night sitting fifth in the Eastern Conference. They have been off the past three days and during that break the Pacers won a game and pushed ahead into fourth. The Pacers play the Pelicans on Wednesday, while the third-place Cavs battle the Raptors and the sixth-place Sixers see the Grizzlies.


Tough place to play

The Wizards head to Texas hoping to win in San Antonio for the first time since 1999. Yes, you read that right: 1999. Like, back when Limp Bizkit was a thing. It has been 19 years and 17 straight losses at the Spurs for the Wizards.

Washington has had trouble with the Spurs in general in the past two decades, as have most teams. The Spurs have won 20 of their last 23 matchups overall and won 17 straight from 2006 through 2015. The Spurs under head coach Gregg Popovich have been among the most consistent winners in all of sports and the Wizards have had trouble cracking the code.


Spurs are still getting it done

The Spurs are currently sixth in the Western Conference despite having a slightly better record than the Wizards. They have gotten this far despite their best player Kawhi Leonard missing all but nine games this season. It is a remarkable feat and one that could very well win Popovich another Coach of the Year award.

In Leonard's absence, many have stepped up. LaMarcus Aldridge has put in an All-Star season with averages of 22.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. Rudy Gay has enjoyed a nice bounceback season with 11.2 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. And Pau Gasol is still making an impact with 10.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.

Really, though, it's all about their defense. The Spurs boast the lowest opponents points per game average (99.0) and the third-best defensive rating (104.1).


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