Redskins

BYU, SDSU renew rivalry in Poinsettia Bowl

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BYU, SDSU renew rivalry in Poinsettia Bowl

SAN DIEGO (AP) Rocky Long and Bronco Mendenhall will leave it to the fans to get all worked up about the revival of the BYU-San Diego State rivalry.

Just two years after a botched review of an apparent fumble tainted what appeared to be the final game between the schools, the Cougars (7-5) and Aztecs (9-3) will meet in the Poinsettia Bowl on Thursday night at San Diego State's home stadium, Qualcomm.

As much as SDSU fans loved to hate the Cougars during their rivalry in the Western Athletic Conference and then the Mountain West Conference, they really howled in 2010.

In an episode known as ``Replaygate,'' BYU running back JJ Di Luigi fumbled against the Aztecs in Provo and San Diego State coach Brady Hoke asked for a review. Officials ruled there was not enough evidence to rule it a fumble. BYU scored five plays later en route to a 24-21 victory.

Six days later, Mountain West Conference athletic directors decided to ban employees or alumni of the host school from serving in the communicator position in the instant replay booth. The three replay officials reportedly were suspended for one game.

SDSU fans didn't get over it, even though BYU bailed from the MWC to become independent in football. SDSU, which has won seven straight games, will leave the league after this season for the Big East in football only.

Still, Long and Mendenhall - who worked together on New Mexico's staff for five seasons - aren't interested in rehashing it.

``Oh yeah, it's ancient history,'' said Long, who was SDSU's defensive coordinator that day and was elevated to head coach after Hoke left for Michigan following that season. ``I don't worry about the fans. I only worry about the 100 guys we've got on the team.''

Said Mendenhall: ``I've already been asked that a number of times, with people saying this is a giant rivalry game and there's a vendetta, etc. Again, being at BYU I've learned there are a lot of axes to grind. I don't even remember the game, to be honest with you. I know Rocky's team will be ready to play. Hopefully, I can get our team ready as well. That's really what my focus is on.''

BYU leads the series 27-7-1 and has won five straight against the Aztecs.

Then there's the familiarity Long and Mendenhall have with each other. When Long was head coach at New Mexico, Mendenhall was his defensive coordinator from 1998-2002. Mendenhall also was defensive line coach at Oregon State in 1995 when Long was defensive coordinator.

``I don't think it makes a darn bit of difference,'' said Long, who led the Aztecs to a share of the MWC title with Fresno State and Boise State. ``Bronco and I are friends and we know each other very, very well. But Bronco's not making one tackle, he's not catching one pass. Guess what? He's not calling probably one offensive play. I'm not making a tackle. I'm not carrying the ball. I'm not calling one offensive play.

``When he first became the D coordinator at BYU, we could watch each other from the sideline and know exactly what defense was being run, because we used the same signals that meant the exact same thing,'' Long added. ``And by the time I read his signals there was no time to get it to the quarterback or the offense before the ball was snapped. So after the first year, I stopped watching him. So I don't even know what his signals are now. I'm sure they're different. So just because we know each other has nothing to do with the game. The guys you'll see here in a little while wearing jerseys around? They're going to decide who wins the game.''

Long and his 3-3-5 defense will have their hands full with BYU receiver Cody Hoffman, who had 90 catches for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns. Long said the Aztecs have to prepare for both BYU quarterbacks, Riley Nelson and James Lark. Nelson likely will start. With Nelson out for the regular-season finale with a rib injury, Lark made his first start and completed 34 of 50 passes for 384 yards and six touchdowns, with no turnovers, in a 50-14 win at New Mexico State.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Hoffman had a school single-game record five TD receptions among his 12 catches for 182 yards against New Mexico State.

``There is a huge matchup on the outside between our corners and Hoffman, because he is so big and strong and fast,'' Long said. ``We've got a couple pretty good corners, but they're not as big and strong as he is.''

The Cougars, who allow only 84.3 yards rushing per game, will have to try to stop SDSU sophomore Adam Muema, who averaged 6.4 yards per carry in running for 1,355 yards and 16 touchdowns.

``He's very, very good,'' Mendenhall said. ``I've seen a number of tackles missed on him. If that part can be contained, relatively, then their point production goes way down. If we're not able to get him on the ground consistently, then they'll control the momentum of the game.''

BYU will be making its 12th bowl appearance in San Diego. The first 11 were in the Holiday Bowl, the big brother of the Poinsettia Bowl.

SDSU is playing in a bowl game for an unprecedented third straight year and will be trying for its first 10-win season since 1977. The Aztecs beat Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2010 under Hoke and lost to Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans bowl last year, Long's first season in charge.

Hoke and then Long have changed the expectations of a once sad-sack program.

``I think we're at a critical point in our program now that it has to be expected, and if you don't get it, it's not acceptable,'' Long said about the three straight bowl appearances. ``I wouldn't have said that two years ago. Just getting to a bowl game was a big-time accomplishment.''

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Redskins' schedule "rest disparity" is very fair in 2018

Redskins' schedule "rest disparity" is very fair in 2018

The NFL started taking into account a new factor when putting together its schedule this year. The concept is called rest disparity. It stems from a complaint made by the Giants last year. And, of course, when the Giants have a cold, the NFL sneezes and immediately does whatever it takes to cure the cold. 

Here is how Peter King laid it out this morning on the MMQB:

Last year, I heard the Giants were not pleased with their schedule because they felt they were too often playing teams more rested than they were. In consecutive October weeks, they played teams coming off byes, for instance. The NFL calculated a figure for every team based on the number of combined days of rest for their foes or for the team, calculating, for instance, in those two weeks, the Giants were a minus-14 (minus-seven for each of the foes, Seattle and Denver, coming off byes). In all, by my math, the Giants were a league-worst minus-22 in “rest disparity.”

So the schedule makers worked to minimize the rest disparity this year. According to King, the worst rest disparity in the league this year is minus-11. The Giants are minus-eight. 

The question that Redskins fans will have immediately here is if the Giants’ rest disparity was reduced at the expense of the team in burgundy and gold. The answer that will surprise many is no. 

The Redskins rest disparity in 2018 will be either minus-one or zero. The variance is due to the possibility that their Week 16 game in Tennessee will be flexed to a Saturday game (see details here). If the game stays on Sunday, they will be at minus-one in rest disparity. If it gets moved, they will have had exactly as much rest over the course of the season as did their opponents, in aggregate. 

If you're interested in the nitty-gritty, here is how it breaks down. In eight or nine of their games, they will have had the same amount of rest as their opponents. They play one game coming off of their bye, a Monday night game in New Orleans. The Saints play the previous Sunday, giving Washington a plus-seven in days of rest. That is canceled out when they play the Falcons in Week 9 after Atlanta’s bye. 

Due to their Thanksgiving game, they get three extra days off going into their Week 13 Monday night game in Philadelphia. Two weeks later the Jaguars will have those three extra days of rest when they host the Redskins, having played on Thursday in Week 14.

They lose a day relative to their opponents coming off of those Monday night games against the Saints and Eagles. The Redskins get an extra day prior to visiting the Giants in Week 8 as New York has a Monday night game in Week 7. 

So far, that comes to minus-one in rest disparity. That will remain in place if they play the Titans on Sunday, December 23. If the game is flexed to Saturday, they will gain a day of rest on the Eagles in Week 17, zeroing out the rest disparity for the season. 

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

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Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

There's a saying in sports that goes, "A series doesn't start until a team loses at home." For the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets, their series won't start until someone wins at home.

Four games into the series, the road team has won every game. Columbus took Game 1 and Game 2 from Capital One Arena and the Caps answered back by winning Game 3 and Game 4 in Ohio.

"We came [to Columbus] to try to get the first one," Barry Trotz said after Thursday's win. "Did that. We came here to get the second one. Did that. All we've done is just got on even terms."

Now the series is a best of three with two of those final three games in Washington, but how much of an advantage does that really give the Caps?

"We've got to make sure that we're ready to go," Trotz said. "I think we have been since we got here. We've just got to do it at home."

The various playoff struggles the Caps have suffered in the Alex Ovechkin era have been well-documented to this point. One particularly maddening issue is the team's struggles to win at home. Since 2008, the first year the Ovechkin-led Caps made the playoffs, the team is just 28-25 in home playoff games. Since 2015, Trotz's first season as head coach, the Caps are 12-10 in Washington.

Part of that is just the nature of hockey. Upsets are prevalent in the playoffs in the NHL and home-ice advantage does not mean as much as it does in other sports. But it should mean more than 28-25.

Besides having the crowd on your side, home ice also provides matchup advantages. The home team gets the second line change at home, meaning during a stoppage in play the home coach gets the opportunity to see who the opponent puts on the ice before making his own change. For the Caps, this means getting Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against Artemi Panarin.

Trotz has matched his top shutdown pair against Columbus' top line all series long. According to Natural Stat Trick, when Niskanen was on the ice in Game 4 he held Panarin's Corsi For percentage to 36.36. When Niskanen was not on the ice, Panarin's percentage shot up to 71.43. 

Theoretically, it should be much easier for Trotz to get those favorable matchups at home. Now all the Caps have to do is take advantage.

"Our home record hasn't been really great in the last little stretch at the end of the season here and obviously the first two games of the playoffs," Trotz said. "We owe it to our fans, we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of that."

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