Lightning-quick QBs pose problems for defenses


Lightning-quick QBs pose problems for defenses

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) The most potent weapons for No. 20 Michigan and No. 4 Ohio State are undoubtedly their quarterbacks.

Pity their poor defenses in the big showdown on Saturday.

Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson, who may line up everywhere but behind the center due to an arm injury, are the speedsters who lead the Wolverines' attack. Meanwhile the Buckeyes rely on Braxton Miller, who likes to make tacklers grab handfuls of air when he's not completing long passes.

Stopping, or at least slowing down, the trio will be the main objective for both teams.

Good luck with THAT.

Gardner provided six touchdowns, three running and three passing, in Michigan's landslide win over Iowa in The Big House last week. Robinson, with 41 touchdowns and 4,273 rushing yards in his career, dabbled at tailback and wide receiver while picking up 98 yards on 13 carries.

Ohio State is in a quandary, having to figure out just how Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges will utilize the two. Even he doesn't seem to know.

``You don't know - nobody knows - until the lights go on,'' Borges said.

So the Buckeyes must prepare for a little bit of everything.

``I just know something's coming,'' Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said of the possible sleight of hand. ``You just know something's coming.''

Michigan coach Brady Hoke has been tight-lipped about his plans this week. Gardner is the reigning Big Ten player of the week on offense, but Hoke hasn't ruled out Robinson - famous for his lengthy streaks to the goal line as much as for not tying his shoelaces - under center.

The Wolverines refused to even hint at what they might do.

``I never caught a pass in a game before,'' Robinson said innocently.

During closed practices this week he wore a padded compression sleeve on his right elbow, which suffered nerve damage from a hit earlier this season.

Asked if he can throw, he grinned and said, ``You'll see on Saturday.''

Despite the respect they have for Gardner, Ohio State's defense knows it can't ignore Robinson.

``I know about Denard here and there just from Big Ten media day, and he is a good guy,'' said linebacker Etienne Sabino, himself just back from an injury. ``But on the field, we aren't friends.''

Gardner watched the video from the Iowa game, a 42-17 laugher, and saw the problems the combo created.

``Not just when Denard had the ball - of course he made big plays - but when he didn't have the ball we had our even bigger plays,'' he said. ``Just the attention that he gets is amazing - it just helps us succeed.''

Ohio State defensive lineman Garrett Goebel said having two quarterbacks on the field creates double the headaches.

``It's always hard to even prepare for one quarterback, (especially) when it's Denard,'' he said. ``Two quarterbacks makes it tougher.''

Gardner was recruited by Meyer when he was the head coach at Florida. He was also pursued by Ohio State. Like a lot of athletes on both sides in what is already a grudge match, he has a sizable chip on his shoulder.

``They didn't offer me a scholarship,'' he said of the Buckeyes. ``I was pretty bitter.''

Only after he had committed to Michigan did Ohio State make an offer. He posted a picture of himself online burning the letter.

Asked if he did that with any other letters, he said, ``Just that one.''

It's not as if it's only Ohio State's defense which has a problem. Far from it. Miller is considered one of the nation's best quarterbacks and a danger to go all the way every time he touches the ball, even though he's coming off one of his worst games in an unbeaten season.

Meyer takes the blame for that. He said he buttoned up the offense and leaned on the defense when the Buckeyes took a 14-0 lead at Wisconsin last week. As a result, Ohio State foundered when they had the ball throughout the second half.

Wisconsin came back to force overtime, but the Buckeyes scored easily and then held for a 21-14 victory.

``I take (the) fault,'' Meyer said. ``I was very conservative in the second half of that ballgame. We have to open it up a little bit and we're going to do that this week.''

Michigan remains on high alert.

Despite the speed he has at the skill positions, Hoke didn't have anybody to play the role of Miller during practice this week.

``I don't think we can ever find a guy that can give us the look that you're going to get from Braxton, his athleticism and the maturity,'' he said. ``That's something that's hard to find when you're trying to replicate that. The other part about it is he's surrounded by a great cast.''

A year ago as a callow freshman, Miller almost led an Ohio State team that would finish with a 6-7 record to victory at Michigan. An underthrown pass to a wide-open receiver streaking down the sidelines would have given the Buckeyes the lead in the final minutes of what would be a 40-34 defeat. It was only the second time in a decade that Ohio State left The Game with a loss.

Miller still isn't mistaken for Peyton Manning, but he is a much improved passer. On top of that, he's got speed to spare when he turns on the afterburners as he's leaving the pocket on a scramble.

``He's throwing the ball better, he's very elusive,'' said Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who was the architect of Meyer's national-championship defenses at Florida. ``He'll take off running full speed and he'll stop on a dime. He looks stronger. I thought he was good last time. He's a very, very good quarterback.''

And he's not alone out there. The Buckeyes may not have another quarterback with him, but they have tailback Carlos Hyde, with 824 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, and several other threats to spread the workload in Meyer's hurry-up, spread attack.

``It's a significantly different offense,'' Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs said. ``It's an uptempo offense that can run the ball downhill and they have a lot of athletes that they like to get the ball to in space. This year, they put a little bit more speed on the field.''

As the defenses know, that last statement is true for both teams.


AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Ann Arbor, Mich., contributed to this report.


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Bradley Beal's phantom foul and the Wizards' most important rally of the season

Bradley Beal's phantom foul and the Wizards' most important rally of the season

After calling an inconsistent game throughout the night, the referees made a decision with five minutes to go in Game 4 that nearly altered the entire series between the Wizards and Raptors.

DeMar DeRozan was chasing a rebound on the baseline and ran into Bradley Beal. Beal, who had a team-high 31 points, was levied a sixth and final foul with the score tied. 

Beal had unloaded for 20 points in 12 minutes in the second half, but now the Wizards would have to close it out without their All-Star shooting guard. Somehow, they were able to seal the win and tie the series.

Beal heard the whistle as he laid on the ground. He immediately hopped up and unleashed a tantrum that nobody could blame him for.

He jumped up and down, screaming at the referees, who had just called by all accounts a questionable foul and in a key moment of a playoff game.

Both Beal and head coach Scott Brooks were incensed and with good reason.

“I was beyond emotional, beyond mad, frustrated," Beal said. "I honestly thought they were going to kick me out of the game I was so mad, but I was happy they didn’t do that."

Beal is probably lucky the referees didn't take offense to his reaction because it continued when he was on the bench. He walked past his teammates and leaned over with his hands on his knees, still furious. Then he returned to the sideline to yell at the refs. Center Ian Mahinmi helped convince him to step back and cool off.

Beal has made a major difference in this series. He averaged 14.0 points in the first two games, both losses. He has averaged 29.5 points in Games 3 and 4, two Wizards wins.

Getting him out of the game was a major break for the Raptors, but they couldn't take advantage. The Wizards closed the final five minutes on a 14-6 tear. John Wall stepped up to lead the charge with eight of those points.

The Wizards still had one star on the court and he played like one.

“Just go in attack mode," Wall said. "When Brad went out, I knew I had to do whatever it took... I just wanted to do whatever, so that we could advance to Game 5, tied 2-2.”

Once Beal composed himself, his confidence grew in his teammates. He and Wall feel comfortable playing without each other because they have done so often throughout their careers.

This year, Wall missed 41 games due to a left knee injury. Two years ago, Beal missed 27 games. Early on in his career, he had trouble staying healthy. Now he is an iron man who played in all 82 games during the 2017-18 regular season.

Beal has grown accustomed to being on the floor a lot, but he realized he can still affect the game from the sidelines.

"I just gathered my emotions, gathered my thoughts and told my team we were going to win, regardless. I knew if we still had John [Wall] in the game I loved our chances," Beal said. "Face the adversity that I had to overcome, just gather myself and be a leader, being vocal and keeping everyone encouraged in the game.”

Wall and others did the heavy lifting in the end. The Wizards used Kelly Oubre, Jr. as the shooting guard with Beal out and he made key plays down the stretch, including a steal on Kyle Lowry in the closing seconds.

The Wizards were thrown a significant curveball and they overcame it to put themselves in good position now having won two straight.

“You have to have resolve to win in this league," Brooks said. "You win playoff games and you win playoff series with having that. We have that, and we have to continue to have that because we have to win two more games and one of them has to be on the road."

When it comes to the officiating, the Wizards deserve credit for their resilience and restraint early in Game 4. The Raptors had 16 free throws in the first quarter compared to the Wizards' four. Washington perservered and ended up with more free throws (31) than the Raptors (30) did for the game.

In Game 1, the Wizards appeared to be affected by a lack of foul calls. That came was called loosely by the referees, while this one was officiated tightly. Though Beal went off, the Wizards for the most part stayed the course and were rewarded for it.

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The Wizards supplied all the highlights and fireworks; 5 must-see moments from Game 4

The Wizards supplied all the highlights and fireworks; 5 must-see moments from Game 4

WASHINGTON -- As the home team in a dire situation you have to take advantage, and that is exactly what the Washington Wizards did in their 106-98 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Highlight reel play after highlight reel play, the Wizards ignited the crowd with some of their best plays from the entire season to make it 2-2 in the series. Here are just a few of them:

1. John Wall collects posters in the first half

The first one was perhaps the best. Everything was going wrong for the Wizards, poor turnovers, bad shots, a three from Toronto. Then John Wall had enough. Not only did he fly past his defender Kyle Lowry, but he went up and slammed one home past the 7-foot Jonas Valanciunas. Up until that point, the Wizards were shooting 1-for-7.

Rinse and repeat, except this time Jakob Poeltl was Wall’s victim.

2. Wall to Beal alley-oop in transition

With the Wizards’ offense faltering, the Raptors remained on the verge of blowing the game open throughout the second quarter. But with a steal from Otto Porter Jr., Wall hung up the ball for Bradley Beal to slam home. The alley-oop kept the Wizards within single digits in the second with an uninspiring offensive effort.

3. Otto Porter breaks out of the half

A subdued offensive start to the game was due in part to the production from Porter. In the first half he went 0-for-4 with one point in nearly 17 minutes of action.

Throw that away in the second half. He broke out of halftime with back-to-back threes and 10 of the Wizards’ 26 in a monster 26-14 run to take the lead back in the third.

He finished the quarter with 10 points, an assist, and two blocks.

4. The Polish Hammer throwing it home

Are you convinced yet that Marcin Gortat’s new haircut is doing him some good? Gortat squeezed through two Raptors’ defenders, threw it down, gave a Goliath-type roar to the crowd before officially bringing the hammer down. 

5. Beal being called for his sixth foul of the game

Agree with the call or not, there is no denying that Beal’s removal from the game lit a fire underneath the Wizards. From that point Washington went on a 14-6 scoring run to end the game, closing out for the win.