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Oregon State and Nicholls State play their opener

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Oregon State and Nicholls State play their opener

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) Oregon State finally gets to play its opener.

The No. 16 Beavers will host Nicholls State on Saturday. The game was supposed to be played on Sept. 1, but it was postponed when Hurricane Isaac bore down on the Colonels' Thibodeaux, La., campus. Officials for both schools decided it would be best to reschedule the game out of concern for the athletes impacted by the storm.

Three months later, Oregon State is 8-3 overall and awaiting a bowl bid on Sunday. The Beavers are possibly headed to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 27, and representatives for that bowl will be in Corvallis for the game against the Colonels.

Not many would have predicted such a turnaround for Oregon State back at the start of the season, when the Beavers were picked to finish last in the Pac-12's northern division after going just 3-9 last season.

The Beavers' five-game improvement is second only to the six-game turnaround by Ohio State and Middle Tennessee.

``We are down to the last couple of chapters and we need to talk to the team about putting an exclamation point on who they want to be remembered as,'' Beavers coach Mike Riley said. ``One of the first ways a team is remembered is their record, so we want to make that record as good as we can.''

The Colonels, who play in the FCS Southland Conference, are just 1-9 this season and have seven straight losses. They have been off since a 35-16 loss to Southeastern Louisiana on Nov. 15.

The game looks lopsided on paper.

Apart from the obvious divisional difference, the Nicholls State defense is giving up 244 yards passing a game, last in the Southland, while Oregon State is averaging 304 yards passing a game, ranked 19th in the nation.

The Beavers will start sophomore Sean Mannion, who was their starter when the season opened and led the team to its first four wins, but he injured his left knee and required surgery. Backup Cody Vaz took over the job but then he injured his left ankle and has sat out the last two games.

Riley said he could play both against Nicholls State.

``If we wanted to substitute - it's certainly not because of this game - I've been thinking about that for a long time. Don't know that we'll do it, but we might,'' Riley said. ``We've got two starting quarterbacks.''

Mannion is coming off a rough outing in a 48-24 loss to rival Oregon in the annual Civil War game with four interceptions.

``You learn what you can and you just move on,'' he said.

Both quarterbacks have been helped by the efforts of receivers Brandin Cooks and Marcus Wheaton. Cooks is averaging 101.2 yards receiving a game to rank ninth in the nation, while Wheaton is 12th with 98.6 yards.

Cooks is questionable against the Colonels after he sustained a knee bruise in the Civil War.

For the Colonels, junior Landry Klann leads the Southland's third-best passing offense, averaging nearly 227 yards a game. He needs 115 yards passing on Saturday to become first Colonel to throw for 2,000 yards since Brad Zeller in 1998. Klann has eight touchdown passes this season.

The Beavers are ranked third in the Pac-12 in pass defense, allowing an average of 227.6 yards a game.

This is the third FBS team that Nicholls State has played this season. The Colonels also faced South Alabama and Tulsa, both losses. The Colonels have two wins over FBS opponents since 2000: They beat Arkansas State 28-22 in 2001, and Rice 16-14 in 2007.

There is one interesting connection between the two teams: Nicholls State coach Charlie Stubbs was an assistant at Oregon State from 1985-90 under coach Dave Kragthorpe.

Oregon State is probably not in danger of overlooking the Colonels. The Beavers want to flip their record from last year to 9-3, and for inspiration they need only look back to last season, when they opened with a 29-28 overtime loss to lower-division Sacramento State.

``We can't take any opponent lightly. We did that last year,'' Cooks said. ``I don't want to go into the past, but that's what we did and we ended up with a loss. Now we've got to come in and act like we're playing someone else from the Pac-12.''

4.19.18 Rick Horrow The Sports Professor talks with Joe Leccese, Chairman ProSkauer

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USA TODAY Sports

4.19.18 Rick Horrow The Sports Professor talks with Joe Leccese, Chairman ProSkauer

Rick Horrow The Sports Professor sits down for an exclusive interview with Joe Leccese -- and more from the $1 trillion-dollar business of sports in this week's 'Beyond The Scoreboard with Rick Horrow'

About the Guest: Joe Leccese is the Chairman of Proskauer. He is responsible for leading the Firm’s global operations across its 13 offices and co-heads of Proskauer’s renowned Sports Law Group.

By Rick Horrow

Podcast producer: Tanner Simkins

LISTEN HERE

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The Caps' penalty kill has been a major factor in the series turnaround

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USA TODAY Sports

The Caps' penalty kill has been a major factor in the series turnaround

For the Capitals to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the keys to the series was going to be the penalty kill. 

For the season, Columbus ranked only 25th in the league on the power play at 17.2-percent, but that number did not reflect the massive improvement the Blue Jackets made with their trade deadline acquisitions.

Since the trade deadline on Feb. 26, Columbus ranked seventh on the power play. The Caps were sixth with both teams converting 25.0-percent of the time.

Where Washington did have an edge, seemingly, was on the penalty kill. Unlike the power play, Columbus' penalty kill was consistently poor all season, finishing 27th in the NHL with a kill rate of only 76.2-percent. While not a strength by any means, the Caps were certainly better on the PK with a kill rate of 80.3-percent, good for 15th in the league.

With two power plays converting at the same rate, Washington had to be able to kill off more of the Blue Jackets' opportunities. They struggled to do that in Game 1 and Game 2.

The Caps were called for four penalties and gave up two power play goals in each of the first two games. Washington scored five power play goals in those games, but their advantage on special teams was mitigated by their inability to keep Columbus from converting. 

There are many reasons why the Caps were able to overcome the 0-2 series deficit and now sit just one win away from advancing to the second round. Chief among those reasons is the improved penalty kill. Since Game 2, Washington has not allowed a single power play goal. The PK has successfully killed off 13 straight penalties including five in Game 5.

"I think as a group, they've all stepped up," Barry Trotz said on a conference call with the media on Sunday. "I don't think I can single out anybody. They've all stepped up. The penalty kill is as good as the five guys that you have, your four and your goaltender. They've been very committed there."

In a series that has seen four out of five games go to overtime, it's not hard to recognize the impact even one goal can have on a game and, by extension, the series. Should the Caps go on to win the series, their ability to adjust their penalty kill to stop the Blue Jackets' suddenly potent power play will be one of the main reasons why.

Trotz would not go into specifics as to the adjustments the team made after Game 2, but did acknowledge the penalty kill has been a "major factor" in the Caps' turnaround this series.

But to finish the job, the penalty kill will have to continue adjusting.

"This is the time when we're still trying to tweak things," Trotz said. "They changed some things on their power play a little bit yesterday, so we'll look to maybe tweak a little bit with our PK."