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Run defense in crosshairs for No. 13 Oklahoma

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Run defense in crosshairs for No. 13 Oklahoma

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) Ask one Stoops brother and he'll tell you he loves that Oklahoma gave up over 200 yards rushing for a fourth time this season, as long as the end result was a victory.

Ask another and he'll tell you the performance was unacceptable and things need to be corrected right away with a road game against West Virginia's high-scoring offense coming up on Saturday.

The only common ground is that coach Bob Stoops and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, his brother, both want the 13th-ranked Sooners (7-2, 5-1 Big 12) to be better.

``We have to stop the run to be a good defense,'' defensive tackle Casey Walker said Monday, leaving no wiggle room. ``The front four has to be solid. It has to be. That's imperative.''

For an ex-defensive coordinator who has always preached stopping the run first, Bob Stoops has been uncommonly accepting of the season-worst 251 yards rushing his team allowed in a 42-34 victory over Baylor on Saturday night. The reason: The Bears came in leading the nation in passing and were held to a season-low 172 yards - 220 below their average.

``That's no consolation,'' his brother countered. ``We want to and we need to play better defense if we want to go the places we want to go.''

At his weekly news conference on Monday, Bob Stoops took a small step back from his postgame proclamation in support of the defense: ``I absolutely love it.'' Looking back at the film, he found too many missed tackles - something he hadn't seen as a problem in previous games.

``To a degree, we'll make some adjustments and again, hopefully make some adjustments on some of the run game,'' Bob Stoops said.

He didn't expect West Virginia (5-4, 2-4) to pose the same issues as Baylor, which frequently spreads receivers within a few steps of both sidelines and ran read option plays with quarterback Nick Florence.

Yet that's not the only run game that has posed the Sooners problems. Kansas State and Notre Dame also eclipsed 200 yards rushing while beating Oklahoma, and UTEP had 207 yards rushing in the opener that was a three-point game in the fourth quarter.

``Everybody's attack is different. Baylor's strategy to work you is a little bit different than theirs, but you've still got speedy receivers, you've still got an excellent quarterback. You don't have as much of the quarterback run game, that kind of thing,'' Bob Stoops said.

``Everybody has their way that they like to try and move the football.''

Mike Stoops saw it differently, calling the tackling ``atrocious'' and the overall run defense ``disappointing'' because the Sooners showed vulnerability both inside and outside the tackles.

``I think they exposed some weaknesses in our defense, and we've got to address them. All the teams we play can do all of the things they did,'' he said. ``You open up Pandora's Box.''

Entering a stretch when they'll play some of the Big 12's most potent passing attacks, Oklahoma frequently used a package with seven defensive backs against Baylor, which could have led to the imbalance in stopping the pass while yielding to the run.

``Good football teams don't miss tackles,'' Walker said. ``It's rare to see a football team that wins with as many missed tackles. You have to correct that quickly because at the end of the day, it'll catch back up with you and that's how you lose a ballgame.

``It was good that we won the game but defensively, the performance could have been better. We've played better.''

Behind quarterback Geno Smith, West Virginia ranks fifth in the nation in passing (347.6 yards per game) and 11th in scoring (40 points per game) but has been at its best when allowed to run the ball. The Mountaineers averaged 164 yards rushing during a five-game winning streak to start the season and just 93.5 during their current five game losing skid, with three straight games in double figures.

``That's No. 1. Stop the run,'' Walker said. ``We harp that every week. We don't even look at the pass. In the defensive tackles' film room, we don't even look at the pass. We don't look at drop-backs or nothing. It's all run.

``If you stop the run, the pass rush, that's just muscle memory.''

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The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

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USA TODAY Sports

The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

Congratulations! You just got a new job. There’s just one catch: it’s in a new city.

Oh, and by the way, you start tomorrow. Good luck.

That would be a pretty big shock for anyone, but it is the reality that hockey players constantly face and one that is exacerbated as the trade deadline approaches.

“I know fans and media get really excited about it, but they're not the ones that have to pick up and move their families,” Brooks Orpik said following Sunday’s practice. “I think players are looked at as kind of objects at times, just a number. People don't know there's a human side to trades.”

This season’s NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. on Monday. Until then, every locker room faces a degree of uncertainty.

RELATED: KEMPNY GETS QUICK PROMOTION TO THE TOP-FOUR

Almost no player or prospect is untouchable. Even if there are no rumors surrounding a team or things seem set, the threat of a trade hangs over the heads of the players like the sword of Damocles until the deadline finally comes and goes.

Even for those players who know they won’t be moved or who can’t be moved because of various clauses in their contracts, it still remains a stressful time as they could still see friends shipped to another city.

“I think what happens on that day is all the players, as soon as they get off the ice at morning skate, they're all looking at their phones and trying to see what happens,” Barry Trotz said. “They want to see what happens around the league.”

Sure, a player can go from a last place team to a contender. On the surface, they should be happy. Behind the scenes, however, midseason trades always carry family implications.

“It's tough on guys,” Orpik said. “Guys have kids in schools or have roots in the community of the teams they play for. As fun as it is for some people, I think as players it can definitely be nerve-wracking for people.”

MORE CAPITALS: TRADE TO CAPS POTENTIALLY OFFERS JERABEK WHAT HE NEVER GOT IN MONTREAL

When those trades do happen, they obviously can throw a player’s life upside-down.

For those players who are not traded, the team has to adjust both to losing familiar faces and to embracing new ones into the locker room.

“When someone comes into a new group, it's not much changed except for obviously a new piece,” Jay Beagle said. “But it's definitely harder on them so you try to make it as easy as possible on them.”

Thus far, the Capitals have added defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek over the past week. While both trades were done in exchange for draft picks, Taylor Chorney was a casualty of the trades as he was placed on waivers to make room for the new additions and was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“It's tough losing guys, especially guys that are well-liked in our room,” Orpik said. “Taylor Chorney is a really well-liked guy so I think that impacted us a little bit.”

On Monday, fans, analysts, players and coaches alike will all be frantically checking their phones looking for the latest trade news, but while the deadline brings excitement for fans, it bears very different feelings for the players involved. Those players are people working a job and those trades mean uprooting their life in a matter of days. Regardless of whether a player is better off in terms of the team situation, there is still a human cost to doing business.

“It can affect certain guys because their names are obviously spread all over the place,” Trotz said. “They're human too. They pretend to not hear it, but they do.”

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

After two games, it looks like Michal Kempny is already moving up in the lineup.

At Sunday’s practice, Kempny played on the team's second defensive pairing, lining up on the left of John Carlson. Previously, the Czech defenseman had been playing on the right of Brooks Orpik. The move to the left allows him to play on his natural side as he is a left-handed shot.

Here are the pairs from Sunday’s practice:

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos
Jakub Jerabek – Madison Bowey

Acquired on Monday from the Chicago Blackhawks, Kempny has played in two games for the Capitals and has received glowing reviews thus far.

“He's a really good pro, that's what sticks out,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “He takes care of himself, he works at his game off the ice and with the guys, he has fit in very well.”

RELATED: THE TRADE TO WASHINGTON OFFERS JERABEK THE CHANCE HE NEVER SEEMED TO GET IN MONTREAL

“I've gotten to play a little bit with [Kempny] the last couple games,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think he's a guy that, he moves pretty well and he moves the puck pretty well and likes to keep things pretty simple. He's very consistent and predictable so he's very easy to play with.”

When the Capitals first acquired Kempny, it seemed like the best fit for him would be alongside Carlson. It’s a natural fit with Kempny being a left-shot and Carlson a righty. It also bumps down Christian Djoos to a third-pair role which is preferable to having a rookie in the top-four come the playoffs.

Should Kempny play well with Carlson, that would likely solidify Washington’s top two pairs. The Orlov-Niskanen pair was not going to be changed and Carlson was going to be on the second pair. The only question was who would ultimately play with him in the postseason?

The third pair, however, remains a work in progress.

The Caps will have to wait at least another day for the debut of their second recent acquisition as Jakub Jerabek cannot yet play due to visa issues and will miss Monday's game, reports Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Considering the issues Washington has had on defense, they would not have brought in another defenseman just to be a healthy scratch. He will get his shot to earn a spot in the lineup.

With two new defensemen in tow, obviously the team will need to experiment over the next few days and weeks to find the right combinations.

“We're going to have to probably spend at least the next 10 to 12 games doing that and then we'll have to sort of settle in,” Trotz said. “With eight defenseman, you sort of want to see which guys you’re going to play and who to play as partners and sort of a little bit of ranking. If someone goes down, who's filling that extra role?”

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