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Smith leading a Syracuse running game revival

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Smith leading a Syracuse running game revival

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) When Syracuse decided to go to a no-huddle offense before the start of the season, the Orange lost focus.

``We went into this up-tempo thing, we threw it together, and you just kind of naturally think that it's about passing,'' Syracuse offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. ``We wanted to really stretch it out, spread `em out, throw the ball around. It worked. It did some nice things.''

That it did. In the first two games of the season, Ryan Nassib completed 75 of 112 passes for 804 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions. The end result? Two losses - 42-41 at home to Northwestern 42-29 to then-No.2 Southern California at MetLife Stadium -as the run game became an afterthought.

Coach Doug Marrone said during preseason camp that none of the running backs had stood out, and that assessment seemed accurate. In the first six games, junior Jerome Smith, the back with the most experience, had 78 carries for 355 yards, an average of 13 carries for 59 yards.

Not exactly the sort of production expected at a school that built a winning tradition on the legs of some of the greatest running backs in history. Sitting at 2-4 and with the season slipping away, though, Hackett had one of those ``Duh!'' moments.

``I looked at it and said, `We need to run this ball more. We've just got to start pounding this rock more.' That's what we were lacking,'' he said. ``It was something we just recommitted to. Now, when in doubt, call a run. That's more my mentality.''

Since a bad loss at Rutgers - Syracuse had four turnovers and a blocked field goal in New Jersey - everything has changed in the run game and the Orange has rebounded with three wins in four games.

Smith had 133 yards rushing as the Orange gained 251 yards on the ground in a 40-10 victory over Connecticut. Smith has followed that with three more 100-yard outings, including a career-high 144 vs. Louisville to bring his season total to 875.

``I finally decided to do my job,'' said Smith, whose experience entering the season was minimal (37 carries, 134 yards). ``Up until six weeks ago, I wasn't doing my job. I wasn't putting in the time I was supposed to. Everything, it seems like it's starting to work out now. I'm pretty excited.''

Smith's backfield mate, Prince-Tyson Gulley, has yet to crack the 100-yard barrier, but he's become a solid contributor with 383 yards on 89 carries.

All it took was a change in mindset.

``You want to bring that punch, bring that violence. I think that's a huge deal,'' Hackett said. ``I think for Jerome that switch has flipped for him. You've got to take it to people. You can't accept the blows. He's got to give it, and I think that's what has set him apart from where he was. He tries to deliver that blow every time.

``They've really been running angry. They've been running with a purpose. They're looking to go after people, they're not looking just to kind of dance around and escape. They're looking to go downhill.''

And into the postseason.

Syracuse (5-5, 4-2 Big East) has two games left, at Missouri (5-5) and Temple (3-6, 2-4). One more win is needed for bowl eligibility.

``It just kind of started clicking, gelling on all levels,'' offensive guard Justin Pugh said of the ground game. ``This is a great school for running backs, and hopefully (Smith) will be the next in line.

``It's something we take pride in.''

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Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

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NBC Sports Washington

Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

CHICAGO—Four fans were ejected from United Center on Saturday night for taunting Devante Smith-Pelly as the Capitals’ winger sat in the penalty box.

The fans, according to a team spokesman, yelled “basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly, who is black. Smith-Pelly was in the box for fighting in the third period of an eventual 7-1 loss to the Blackhawks.

The taunts were confirmed by an off-ice official, the spokesman said, and the fans were subsequently removed from the arena.

Smith-Pelly did not speak with reporters after the game but is expected to address the incident at the team’s next media availability. The team is scheduled to practice Sunday at KeyBank Center in Buffalo.

Caps Coach Barry Trotz did not hold back when asked about the fans' comments.

“There’s absolutely no place in the game of hockey or our country for racism,” Trotz said. “I think it’s disgusting, and there’s no place for it. …It just shows ignorance.”

The Blackhawks responded on Twitter with an apology to Smith-Pelly, who is one of roughly 30 black players in the NHL.

February is Hockey is For Everyone month in the NHL.

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3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

Just about everything that could go wrong did for the Capitals on Saturday in a 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Caps were coming off a strong 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, but none of that carried over in the trip to Chicago. The Caps took on a Blackhawks team that had lost eight in a row, but Chicago quickly took control in the first period and never looked back.

Washington gave up 21 shots on goal in the first period and found themselves down 3-1 after the opening frame. Things did not get much better from there as they gave up another three goals in the final four minutes of the second.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Jonathan Toews: Toews opened up the scoring in the first period with a quick shot from the corner that caught Braden Holtby by surprise.

Later in the first, he recorded an assist as his pass sparked a breakout that led to Brandon Saad's deal that gave Chicago back the lead. The Caps tried to make a game of it in the second period, but Toews intercepted a pass from Brooks Orpik that led to a 2-on-0 with himself and Patrick Kane that Kane netted to give the Blackhawks a 4-1 lead and signaled to everyone that the rout was on. Saturday was only the second three-point night of the season for Toews.

2. Patrick Kane: Toews helped the Blackhawks take control early, but Kane helped provide the knockout punches in the second period. A bad pass from Orpik was intercepted by Toews that led to a 2-on-0 with Kane. Holtby made the initial save on Toews, but Kane was able to knock in the rebound for the goal.

Kane also added an assist on Artem Anisimov's power play goal which extended Chicago's lead to 6-1.

3. Tom Wilson: Before this one got out of hand, it looked like Wilson had erased the tough start for the Caps as he deflected a shot from Matt Niskanen into the net to get Washington on the board.

Saturday's tally was his third goal in two games and his 10th of the season, marking the first time in his career he has reached double digits in goals.