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Stingy Florida defense likes Sugar Bowl challenge

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Stingy Florida defense likes Sugar Bowl challenge

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Rather than boast about Florida's lofty national defensive rankings, safety Josh Evans questions whether they are an accurate reflection of how good his unit really is.

Florida ranks fifth nationally in total defense and third in scoring defense.

Yet in Evans' eyes, the No. 4 Gators (11-1) are second to none defensively, something they will try to prove when they play 22nd-ranked Louisville (10-2) and dynamic quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night.

``Absolutely I feel we're the best,'' Evans said. ``With our front seven and our back end, I see it. If you just look at the games we've played and the schedule we have, to not give up a touchdown against LSU and to not give up any points in the second half against (Heisman Trophy winning Texas A&M quarterback) Johnny Manziel ... that was huge for us.''

Florida's defense fared better than Alabama, the NCAA leader in yards allowed, against the three best opponents both teams faced.

The Gators limited Manziel and the Texas A&M offense to 324 yards for the game and zero points in the second half in a 20-17 September victory at College Station, Texas. Two months later, Manziel and the Aggies rolled up 418 yards in a 29-24 upset of the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The Gators beat LSU 14-6 in Gainesville on Oct. 6, holding the Tigers to two field goals and 200 yards. A month later, LSU gained 435 yards on the Crimson Tide, which needed a last-minute touchdown to escape Tiger Stadium with a win.

In the Gators' lone loss, 17-9 to Georgia, they forced four turnovers and yielded only 273 yards. Alabama gave up 394 yards and 28 points to Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

The Gators also do have one ranking with which Evans won't quibble: First nationally in pass defense efficiency.

Florida has made a believer out of Louisville offensive coordinator Sean Watson.

``They've got excellent players in every level of the defense,'' he said. ``They can really rush four guys because they're so good up front. They have lockdown people in the back end. Their safeties are good coverage players. Their linebackers can cover. They have every piece defensively you could ever want.''

The Gators don't overwhelm anyone with individual statistics. Evans leads them in tackles with a modest 79. Their top sacker, Dominique Easley, has four.

``It's not about stats,'' defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. ``At the end of the day, it's, `What does our team need,' not a, `What do I need,' type of thing. It's a team effort.''

The Gators have not given up more than 363 yards in any game and have allowed only 29 fourth-quarter points.

If the defense has a signature player, it's junior safety Matt Elam, a first-team Associated Press All-America selection who had a team-high four interceptions. With the Gators protecting a 7-6 lead against LSU in the third quarter, Elam tracked down receiver Odell Beckham Jr. after a 56-yard gain and stripped the ball on the sideline. Florida recovered it and converted the turnover into a touchdown.

``That play defined our season because it showed we won't quit, and every game we showed it,'' said cornerback Jaylen Watkins, who has three interceptions. ``He could have gave up on the play or could have just made the tackle, but he went the extra mile to make the strip. It turned the whole game around.''

Florida's final test will come against Louisville's Bridgewater, who ranks eighth in the nation in pass efficiency and averages 287.7 yards passing. Bridgewater, who led the Cardinals to victories in their first nine games, knows his job won't be easy.

``They have a tough front seven,'' Bridgewater said. ``They push offensive linemen back. They're just physical.''

Having already shut down Manziel and intercepted Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray three times, the Gators welcome the challenge that Bridgewater presents.

``You always want to play against the best,'' senior linebacker Jon Bostic said. ``That's what you come to Florida for. This is another chance to go out and prove to everybody we have the top defense.''

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Wizards vs. Hornets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards vs. Hornets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Kemba Walker, Dwight Howard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

WASHINGTON WIZARDS VS. CHARLOTTE HORNETS

Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 7 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (coverage begins at 6 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

On a roll

The Wizards have some serious momentum going right now. With an impressive win over the Cavs on Thursday, they have now won three straight games and eight of 10 since John Wall went down with a left knee injury. They had a week off due to the All-Star break, but didn't show any rust at all in their first game back.

The Wizards are now 34-24, 10 games above the .500 mark. They are fourth in the East and could move into third on Friday if they win and the Cavaliers lose. Even with Wall out, things continue to look up for Washington.

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

Hornets have had their number

The Wizards haven't done so well against the Hornets so far this season. Charlotte has taken both meetings and that includes a 24-point win on Jan. 17. That game featured Dwight Howard taunting the Wizards late in the fourth quarter.

Howard has killed the Wizards through two games with averages of 22.0 points and 14.0 rebounds. Jeremy Lamb (20.0 ppg vs. Wizards) has been a big factor as well as All-Star Kemba Walker (21.5 ppg vs. Wizards).

The last time these teams played about a month ago frustrations boiled over in an incident that got Tim Frazier ejected. Michael Carter-Williams picked a fight with Jason Smith and Frazier went off:

RELATED: BEAL IMPRESSED BY LEBRON AT ALL-STAR GAME

Hornets coming in hot

The Hornets are outside the playoff picture at the moment at eight games below .500, but they have won two straight games and Walker and Howard are coming off huge games. In a win over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, Walker dropped 31 points and Howard grabbed 24 rebounds.

Those guys will be riding a high coming into Washington on Friday. But it should be noted that Howard complained after the game how tired he is at this point in the season. That exhausion could affect him more in the second game of a back-to-back.

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS

 

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Need to Know: The most overrated Redskins events of 2017

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Usa Today Sports Images

Need to Know: The most overrated Redskins events of 2017

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, February 23, 19 days before NFL free agency starts.

I’m out this week so I’ll be re-posting some of the best and most popular articles of the past few months. Some may have slightly dated information but the major points in the posts still stand. Thanks for reading, as always.

The overrated Redskin moments of 2017

Originally published 12/30/17

Sometimes in the NFL, something happens that grabs headlines and appears to be a momentous event that has ripple effects that will last all season and perhaps beyond. Other times something that is greeted with a yawn by fans and the media turns out to be something with lasting impact. Yesterday we looked at three events that were underrated at the time they happened. Here, in no particular order, are three overrated events from 2017.

Beating the Raiders—At the time, the Raiders were 2-0 and they still had the status of being one of the favorites to get to the Super Bowl. The Redskins whipped them 27-10 and the prevailing view was that the Redskins were on their way to a special year. But that loss started a four-game losing streak for the Raiders. They are currently riding a three-game skid and at 6-9 they are contenders for a top-10 draft pick, not for the Super Bowl. The win became less impressive for the Redskins as the year went on.

Signing Terrelle Pryor—There was plenty of excitement when the Redskins signed the Browns wide receiver, who had 1,000 receiving yards catching passes from a sub-mediocre group of quarterbacks in Cleveland. Imagine what he could do with a quality QB and a good offense around him. The hype grew when a fan captured him making this catch in training camp:

But the production was not there. In nine games before going on injured reserve with an ankle injury, Pryor caught 20 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown.

Su’a Cravens departure—There was a lot of concern about issues both on and off the field when Cravens abruptly let it be known to teammates that he intended to retire just after the Redskins finalized their 53-man roster on September 2. All offseason Cravens’ name had been written at the top of the depth chart at strong safety in Sharpie. When he walked away and was put on the Exempt/Left Squad list (and eventually on the Reserve/Left Squad list, ending his season), there was plenty of speculation about whether the organization botched the situation and, of more immediate importance, what would happen at safety without Cravens. We’re still not sure about what happened but Montae Nicholson and Deshazor Everett did a respectable job at safety.

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.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 6
—NFL Draft (4/26) 62
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 198