Talent an issue for struggling Hawkeyes

Talent an issue for struggling Hawkeyes

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Iowa has 25 former players in the NFL, an impressive total that ranks ninth-best in the nation.

But it's tough to see many current Hawkeyes reaching the next level - and that might be the biggest reason this year's team is in such a free fall.

Iowa (4-5, 2-3 Big Ten) has lost three straight, including a 24-21 loss last week at once-woeful Indiana. The Hawkeyes head into Saturday's home game with Purdue (3-6, 0-5) needing to win two of their last three games simply to gain bowl eligibility.

Though Iowa has typically been less flashy than most programs under longtime coach Kirk Ferentz, it still needs guys to make big plays.

That hasn't happened enough in what's threatening to become a lost season.

``It's personnel and execution, typically. It's probably about as simple as that,'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Iowa hasn't had enough of either all season.

The Hawkeyes are averaging just 3.9 yards a run and 5.9 yards per pass. They've protected the ball well, but the explosive plays that often swing games has been absent for Iowa's arsenal.

In nine games, the Hawkeyes have had just one play from scrimmage go for more than 50 yards - and that one, a pass from senior quarterback James Vandenberg to Kevonte Martin-Manley, went for 51.

Iowa has gained 20 or more yards on runs or passes just 30 times, and only twice have such plays gone for touchdowns. The Hawkeyes have somehow turned just four of its 174 completions into scores.

On Tuesday, Ferentz again defended first-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who has come under scrutiny from Iowa fans for a weak passing game.

``I think Greg is a tremendous coach, a tremendous person. Really an outstanding coach,'' Ferentz said. ``Everything starts with what can your players do. And that's where it really starts no matter where you are, what you're doing.''

Iowa's defense has been its strength this season, relatively speaking. But the Hawkeyes don't have many playmakers on that side of the ball, either.

Iowa counts a sizeable number of defensive linemen among its NFL alumni, but this year's squad is 95th nationally in tackles for loss and 110th in sacks with just 10.

The Hawkeyes have been average at best in another area built for big plays - third-down conversion stops - by allowing nearly 41 percent on those to be picked up by opponents.

Iowa has been opportunistic in the turnover department, with nearly one more per game than their opponents. But its offense has been so bad that it's hardly mattered how many times the Hawkeyes have the ball.

Players like wide receiver Keenan Davis, tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and Vandenberg simply haven't grown from solid Big Ten starters to future draft prospects quite like many thought.

``One thing affects another. We've got to get into a little better sync. We've got to execute better in critical situations,'' Ferentz said. ``That's a team thing.''

About the only offensive player on Iowa's roster to have a breakout season has been sophomore Mark Weisman. But he's been either ineffective or on the sideline the past three weeks because of an ankle sprain and a leg strain.

Ferentz said Tuesday that Weisman is doubtful to play again this week.

However, the Hawkeyes have a number of younger players who appear poised to blossom into impact players in 2013 and beyond.

Sophomore running back Damon Bullock has been explosive and versatile, and he and the bruising Weisman will be an intriguing backfield duo next season. Iowa also has a host of promising underclassmen on both lines and in the secondary. Ferentz recently sang the praises of redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Rudock, the favorite to replace Vandenberg.

But for now, the Hawkeyes will simply have to hope they can make enough plays - big or small - to survive the season's final three weeks and earn a bowl bid.

``Talented or not, there's a lot of plays we haven't made to win some of these games,'' Vandenberg said.

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How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

The Capitals found themselves in deep trouble on Saturday.

Game 5 at Capital One Arena provided Washington a golden opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. A loss -- another home loss -- would have been a devastating blow.

After battling back from a 2-0 series deficit, to lose in Washington would mean facing elimination in Columbus. Game 5 was the game the Caps needed and it would have slipped away from them if not for Nicklas Backstrom.

The Caps’ most underrated superstar -- the one who is constantly overshadowed by the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby -- took center stage on Saturday as he tipped a Dmitry Orlov shot past Sergei Bobrovsky at 11:53 of overtime to seal the victory for Washington.

“It was just a good shot from [Orlov],” Backstrom said after the game. “I thought before he had a chance to block it, and I got a tip on it, and it’s usually what happens in the playoffs. Tip goals or rebound goals. That’s the way it is. It was nice.”

Backstrom’s overtime goal capped off a three-point night for the veteran center, who also scored in the first period and assisted on a goal from T.J. Oshie.

The team ended up needing every one of his points.

From the start, Columbus outplayed Washington. With the series tied 2-2, a best-of-three mentality took over and the Blue Jackets pushed hard for the pivotal Game 5 win.

It is in those very moments that team needs its superstar players to step up. In Game 3, it was Holtby who stole the show to help Washington steal a win in Columbus.

On Saturday, it was Backstrom.

Columbus converted a shorthanded goal to seize a 1-0 lead in what was shaping up to be a dominant first period. A fluke goal from Backstrom, however, made sure the score was knotted up, 1-1, after the opening frame.

With the puck behind the goal line, Backstrom tried to slip a pass through the crease. Bobrovsky got a piece of the puck with his stick, but the amount of spin on the pass forced the puck to carom off the stick, off the back of Bobrovsky himself, and into the net.

“I was trying to make a pass,” Backstrom said. “Honestly, got lucky. I don’t know who came back-door there but I was trying for him. I’ll take it.”

After a back and forth game, the Blue Jackets came out swinging to start the third. Down 3-2, Columbus tied the game just 2:30 in and made a real push to win the game in regulation. Washington was outshot 16-1 in the third and looked like they had no push at all.

But the Caps looked like a different team when they took the ice for the extra frame. What happened in between periods?

“As I was leaving the room after the period, I could hear guys, the right guys, all saying the right things,” head coach Barry Trotz said.

When later asked if one of those guys was Backstrom, Trotz said, “Absolutely. He's one of the leaders on our team. They were all talking about let's make sure we're doing the right things. There's a lot of pride, lot of good leadership in that room.”

Whatever Backstrom and the other leaders said did the trick. Washington made a strong push in overtime leading to Backstrom’s game-winning goal.

This isn’t the first time Backstrom has delivered. Saturday’s overtime tally is the fourth of his career. That’s the most in franchise history and tied for fifth in NHL history.

Through his efforts on the ice, the Caps were able to erase a bad first period and steal the win in overtime. But it also took a big effort off the ice to get the job done.

“If you just look at the scoresheet, that doesn't say enough of about Nick Backstrom, his contribution from in the dressing room to on the ice to key moments to key faceoffs,” Trotz said.

“I've been on his soapbox about how complete a player he is and I never really worry about Nick Backstrom. He's got enough games under his belt, he's got enough stats to back it up and he's played huge minutes and he's one of our leaders. He's a tremendous hockey player.”

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John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

After losing Game 1 and Game 2 at home, Alex Ovechkin declared "It’s going to be fun when we bounce back and going to tie the series and come back here and play Game 5 at home.”

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella seems to be taking a similar tactic.

The Capitals won Game 5 in overtime on Saturday in a game that could prove to be emotionally draining for the Blue Jackets in a number of ways.

  • It was Washington's third straight win
  • Columbus was the better team for the majority of the game, but still took the loss
  • The Blue Jackets now face elimination despite holding a 2-0 series lead to start and losing only once in regulation

Tortorella has become famous for his fiery postgame press conferences in the past, including abruptly walking out after Game 4's presser when he declared "We sucked" to the media.

Saturday's was another fun one.

In a presser that lasted less than two minutes, Tortorella twice said, "We'll be back here for Game 7."

After such a draining game, Tortorella was asked how he would get them ready for what is sure to be an emotionally charged Game 6.

"I won't have to say a damn word to them," Tortorella said. "No. We'll be back here for Game 7."

The Blue Jackets will have to win Game 6 in Columbus to make that happen.

Barry Trotz was asked for his reaction after Tortorella's comments.

"What else are you going to say? That's good. He wants to get it out there, he believes in his team just as I believe in my team. It's our job for that not to happen."