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Tide, Irish go old school on way to title game

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Tide, Irish go old school on way to title game

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) The BCS championship is going old school.

In this era of wide-open, pass-happy offenses, college football's ultimate prize will be decided Monday night by two throwback teams, No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama.

The Fighting Irish (12-0) have run for nearly has many yards as they've managed through the air. The Crimson Tide (12-1) is coming off a dominant performance on the ground in the Southeastern Conference championship.

``Alabama is that kind of team where you just know they're going to run the football,'' Notre Dame defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said Thursday. ``The whole world knows they're going to run the football. Just try to stop us - that's their mentality. It's really kind of cool to see. There's not going to be any tricks or trick plays or anything like that.''

The same could be said of the Irish, who are dominant on defense but a bit erratic when they drop back to throw.

While coach Brian Kelly might technically operate out of a modern spread offense, he's scaled back his desire to pile up the points and the passing yards like he did in his previous tenure at Cincinnati. Notre Dame has relied on a running back-by-committee approach and quarterback Everett Golson to wear down opponents, averaging more than 202 yards rushing per game.

Theo Riddick has gained 880 yards and five touchdowns, Cierre Wood has 740 yards and four TDs, while George Atkinson III has chipped in with 361 yards, five TDs and a team-leading 7.1 yards per carry. Golson is also a threat to tuck the ball and run, gaining 305 yards and scoring five times.

``Coach Kelly is known to sling the ball around, but this year we've kind of done both,'' Lewis-Moore said. ``We've run the ball very well with Theo, Cierre and George. We're kind of like a three-headed monster.''

If that's the case, then Alabama is a two-headed beast.

Junior Eddie Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon have both rushed for 1,000 yards and combined for a staggering 27 touchdowns, taking advantage of what is generally regarded as the best offensive line in the nation.

``It's like old-school football,'' Lacy said. ``We line up in the I-formation and pound it. A lot of teams are in the spread and things like that. We like to keep it old school around here. The old-fashioned way still works.''

Indeed, it does.

Just ask Georgia, which lost to Alabama in a thrilling SEC title game.

Facing a defense that might have two players selected in the first round of the NFL draft - and includes several other pro prospects - the Crimson Tide ran wild in its 32-28 victory. Alabama piled up a championship game record with 350 yards rushing, led by Lacy with 181 yards and two scores. Yeldon was nearly as good, tacking on 153 yards and a TD.

From Bob Diaco's perspective, it all starts up front. Notre Dame's defensive coordinator knows he must find a way to cope with the Tide's offensive line, which includes two first-team All-Americans (center Barrett Jones and left guard Chance Warmack) and a second-teamer (right tackle D.J. Fluker). Everyone across the front line weighs more than 300 pounds, and they all play with a bit of a nasty streak.

``They're the finest collection, tackle to tackle, that we've faced so far,'' Diaco said. ``It's not another happy-go-lucky group of offensive linemen. This is an angry, aggressive, intense group of players that plays hard and finishes blocks.''

They won't in any way be intimidated by Notre Dame's impressive defensive front, which has allowed only two rushing touchdowns all season.

``The backs are really the battery of that team, the battery of that offense,'' Diaco continued. ``But they're facilitated by the offensive line. The offensive line is really the marquee position group of that pretty marquee offense.''

No wonder the Crimson Tide feels no great urge to throw the ball. The team is way down in the NCAA stats when it comes to passing yards - 84th at 214.5 per game - but highly effective when it does go to the air. AJ McCarron is the nation's highest-rated passer, set a school record with 26 touchdown passes, and was intercepted only three times.

Alabama is the more likely team to break off a big play in the passing game, especially with another super freshman, Amari Cooper, averaging nearly 17 yards per catch and hauling in nine touchdown passes.

But it's all set up by the ground game. The Tide has run the ball an eye-popping 525 times, averaging 40 carries a game and far more than its 300 passing attempts. In only one game - a last-minute victory at LSU - has Alabama thrown the ball more than its run it.

Notre Dame is a bit more likely to go to the air, but not by much. The Irish rank 75th in passing yards with an average of 218.3.

``You have to adapt,'' Kelly said. ``That's how we came up the formula this year to play the way we played.''

In a triple-overtime victory over Pittsburgh, the Irish threw it 53 times. They would prefer a performance more in line with the regular-season finale against Southern Cal, in which Notre Dame displayed almost perfect balance (222 yards rushing, 217 yards passing).

Of course, it will be much tougher to run against Alabama's defense, which leads the nation with an average of just under 80 yards per game. But, regardless of what happens Monday, Kelly has done a masterful job of breaking in a new quarterback while winning every game.

``I didn't believe, nor did I want, to use this year as a bridge year, a transition year,'' the coach said. ``We had to find a way to win those games. Manage those games. Limit possessions. Hold onto the football.''

No doubt about it.

This BCS title game is going old school.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 18, 24 days before NFL free agency starts.

Tandler’s Take

The topic for today’s post comes from Twitter:

When I asked for topics for this post, the subject of the running game came up with several of them. And since John brought up the draft, let’s look at that as a potential solution.

Let’s first establish that the Redskins’ running game was not good enough last year. I don’t need to spend a bunch of time on this but here are some numbers. They were 28th in rushing yards and 29th in yards per carry. If you like to weigh more complete metrics, they were 28th in rushing DVOA. If you want to look at a key situation, they were last in the league in yards per first-down rushing attempt. Last year a team gained 100 yards rushing or more 274 times. The Redskins got there five times.

I’m going to leave it at that here since, again, if you’re reading this you probably watched a lot of their games and you don’t need to be persuaded that the running game was largely unproductive. Yes, there were injuries that had the offensive linemen playing snaps just days after being signed and the broken leg suffered by Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley’s various ailments. But the Redskins haven’t ranked higher than 19th in rushing yards since Jay Gruden became the head coach. Rushing game struggles are an ongoing issue.

I am going to work on the premise that those who advocate having the Redskins improve their running game via the draft are talking about drafting a running back in the first or second round. That may be overgeneralizing but that gives me a good-sized chunk of data to work with and still be able to analyze it in the 1000 words or so I am allotted here.

I’m also going to call a 1,000-yard season the minimum that would be expected out of a back drafted in the first two rounds. There are other ways a back can contribute, of course, and we can deal with them separately.

From 2010-2017, there were 45 thousand-yard rushing seasons by players who entered the league during those years (all data via the indispensable Pro Football Reference unless noted). Twelve of them were accomplished by players drafted in the first round. Six came from second-round picks, six from third-rounders, four from the fourth, three from the fifth, four from the sixth and none from the seventh. Oh, and there were 10 thousand-yard seasons that came from undrafted players.

It should be noted that four of those seasons from undrafted players came from the Texans’ Arian Foster. And two each came from LeGarrette Blount and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. So those 10 thousand-yard seasons should not be seen as an indication that there is a treasure trove of running back talent going undrafted every year.

Back to the first and second rounders, the combined 16 thousand-yard seasons doesn’t mean much in isolation. How many backs were drafted in the first two rounds in that time? How many opportunities have they had to post big seasons?

In the past eight drafts, 34 running backs were drafted in the first and second round. That group has had 170 opportunities to post a 1,000-yard season. What I mean by opportunities is the number of seasons that have elapsed since the player was drafted. The six backs drafted in the first two rounds in 2010 have each had eight chances to gain 1,000 yards in a season so they have combined for 48 opportunities (6*8). There were five backs drafted in the first and second seven seasons ago, so there have combined for 35 opportunities, and so on. Through the eight years that adds up to 170 seasons.

The combined 16 thousand-yard seasons in 170 opportunities comes to a success rate of 9.4 percent when it comes to reaching the bar that most fans would set as the minimum.

A couple of things need to be pointed out here. There are some backs like Giovani Bernard, Shane Vereen, and Christian McCaffrey who do not have any big rushing seasons on their resumes but have been valuable catching passes out of the backfield. And some like Dalvin Cook, who was injured after a promising start last year, and McCaffrey seemed destined to have 1,000-yard seasons in their futures. So all of the backs who have not gained 1,000 yards in a season are not necessarily draft busts or failures.

But here are first-round running back busts, just like there are busts at every position. There were 12 running back picked in the first round of the past eight drafts. Javid Best, David Wilson, and Trent Richardson clearly were disappointments (the former two struggled with injuries). Doug Martin, Ryan Mathews, and C.J. Spiller have had some success but perhaps not enough to justify being first-round picks. It took Mark Ingram a while, but he got rolling in his sixth NFL season. I want to see more out of McCaffrey before judging him and Melvin Gordon needs to continue his upward trajectory. It’s safe to say that even with small sample sizes of data in the books on Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette they were home runs. So was Todd Gurley.

So out of 12 first-round backs in the last eight years, you have three clear busts, three moderate disappointments, four top-level performers (including Ingram) and two TBD.

In any case, it’s clear that just drafting a back early is not a panacea for a struggling running game. Blocking (from both the line and the receivers and other backs), play calling, scheme, and some intangible factors like attitude (as Brian Mitchell will tell you) all play into the success and failure of moving the ball on the ground.

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.

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2018 NBA All-Star Game: TV and live stream info, rosters, things to watch for dunk contest, three-point contest

2018 NBA All-Star Game: TV and live stream info, rosters, things to watch for dunk contest, three-point contest

The 2018 NBA All-Star Game is here with the annual showcase set for Los Angeles.

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

2018 NBA ALL-STAR GAME

Where: Staples Center
Tip-off: 8 p.m.
TV: TNT
Online with no cable TV: fuboTV (try for free)

ROSTERS

TEAM LEBRON:

Coach: Dwane Casey, Raptors
LeBron James, Cavaliers
Kevin Durant, Warriors
Kyrie Irving, Celtics
Anthony Davis, Pelicans
LaMarcus Aldridge, Spurs
Bradley Beal, Wizards
Goran Dragic, Heat
Andre Drummond, Pistons
Paul George, Thunder
Victor Oladipo, Pacers
Russell Westbrook, Thunder
Kemba Walker, Hornets

TEAM STEPHEN:

Coach: Mike D'Antoni, Rockets
Stephen Curry, Warriors
James Harden, Rockets
Joel Embiid, 76ers
DeMar DeRozan, Raptors
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves
Draymond Green, Warriors
Klay Thompson, Warriors
Al Horford, Celtics
Damian Lillard, Blazers
Kyle Lowry, Raptors
Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves

PODCAST: ALL-STAR WEEKEND PREVIEW, WIZARDS AT THE BREAK 

Three things to watch...

New format

The NBA switched it up this season by doing away with the traditional matchup between the East and West. The teams were instead chosen by captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry, the two top vote-getters in All-Star fan voting. The idea was to breath new life into the All-Star Game and hopefully make it more competitive. The league also installed a system where the winners each get $100,000, $75,000 more than the losing team. 

All pro sports leagues struggle drawing interest with their All-Star showcases. They are always trying to get ratings up and this is the latest ploy by the NBA. The new format is definitely intriguing, but whether it will have a major impact on the competition itself is hard to tell. We'll see how the fans respond.

RELATED: JOHN WALL GIVES UPDATE ON HIS REHAB

Reunion time

The teams picked by James and Curry will give fans some throwback combinations with former teammates back together again. Team LeBron is full of them. James will reunite with Kyrie Irving, who essentially forced his way out of Cleveland over the summer after the two combined to reach three straight NBA Finals and win one title.

We will also see Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook play together again. They of course teamed up to win a lot of games with the Oklahoma City Thunder before Durant signed with the Warriors. Westbrook will also be reunited with Victor Oladipo, who was traded from OKC to the Pacers over the summer.

RELATED: WIZARDS/BULLETS HISTORY ON ALL-STAR SATURDAY NIGHT

Beal's All-Star debut

Wizards fans will of course be focused on Bradley Beal, who is making his first All-Star appearance. He is Washington's lone representative, as John Wall is still recovering from left knee surgery.

Beal may not get many minutes on a stacked roster of guys who have been in the game before. If that happens, it's probably for the best. Beal is currently fifth in the NBA in total minutes played. He needs the rest if he can get it.

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS