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2-week lull is Alabama defense's worst in 5 years

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2-week lull is Alabama defense's worst in 5 years

Alabama's defense has had a two-week aberration.

The Tide has given up more than 400 yards in back-to-back games for the first time in five years.

Johnny Manziel and a Texas A&M offense that's fifth-best in the country piled up 418 yards Saturday in the 29-24 upset that ended the defending champions' 13-game win streak and knocked the Tide out of the No. 1 spot in the polls.

A week earlier, Alabama survived to beat LSU, but not before the Tigers' 71st-ranked offense amassed 435 yards.

Not since Houston generated 404 yards and Mississippi 420 on consecutive weeks in October 2007 had Alabama given up so many yards in consecutive games. That was Nick Saban's first year in Tuscaloosa, and he had a defense that ranked 31st in the country. The Tide hasn't ended a season lower than fifth since.

The Tide's defensive average has gone from 203 yards before the LSU game to 247 this week. That still ranks second nationally behind Florida State.

Alabama is tied with Notre Dame in allowing 11.1 points per game.

Last season Alabama's defense led the nation at 183.6 yards a game, and it allowed 12 touchdowns in 13 games. This season, the opposition has scored 14 TDs through 10 games.

No doubt, the Tide will be better this week. The opponent is Western Carolina, a Football Championship Subdivision team that has lost nine in a row since winning its opener over Division II Mars Hill College.

FABULOUS FRESHMEN: They're known as ``Gurshall'' to the folks at Georgia.

The Bulldogs' Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall showed again Saturday why they're the nation's best 1-2 freshman running back tandem.

Each ran for more than 100 yards in the same game for the third time in a 38-0 win over Auburn.

Gurley ran 11 times for 116 yards and Marshall eight times for 105.

The two have combined for 1,598 yards, the most production by a freshman duo in program history.

MR. DEPENDABLE: Though the depth chart says Imani Cross is a third- or fourth-string running back, he's established himself as Nebraska's go-to guy in short-yardage situations.

The 6-foot-1, 225-pound freshman has carried nine times on third downs when the Cornhuskers have needed 1 to 3 yards. He's made first downs on seven of them.

Inside the opponent's 20-yard line, on any down, Cross has scored on four of eight attempts. Two of those TDs came in a span of 2 1/2 minutes in the third quarter as the Huskers came back from a 14-point deficit to beat Penn State 32-23.

NICE, LONG KICK: Baylor's Aaron Jones made a 58-yard field goal in the first quarter against Oklahoma, the longest for the Bears since Jeff Ireland kicked one the same distance in 1991.

Jones' field goal was the third-longest in the country this season, behind a 61-yarder by Clemson's Spencer Benton and 60-yarder by Washington' Andrew Furney.

REMEMBER THIS NAME: Matt Soltes of Division II East Stroudsburg has finished one of the great seasons for a freshman quarterback.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder threw for five touchdowns and 394 yards in a 52-45 loss to Mercyhurst on Saturday, two weeks after setting an all-division freshman record with 666 yards of total offense in a 45-37 win over LIU Post.

Soltes averaged 315.8 yards in total offense to lead D-II freshmen. He didn't become the starter until the fourth game, and he played on a team where 67 of the 85 players were either freshmen or sophomores.

CLOCK WATCHING: If you want to spend a long afternoon at the stadium, go see Baylor. The Bears' average game stretches 3 hours, 43 minutes. That figure is skewed, but only a little, because of a 45-minute weather delay against Kansas.

This is a team that took 3:51 to beat Sam Houston State, and only one of its games has taken less than 3 1/2 hours.

Why? Maybe because Baylor and its opponents combine to average 81 points.

Middle Tennessee is in and out of games in 3:03, quickest in the Bowl Subdivision. The Blue Raiders played North Texas in 2:44 and Florida Atlantic in 2:45.

The national average is 3:17, three minutes longer than in 2011.

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Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

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USA TODAY Sports

Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

Tarik: The term ‘Stanley Cup Hangover’ exists because, well, it’s a real thing. And the Caps, like all teams that battle into early June, are vulnerable to suffering from it next season.

Why? Think about it. No. 1, the core group just completed the longest season—106 games—of their lives (and, somewhere, the party is still going). No. 2, the top guys aren't exactly a bunch of spring chickens. No. 3, human nature.

A little more on that last one. Alex Ovechkin and Co. have spent the entirety of their professional hockey careers chasing Lord Stanley’s Cup. And now they have it. At long last. Hoisting the Cup was as much a moment to cherish as it was a gigantic relief for a team that had been labeled perennial underachievers. Shifting gears from that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment back to hunger and determination is difficult.

Something else that worries me a bit? They don’t have experience dealing with a truncated offseason. Rest and recovery matter. And they aren’t going to get much of either this summer.

All that said, they don’t have to stumble through the 2018-19 season. If you're looking at things from the optimist's point of view, the Cup run did something for Ovechkin and his teammates that none of the previous failures could: It showed them EXACTLY what it takes to play deep into the spring.

Eleven out of 12 forwards from the championship squad are expected back. Five of six defensemen and the goalie are returning, as well. Sure, they’ve got a new head coach, but he’s been here for four years already, giving him a huge advantage over a bench boss who’s starting from scratch. So there’s continuity and chemistry already built in.

I look at it like this: The core guys who’ve been around a while—Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Holtby, etc.—have a rare opportunity before them. After coming up short for so many years, they’ve been gifted an extraordinary chance to make up for lost time over the next 12-24 months. In fact, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Oshie, Eller, Carlson, Niskanen, Orlov, Kempny and Holtby have two more years together, as a core, before the next round of tough decisions will need to be made.

But it’s going to be up to them. Are they going to be satisfied with one Cup? Or will they get greedy? I’m betting on the latter.

Regan: The Capitals could enter next season hungry, motivated, in the right mindset, completely prepared in every way to avoid a Cup hangover and it may still happen. Why? Because the Capitals (and Vegas for that matter) will enter next season with less time to rest, recover and prepare after a grueling playoff run than any other team in the NHL.

First things first, no, I do not think the Caps will struggle because they are are partying too hard this summer and won't be ready for the start of the season.

It took a long time Washington to finally reach the top of the mountain. It won't be lost on Alex Ovechkin, or any of the veterans, that the year he came into training camp early and in really good shape, that was the year he was able to lead his team to the promised land. Considering all the struggles, all the early playoff exits, all the years it took to finally win, I expect the veterans will look at how they prepared last season and take that lesson to heart going into camp. Those players will enter the fall in as good a shape as the time they have this offseason will allow them to be.

But this team is not just composed of veterans of the Ovechkin era who suffered through all of those postseason struggles.

What about the youngsters? Will Jakub Vrana have the same motivation as Ovechkin or a Nicklas Backstrom to show up to camp ready next season? What about Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey? If any of the team's young players aren't exactly in "game shape" by the fall, they won't be the first and they certainly won't be the last to struggle with early career playoff success.

There's also a new head coach to consider. In a lot of ways, I think coming into the season with a new coach in Todd Reirden will help. I don't expect too much adjustment under a coach the team knows very well, but I do expect more motivation at the start of the regular season than you usually see from a team coming off a championship.

There are a lot of reasons why the Caps could actually avoid a Cup hangover, but the fact is that time puts them at a disadvantage. Even if they overcome all the other factors, there's nothing they can do to suddenly give themselves more time to recover and to train. For that reason alone, I do expect a few early-season struggles from the defending champs.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

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Ranking the 2018 Redskins Roster: Revealing 31-53

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Various sources

Ranking the 2018 Redskins Roster: Revealing 31-53

<< Go here to see our ranking of the 2018 Redskins, players 31-53. >>

At NBCSportsWashington.com, we projected the Redskins’ 53-man roster (offensedefense) right after minicamp. Now we are taking it one step further and ranking the 53 players we think will make the team.

The rankings are determined by who we think will have the most impact on the 2018 Redskins. No consideration was given for past performance or for what a particular player might do down the road. We’ll be revealing the rankings between now and the start of training camp. 

Today we’re starting up the list with the players we ranked from 31-53, Here are some of the players in our latest update:

—Seven of the team’s draft picks, including the pick they made last week.     

—All three specialists.

—The team’s leading rusher from 2017.   

Go here to see our ranking of the 2018 Redskins, players 31-53