NCAA

49ers optimistic even without Smith

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49ers optimistic even without Smith

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Patrick Willis believes the San Francisco 49ers can still be a great defense even without All-Pro tackle Justin Smith.

The 49ers might have to spend the rest of this season finding out whether or not Willis, their All-Pro linebacker and defensive leader, is correct.

Smith is unlikely to play Sunday in the regular-season finale against Arizona because of a partially torn left triceps. The injury could force Smith to miss some or all of the postseason.

The San Francisco defense has been gouged for big yardage and points since Smith was injured early in the third quarter Dec. 16 at New England. But the NFL's second-ranked defense hopes to regroup and regain momentum for the playoffs against an Arizona team that ranks last in the league in total offense.

Smith, one of five San Francisco defenders selected to start for the NFC in the Pro Bowl, is expected to be on the sideline against the Cardinals.

``You can't really put into words what he means to this defense,'' Willis said Thursday. ``We most certainly miss him and hopefully we'll get him back for the playoffs.

``But we have a great defense and I truly believe that. When you have what we have on our defense, we should be able to go out there and display that each time. Starting from this Sunday, we have to make sure we go out and do that on a consistent basis and play like the defense we know we're capable of playing like.''

The 49ers haven't been the same on defense since losing Smith in the victory at New England.

San Francisco surrendered four consecutive touchdown drives after Smith left that game with the 49ers leading 31-3. Without Smith over most of the past six quarters, the 49ers have allowed 753 yards, 66 points and 48 first downs.

Much of that damage came last week in a 42-13 loss at Seattle, the worst defeat of coach Jim Harbaugh's two seasons with the 49ers. Without Smith, a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl starter last season, San Francisco's defense allowed season highs in both points scored and rushing yards allowed.

But defensive coordinator Vic Fangio doesn't want to blame his unit's poor performance on Smith's absence.

``He's a great player, one of the best defensive players in the NFL, and anytime you lose one of those guys it does have an adverse effect on you,'' Fangio said. ``But I didn't think the problems we've had, the last game in particular, were because of Justin not being there. We could have had five Justin Smiths. That wasn't the issue. We didn't play good, didn't coach good and those guys just whipped us.''

Fangio has seen his defense bounce back before and expects it to do so again as the 49ers prepare for the playoffs. San Francisco needs a victory over Arizona to secure its second consecutive NFC West title, and the 49ers can capture the NFC's No. 2 playoff seed with a win over the Cardinals and a Green Bay loss Sunday at Minnesota.

The 49ers certainly have the defensive personnel to make do without Smith.

Willis, outside linebacker Aldon Smith and safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner all were named Pro Bowl starters on Wednesday along with Justin Smith. Middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco's leading tackler, also was selected to the NFC team, and cornerback Carlos Rogers and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks are Pro Bowl alternates.

Willis, who became the first player in franchise history to be named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first six NFL seasons, doesn't expect San Francisco's defense to be down for long.

``It's like gravity,'' Willis said. ``What comes up must come down. And what's down will eventually come up. For the most part, we have played well this season Now it's one of those things where each person has to take it up a whole another notch. We can't fill Justin's shoes - nobody can come in and do that - but I know we certainly can get it done. We're going to bounce back and make sure we do it right from this point on.''

Veteran lineman Ricky Jean Francois made his first career start at right tackle in place of Smith last week and finished second on the team with six tackles.

Fangio's approach won't change whether it's Smith or Jean Francois playing that position the rest of the way.

``Justin's told me he's getting better each and every day and that's really all I know,'' Fangio said. ``But it's like anything. You can lose anybody early in a game and you just have to go. We're too far along here to change the system because of one guy being out. We'll be fine.''

College Football 2019 Week 4 What to Watch: State bragging rights

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College Football 2019 Week 4 What to Watch: State bragging rights

In terms of local action, Week 4 is a little bit of a down week. Maryland and Penn State are both on bye weeks before their big matchup on Sept. 27. Navy and Virginia Tech also have the week off as well. But fear not! There is still plenty of college football to watch without your beloved Terps, Lions, Midshipmen or Hokies. Virginia hosts in-state rival Old Dominion and there is some big-time college football down south.

Here is a breakdown of all the local action.

No. 21 Virginia vs. Old Dominion

When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Va.
How to watch: ESPN2

The Cavaliers host Old Dominion in the first-ever meeting between these two programs. After narrowly escaping with a win over Florida State, Virginia remains perfect with a 3-0 record and already two conference wins. Because of that, the Cavaliers now sit ranked 21st in the nation, the highest the team has been ranked since 2007. Now the task before them is to not stumble or get caught looking ahead to next week's matchup at Notre Dame because the Monarchs love surprising the bigger in-state programs. Just ask Virginia Tech.

Game of the week: No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 7 Notre Dame

When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.
How to watch: CBS

In 2018, Notre Dame was a playoff team. Georgia was not. Ask anyone in Athens, however, and they will tell you the Bulldogs were the better team and deserved to be in over the Irish. Whether they are right is debatable. Notre Dame entered the playoff undefeated but was embarrassed by Clemson in a 30-3 romp in the Cotton Bowl. That loss certainly looks less embarrassing than it did initially after the Tigers blew apart Alabama in the National Championship, but that does little to comfort Georgia fans.

Luckily, this year offers Georgia the chance for revenge as the Irish travel to Athens in one of the biggest games of the college football season

Georgia comes into this game with something to prove. Not only do they want to show who the better program is after last year's perceived snub, but they also want to reassert themselves as one of the top teams in the nation. With Alabama dealing with injuries and Clemson's schedule leaving much to be desired, there is room for the Bulldogs to insert themselves into the conversation for the top team in the nation.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, has a chance to topple our preconceived notions about the dominance of the SEC's top teams and to reassert themselves into the playoff race. Georgia is easily Notre Dame's toughest game. There is no reason the Irish can't go undefeated if they win on Saturday and a win over the Bulldogs in Georgia would be a pretty nice feather in the cap for any playoff resume.

On NBC Sports Washington

Wake Forest vs. Elon

When: 12 p.m.
Where: BB&T Field, Winston-Salem, N.C.
How to watch: NBC Sports Washington

North Carolina vs. Appalachian State

When: 3:30 p.m.
Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, N.C.
How to watch: NBC Sports Washington

Other local teams

Morgan State at Army, 12 p.m. Saturday on CBSSN
Robert Morris at VMI, 1:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN+
Howard at Delaware State, 2 p.m. Saturday on ESPN3
Norfolk State at Montana State, 3 p.m. Saturday
James Madison at Chattanooga, 4 p.m. Saturday on ESPN+
William & Mary at East Carolina, 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN3
Hampton at Liberty, 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN+
Villanova at Towson, 6 p.m. Saturday

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Elena Delle Donne named 2019 WNBA MVP for the second time following historic season

Elena Delle Donne named 2019 WNBA MVP for the second time following historic season

Elena Delle Donne has done it again.

For the second time in her career, the Washington Mystics' star has been named the WNBA MVP, Monumental Sports announced Thursday.

Delle Donne is the first WNBA player to earn the prestigious award with two teams, her 2015 honor while with the Chicago Sky.

“I would like to thank my teammates and coaches and our wonderful fans--I have the greatest teammates in the world, our coaches have put us in a position to succeed by forming this awesome unit and the energy of our fans has given us the best home-court atmosphere in the league,” Delle Donne said in the statement.

“Everyone has had a part in this, especially my wife and family, and it took a lot of hard work and focus from all of us together to get to this point.  I am extremely proud of this honor, but we still have work ahead of us and we’re all focused playing our hardest to bring a championship to Washington.”

During her 2019 season with the Mystics, Delle Donne averaged 19.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists, securing her spot on the All-Star team for the sixth time. Her most unbelievable feat, however, was becoming the first WNBA player to join the prestigious 50/40/90 club.

Delle Donne earned 51.5 percent from the field, 43.03 percent from beyond the arc and an incredible 97.4 percent from the free-throw line.

Steve Nash, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Mark Nowitzki and Malcolm Brogdon are the only players in the history of the NBA to accomplish that feat.

The Mystics look for another win Thursday night en route to a Championship against the Las Vegas Aces for Game 2 of the WNBA Semifinals at 8:30 p.m.

You can watch the game on ESPN 2.

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