Nationals

Another top passer awaits No. 13 Oklahoma

Another top passer awaits No. 13 Oklahoma

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) Oklahoma's stingy secondary is getting another chance to slow down a 3,000-yard passer.

The Sooners held Nick Florence, the nation's leader in passing yards per game, to a season-low 172 yards in a win over Baylor last week. On Saturday night, No. 13 Oklahoma will try to put the kibosh on West Virginia's Geno Smith, who will try to help the Mountaineers break a four-game losing streak.

``We know that they're explosive,'' Oklahoma safety Javon Harris said. ``We know what they're capable of. We've seen what they did at the beginning of the year. You never can sleep like a team like this.''

Smith threw for 364 yards and two scores in a 55-34 loss at Oklahoma State last week. It was his first 300-yard passing performance in five games.

He'll get one of his stiffest tests against an Oklahoma defense that has allowed only two opponents to throw for more than 200 yards this season.

``Those guys are really talented, and they play a lot of man coverage, which is the difference, one of the key differences in my opinion,'' Smith said. ``They have one of the better pass defenses in the country. So it will be a challenge and we look forward to it.''

This won't be the game that was envisioned over the summer as a showdown among Big 12 contenders.

The Sooners (7-2, 5-1 Big 12) don't control their conference destiny with No. 2 Kansas State a win away from clinching at least a share of the championship. Barring a meltdown by the Wildcats, Oklahoma must win its remaining three games to remain in contention for an at-large BCS bowl berth.

After starting the season 5-0, West Virginia (5-4, 2-4) is desperate to become bowl eligible. Another setback would give West Virginia its longest losing streak since 1986 and a third loss at home this season, something that hasn't happened since 2001.

The Mountaineers have allowed an average of 50 points during the losing streak, and Smith is still having a solid season despite not being able to keep up with his leaky defense and watching his Heisman Trophy credentials disappear.

He's third in the Bowl Subdivision with 338 passing yards per game and needs one touchdown pass to break the single-season school record of 31 he shares with Marc Bulger.

``It's human nature to think how I wish I could've made some plays differently that could have affected some games, but being the player that I am, I don't really think about it,'' Smith said. ``I just move on because there's more football to be played.''

Heavy favorite Oklahoma is 3-0 on the road, in addition to beating Texas in Dallas. The best an opposing receiver has done against the Sooners this season is six receptions - West Virginia's Tavon Austin leads the nation with nearly 11 catches a game, and teammate Stedman Bailey is not far behind at eight.

``They still throw the ball all over,'' Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. ``They've still been highly productive. Of course they're a dangerous offense.''

Oklahoma's Landry Jones has six touchdown passes in the past two games and could follow a season-long trend of star passing performances given up by West Virginia's defense, which ranks last in the FBS by allowing 344 passing yards per game.

``We're going to have to give them our best shot,'' said West Virginia defensive coordinator Joe DeForest. ``But we don't have to play over our heads. We just have to play consistent football.''

While Oklahoma has let four opponents compile at least 200 yards on the ground, the Sooners may not have to worry about that with West Virginia, which has been held below 100 rushing yards in its last three games. Andrew Buie has handled most of the load because Shawne Alston remains slowed by a thigh bruise and Dustin Garrison isn't fully recovered from offseason knee surgery.

But West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said Buie will wear down if he has 20 carries every game.

``We are working extremely hard to recruit about five or six running backs who can come in here and give us help,'' Holgorsen said. ``And until that happens, it is what it is.''

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Nationals players believe extended safety netting is a ‘no-brainer’

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USA Today Sports images

Nationals players believe extended safety netting is a ‘no-brainer’

WASHINGTON -- Visuals can change everything.

It’s happened across sports in different fashion. An issue is discussed or dismissed until a troubling incident is brought to life via video in front of everyone’s eyes.

That breaking point on extended netting arrived for Major League Baseball after Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. pulled a line drive into the stands May 29. The ball struck a four-year-old girl. But, it was Almora’s reaction, as much as anything, which made the reality so stark. He was stunned and moved to tears. The player’s reaction amplified the incident to a level which forced something to be done.

Steps will be taken at Nationals Park to prevent such an incident. The team announced Thursday it will extend the protective netting up the foul line during the All-Star break. It will end just short of the foul poles. Washington has a good window to complete the work because it goes on the road following the All-Star break. The Nationals’ final pre-break home game is July 7. They don’t return to Nationals Park until July 22.

“As players, it's something that we've pushed for and advocated for years now,” Sean Doolittle said. “I think as you see exit velocities that have continued to increase and these new stadiums that are bringing fans closer and closer to the action, you're seeing balls go into the stands at really, really high speeds. It's really scary. Max broke his nose the other day on a BP pitch that was probably 50 mph and these balls are going into the seats over 100 mph.

“So, I think, hopefully, It's a way to keep fans safe while bringing them closer to the action. As somebody that watches the vast majority of games from behind a screen or chain-linked fence, I can promise you get used to it really, really quickly. It doesn't hinder your view at all. You think the most expensive seats in the stands, they're right behind home plate. People look through a net. I promise you-you can still see the game and after five minutes you don't even notice that it's there.”

Ryan Zimmerman called it a “no-brainer.” Trea Turner wants fans to be paying more attention, in addition to the netting.

“You only have to pay attention to small snippets of the game,” Turner told NBC Sports Washington. “I just want people to pay attention. You can’t block everybody off from a foul pop that goes over the net, that can still hit people. You’re not going to foolproof it.”

Netting in Nationals Park will be thinner than the current netting, according to the team. It will also have sections which can be raised pregame in order to allow players to interact with fans.

The Almora incident was referenced in a letter from Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner announcing the extension. The Nationals were also witnesses to an Eloy Jiménez foul ball in Chicago which struck a young fan in Chicago on June 11.

“Jiménez hit a line drive really hard foul and I saw a girl looking towards me -- I don’t know what she was looking at but was kind of looking in the outfield direction, hit her in the side of the face,” Turner said. “I heard it hit her. What sticks in my head is when I heard the ball hit her. Not good.”

Washington becomes the second team to announce a planned extension. The White Sox were the first.

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters in Seattle on June 5 he didn’t expect league-wide changes in netting this season. Manfred cited a range of reasons from ballpark framework to fan objections. In 2015, the commissioner’s office recommended teams extend netting to the end of the dugouts. Three years later, that task was completed. The next steps have slowly begun.

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Women's World Cup 2019: Round of 16 bracket is set as USA soccer readies for knockout round

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USATSI

Women's World Cup 2019: Round of 16 bracket is set as USA soccer readies for knockout round

LE HAVRE, France (AP) -- The defending champion U.S. national team faced its toughest test of the Women's World Cup and remained dominant Thursday night, beating Sweden 2-0 to serve up a measure of revenge against the team that stunned the confident Americans in the last Olympics.

Lindsey Horan scored within the first three minutes, the fastest goal of this tournament. The United States went up 2-0 on an own goal by Jonna Andersson in the 50th minute that gave the Americans a tournament-record 18 goals in the group stage. The U.S. did not concede a goal in its first three matches.

Already assured a spot in the round of 16 before the game, the United States finished atop of group F and will head to Reims to face Spain on Monday, June 24th. Sweden will play Group E runners-up Canada in Paris. The U.S. currently has 9 points 

The meeting was the first tournament game between the two teams since the quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympics. The Swedes bunkered in on defense and advanced on penalties after a 1-1 draw, handing the United States its earliest-ever exit from the Olympic tournament. Former U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo called the Swedes "cowards" for the defensive stand.

Round-of-16 Schedule

Saturday, June 22

Germany vs. Nigeria, 11:30 a.m. ET

Norway vs. Australia, 3:00 p.m. ET

Sunday, June 23

England vs. Cameroon, 11:30 a.m. ET

France vs. Brazil, 3:00 p.m. ET

Monday, June 24

Spain vs. United States, Noon ET

Sweden vs. Canada, 3:00 p.m. ET

Tuesday, June 25

Italy vs. China, Noon ET

Netherlands vs Japan, 3:00 p.m. ET

Quarterfinals 

Thursday, June 27 

TBD vs, TBD, 3:00 p.m. ET

Friday, June 28

TBD vs TBD, 3:00 p.m. ET

Saturday, June 29

TBD vs TBD, 9:00 a.m. ET

TBD vs TBD, 12:30 p.m. ET

Semifinals 

Tuesday, July 2

TBD vs TBD, 3:00 p.m. ET 

Wednesday, July 3

TBD vs TBD, 3:00 p.m. ET

Third-place game

Saturday, July 6 

TBD vs TBD, 11:00 a.m. ET

Final 

Sunday, July 7

TBD vs TBD, 11:00 a.m. ET