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Arizona St. to take on Navy in Fight Hunger Bowl

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Arizona St. to take on Navy in Fight Hunger Bowl

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Arizona State contends with a variety of offenses in the Pac-12 conference.

From the Air Raid at Washington State to the power running game at Stanford to the pro styles at Southern California to the fast-paced option at Oregon.

None of that will prepare the Sun Devils (7-5) for what they will face on Saturday in the Fight Hunger Bowl when they take on Navy (8-4) and its vaunted triple-option running attack.

``Honestly it's totally different from everything we've seen all season and my five years here,'' linebacker Brandon Magee said. ``Their offense is really disciplined. They can get the ball to the quarterback, they can pitch it, they can hand it off to the fullback and they can also beat you deep on some passes if you fall asleep on the passing game. Very explosive offense.''

Navy is sixth in the nation in rushing with 275.6 yards per game and has won seven of eight games heading into the bowl matchup against the Sun Devils.

Arizona State coach Todd Graham said he would have been ``miserable'' if this game was in the regular season and he only had a few days to prepare. He hopes his past experiences going against triple-option teams and the extra practice before the bowl game will help his team's preparation.

The Sun Devils have gone to unusual measures in their preparation, using cornerback Robert Nelson as the scout team quarterback simulating running plays.

``The knowledge of the triple option and being able to put it on the board and being able to talk about it is one thing,'' Navy slotback Bo Snelson said. ``But to go out and practice and have guys who have never run it before, guys who aren't as in tune to the nuances of the offense and have them run it at the speed we do, that's extremely difficult to do.''

Stopping the option is simple in the abstract - players must be disciplined enough to stay with their responsibility and not try to freelance, which can open up big running lanes.

It's appropriate that discipline is the keyword in the final game of Graham's first season as coach because that has been the key to the team's success all year.

Graham took over from Dennis Erickson and immediately set out to change the culture that led to the Sun Devils leading the nation last year in penalties per game and penalty yardage. This season Arizona State is tied for the 11th fewest penalties in the nation and is hoping for its first bowl win since 2005.

``People will meet whatever expectations you set,'' Graham said. ``I was very fortunate because these guys embraced it. I don't yell and scream or tell them to do this and that. I put in a values system and here's the values we'll be about and here's the accountability.''

Navy has become more difficult to defend since making a quarterback switch early in the season when the Midshipmen turned to freshman Keenan Reynolds.

Reynolds led a comeback win against Air Force that helped Navy get out of the hole of a 1-3 start has not looked back ever since. He has thrown for eight touchdowns, run for 10 more and thrown just one interception, giving the Midshipmen a legitimate passing attack to pair with the option running game,

``If knew he was that poised we'd have put him in earlier,'' coach Ken Niumatalolo said. ``He's exceeded my expectations. We knew he was a good quarterback, that's why he moved up the ladder pretty quickly. I didn't know he'd be this good. Right now he has a chance to be the best quarterback we've had in my time at the academy. He's on that track.''

Arizona State will be playing the game with heavy hearts after running back Marion Grice's brother was killed in Houston last week. He rejoined the team for practice in San Francisco and will leave from the game to go to his brother's funeral, along with members of the coaching staff.

``He felt like his brother would want him to play and be here,'' Graham said. ``I personally think it will be a lot better for him.''

The game is sponsored by Kraft and is dedicated to fighting hunger in the United States. Three meals will be donated to local food backs for each ticket sold, with more than 100,000 meals expected to be donated this year.

Both teams also spent Christmas day serving meals to needy families in the San Francisco area.

``I haven't had an experience in a bowl game that came close to that experience of serving,'' Graham said

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Wizards release united statement in response to the death of George Floyd

Wizards release united statement in response to the death of George Floyd

While protests continue across the country following the death of George Floyd, the world's biggest sports figures, including Michael Jordan and LeBron James, have used their platforms to make it clear where they stand on the numerous social issues fueling the protests.

You can now add the Washington Wizards to that group. Early Monday morning, the Wizards posted a "united statement" on social media in response to Floyd's death and the protests that have followed.

Included in the post are four separate statements.

"We will no longer tolerate the assassination of people of color in this country."

"We will no longer accept the abuse of power from law enforcement."

"We will no longer accept ineffective government leaders who are tone-deaf, lack compassion or respect for communities of color."

"We will no longer shut up and dribble."

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans and Rui Hachimura were among players to share the same statements on Instagram.

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What if the Nationals faced the Yankees, not the Astros, in the World Series?

What if the Nationals faced the Yankees, not the Astros, in the World Series?

This week, NBC Sports Washington is taking a look at some of the biggest “What If” questions in Nationals history. First up, Matt Weyrich and Jim Scibilia examine what the 2019 World Series would’ve looked like had the Yankees faced Washington instead of the Astros.

The Houston Astros had a pretty brutal last few months of 2019.

They closed out the month of October by blowing leads in both Games 6 and 7 of the World Series, handing the Nationals one of the biggest upset victories in MLB history. In November, they were exposed for carrying out an illegal sign-stealing scheme that prompted a two-month investigation. Then, just before Christmas, they lost star pitcher Gerrit Cole in free agency.

Perhaps the only thing that could’ve made it worse? Losing to the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series to fall short of winning the AL pennant.

In another timeline, the Yankees came back against the Astros in Game 6 of the ALCS before taking them down in a win-or-go-home Game 7. The matchup would’ve posed a very different challenge for the Nationals, who swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS before waiting four days to find out who they would be facing in the World Series.

The Yankees would’ve made their 41st appearance in the Fall Classic, an MLB record. Meanwhile, the Nationals were embarking on their first World Series run in franchise history—and D.C.’s first appearance since 1933. Even though the Astros posed a juggernaut-type threat as well, the Yankees’ history would’ve made the uphill battle appear even more steep for Washington.

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D.C. doesn’t get a lot of credit nationally for being a sports town, but there’s no better way for a fanbase to get in the spotlight than by facing a New York City team in a championship. How does the Nationals Park crowd fare against the Yankee Stadium faithful? What is each city doing to support its team? Have mayors Bill de Blasio and Muriel Bowser made a friendly wager on the outcome of the series?

As for the games themselves, the Nationals entered the World Series on seven days’ rest while the Yankees would’ve only had two days to prepare following their ALCS Game 7 win. Even though many debated whether they would be rusty after the break from playing, the Nationals jumped out to a 2-0 series lead against Houston; they would've been fresh and ready to take on a tired Yankees team.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone planned to use Luis Severino in Game 7 of the ALCS had they made it, which would’ve lined up the following pitching matchups in the World Series:

Game 1 – Masahiro Tanaka vs. Max Scherzer (with Corbin available out of the bullpen)

Game 2 – James Paxton vs. Stephen Strasburg

Game 3 – Luis Severino vs. Aníbal Sánchez

Game 4 – Yankees’ bullpen vs. Patrick Corbin

Game 5 – Masahiro Tanaka vs. Joe Ross (Scherzer woke up that morning with neck spasms)

Game 6 – James Paxton vs. Stephen Strasburg

Game 7 – Luis Severino vs. Max Scherzer

Just like the real Game 1 with Scherzer and Cole on the mound, this version would’ve featured a fantastic pitching matchup with three-time Cy Young winner Scherzer facing Tanaka and his 1.76 career postseason ERA. However, there was no Justin Verlander behind Tanaka like the Astros had behind Cole, pushing the advantage in starting pitching much farther over in favor of Washington.

Paxton and Severino combined to make five playoff starts last October and only once did one of them advance past the fifth inning (Paxton went six in ALCS Game 5). Strasburg, who won World Series MVP, would’ve been the difference maker with two matchups against Paxton while Severino would’ve been tasked with besting NLCS star Sánchez and Scherzer.

The most intriguing matchup, however, might have been Game 4. The Yankees entered the playoffs with one of the best bullpens in the majors, making it an easy choice for Boone to use his relief corps rather than give J.A. Happ or CC Sabathia a chance to start. On the other side, the Nationals would've been starting prized offseason addition Corbin. The runner-up for his services in free agency? The Yankees.

On offense, New York boasted an elite combination of star power and depth much like the Astros. Giancarlo Stanton would’ve been a player to watch, as his 34 home runs against the Nationals from his time with the Miami Marlins are his second-highest total against any team. Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu, Edwin Encarnacion and Gary Sanchez all presented power threats in the box as well.

Perhaps the two most fun players to watch in the series, however, would’ve been Gleyber Torres and Juan Soto. Both young stars from Latin America play with a flair and level of self-confidence that make them must-watch TV every time they step to the plate. Although each player had already built up a national reputation on their own, facing off on the World Series stage would’ve been a treat for fans everywhere.

Of course, the Yankees didn’t make the World Series, so we’ll never know what the outcome would’ve been had the Nationals faced them instead. But there’s no doubt such a matchup would’ve presented plenty of intrigue—both on and off the field.

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