Nationals

Auburn makes rapid tumble from Newton's title team

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Auburn makes rapid tumble from Newton's title team

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Two years ago, Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers were unstoppable.

Newton and fellow star Nick Fairley have long since headed to the NFL after spearheading the 2010 national title run - and the Tigers' fall has been as dramatic as that sudden rise.

Now, after one of the program's worst starts in six decades, even a bowl game seems out of reach and Gene Chizik's job security has become a hot topic around the state.

Even former Auburn coach Pat Dye, who has been a big Chizik supporter, said on a syndicated radio show that he doesn't think the Tigers will win a Southeastern Conference game. Dye said the offensive problems, starting at quarterback, are unsolvable.

The Tigers play at favored Vanderbilt on Saturday.

Chizik said he wasn't aware of those comments and insists he's tuning out the criticism and urging his players to do the same, just like he wanted them to ignore the praise during that title run.

``My day when I walk through the door consists of my coaches and my players and the direction that we're headed,'' Chizik said Monday. ``What makes college football great is that, you know what, there's going to be people on the radio, there's going to be people on the TV, there's going to be people outside now that can say and do whatever they want and it can be public as it can be. And hey that's great. That's great.

``But if I concerned myself with all of that, then that would suck the energy and the life out of me trying to do a job that I know I've got to stay concentrating on one thing, trying to keep my coaches and my players on the path of improvement.''

The Tigers (1-5, 0-4 SEC) are off to their worst start since 1998 when coach Terry Bowden leapt off a sinking ship in midseason after starting with the same record. They haven't opened 1-6 since Ralph ``Shug'' Jordan's second team won only twice in 1952.

No team has fallen so far so fast from a national title since the BCS era began in 1998. The most comparable - and they're really not unless Auburn manages a huge turnaround - were both from SEC teams: Tennessee followed up the 1998 title with 9-3 and 8-4 seasons; LSU endured 8-5 and 9-4 seasons before returning to form after the 2007 championship.

Both remained respectable, though.

It doesn't appear there's a quick fix at Auburn, especially on offense.

A quarterback change from Kiehl Frazier to Clint Moseley didn't really jumpstart the Tigers, who rank 116th nationally in total offense and only one spot better in scoring.

The Tigers' fall to 8-5 last season came after losing most of the starters from the team that went 14-0, including the Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Newton and fellow first-rounder Fairley.

This season was projected to be a similar rebuilding year despite three straight top 10 recruiting classes. Auburn, with new coordinators, implemented new offensive and defensive schemes. The Tigers also had lost star tailback Mike Dyer after he was released from his scholarship following an indefinite suspension for violating team rules. Onetime starting quarterback Barrett Trotter decided not to return for his fifth season.

Still, there weren't clear indications things would get this bad, though.

Auburn opened the season losing just 26-19 to No. 14 Clemson - and a few weeks later dropped a 12-10 game to No. 6 LSU.

Then came a 17-point loss to an Arkansas team that seemed in a similar boat, and a three-touchdown defeat at Mississippi. Now, the Tigers are touchdown underdogs at Vandy. Chizik said climbing out of this hole will require ``an unbending mentality,'' starting with him.

``Our focus every day is to improve and win,'' he said. ``We've got challenges on our team in every phase. I think that's obvious if you watch us play.''

Freshman wide receiver Sammie Coates took the veterans to task a week ago for a lack of leadership.

Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said the Tigers haven't given up, but Ole Miss and Arkansas have outscored them 31-0 in the fourth quarter the last two games.

He also defended Chizik, who was defensive coordinator on unbeaten teams at Auburn and Texas.

"it's just part of the job,'' Lutzenkirchen said. ``He's still a great coach. He's been a part of three undefeated seasons in the past decade, so there's no doubt about it that he's a good coach. We're in a hole and I think what he does from here on is going to continue to define him as a coach. He's going to continue to fight and lead this team. ``

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3 things to watch as the Nationals try to even the series with Colorado

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3 things to watch as the Nationals try to even the series with Colorado

Here are three things to watch for as the Nationals try to even the series in Colorado: 

1. Brian Dozier's slow start to 2019 seems to be in the rearview mirror. The second baseman hit his third long-ball in four games Monday night inside Coors Field. 

2. How long will Anthony Rendon be held out of the lineup? The third baseman is nursing his left elbow after being hit by a Jose Urena pitch Saturday in Miami. 

3. One of the MLB's best closers remains unsigned 20+ games into the season. Craig Kimbrel could very well help solve an NL East division-wide problem

Coming Up:

Tuesday, 4/23: Nationals @ Rockies, 8:40 p.m. ET, Coors Field

Wednesday, 4/24: Nationals @ Rockies, 3:10 p.m. ET, Coors Field

Friday, 4/26: Padres @ Nationals, 7:05 p.m. ET, Nationals Park

Download the MyTeams app for even more Nationals content, and check out the latest episode of the Racing Presidents podcast below.

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A frustrating Game 6 loss, but Caps can't dwell on the negative

A frustrating Game 6 loss, but Caps can't dwell on the negative

RALEIGH — By the end of the night the frustration was evident. Three times the Capitals have played at PNC Arena during this Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series and three times they have left the ice stick-smashingly angry. 

Capitals coach Todd Reirden screamed at the officials. Alex Ovechkin earned a game misconduct after a mock wave following a late penalty call. By then the Carolina Hurricanes had already assured there would be one final game in this closer-than-expected series with a 5-2 win. Now both teams face elimination with Game 7 looming Wednesday at Capital One Arena. 

Washington’s anger was understandable. Alex Ovechkin apparently poked home the game-tying goal with 9:26 remaining. But while the Capitals celebrated, referee Kyle Rehman blew his whistle. In his view, Ovechkin had shoved Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek’s pads to force the puck into the net. 

The NHL Situation Room in Toronto upheld that call on the ice after the Capitals tied it. Just 1:24 later, ex-Capitals forward Justin Williams stuck a dagger in the heart of his old team with a deflected goal to give the Hurricanes a 4-2 lead.

"I don't think anyone expected it to be easy,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “They played well all series. We were up 2-0 and we were probably fortunate to be up 2-0 and we've been good on home ice and now we have a Game 7 and it is probably good that we have home ice."

There were other issues on Monday. Dmitry Orlov was whistled for embellishment in the second period that denied Washington a power play. Carolina tied the game 2-2 at 1:56 of the second period when referees – in the Capitals’ view – missed an obvious slash by Sebastian Aho on defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler behind the net. His attempted clear was flubbed and Aho found Teuvo Teravainen alone in front for an easy goal.

None of it matters now. The Capitals didn’t play well enough to win anyway, especially in a ragged second period that ominously looked like the 5-0 Hurricanes win in Game 3. Reirden himself admitted that Carolina earned the breaks it got. Goalie Braden Holtby was especially critical of his team for not building on a dominant 6-0 win at home in Game 5 on Saturday. 

“I don’t know. I thought we played pretty well to come out and we just faded,” Holtby said. “I’m not sure why. At this point it doesn’t matter. It’s over with and it’s down to one game.”

The challenge will be leaving all of that negativity in the PNC Arena locker room. One player walked away and said to no one in particular “No goal….what a call.” The sarcasm dripped. But it can’t follow the Capitals back home to Washington. This group of players has plenty of experience putting bad playoff losses behind them. 

If anything carries over into Game 7, however, they could be in trouble. Those days are thought to be long over after last spring’s Cup. And maybe they are. But the Capitals will have to forget about what happened in Raleigh. They have one last chance. It can't be clouded by what happened here.  

"It's over. Again, right now nothing you can do,” Ovechkin said. “After fight, you can't do anything. It was a good battle. Good for them, they win Game 6, and you know, Game 7 is going to be much interesting. We know how to play that. Pressure on both teams, but it's a good chance for us to beat them at home." 

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