Boise State tries for share of MWC title at Nevada

Boise State tries for share of MWC title at Nevada

RENO, Nev. (AP) With a spot in the New Mexico Bowl already sewn up and a shot at the league championship out of reach, Nevada might have been inclined to look past its last regular season game if not for the fact No. 25 Boise State is back in town for the first time since one of the Wolf Pack's biggest upset victories ever.

Instead, coach Chris Ault said his team couldn't be more excited about its chance Saturday to keep the Broncos (9-2, 6-1) from earning a share of the Mountain West title with Fresno State and San Diego State before they bolt next year for the Big East Conference.

``The bowl game is the last thing on our mind,'' said Ault, whose Wolf Pack (7-4, 4-3) started the year 6-1 before sliding into a three-game losing streak.

Ault is the winningest coach in Nevada history (206-96-1) but his 8-17 career mark against Boise State is his worst against any opponent.

`They are a great football team, arguably the best football team in the conference,'' he said. ``The bottom line is they are running the ball and they are keeping the ball. They take care of business and eat up a lot of the clock.''

D.J. Harper leads the Broncos rushing attack, averaging 85 yards per game. Quarterback Joe Southwick has completed 66 percent of his passes for an average of 206 yards per game.

But much of the credit for Boise State's success goes to a defense that ranks fifth in the nation in points allowed per game (14.4), fourth in yards allowed (160), fourth in turnover margin (plus 1.55) and that has allowed an NCAA-low three TD passes.

Nevada counters with an offensive attack averaging 38 points per game. Running back Stefphon Jefferson is the nation's second-leading rusher, averaging 142 yards per game.

Cody Fajardo, only the sixth sophomore in the Mountain West to total 3,000 yards of offense in a single season, has completed 66.5 percent of his passes for an average of 232 yards per game and 17 TDs. He's also run for 900 yards, averaging 5.9 per carry.

``It looks like a Nevada team to me,'' said Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who calls the matchup his defense's ``biggest test of the year.''

``They run the heck out of the ball in that pistol offense. They play hard on defense. Their record is very close to being much different with a turnover here, a turnover there,'' he said. ``It is one of those games where you say none of that matters. We don't even pay attention to the records.''

There's good reason to take that approach.

Nevada's 34-31 overtime victory over the then third-ranked Broncos in 2010 was the best of a series of thrillers the two have played in recent years.

In 2007, current 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made his first start for Nevada, racking up 420 yards total offense and five scores en route to a 69-67 loss in four overtimes in Boise.

Nevada will meet a Pac-12 opponent in the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 15 and Boise State is assured its 10th straight bowl berth. But both teams had bigger plans entering the year and Ault had hoped the season finale would be for the league title.

Boise State, which also is coming off a bye week, dropped its opener at Michigan State but won its next seven before falling to San Diego State 21-19 in Boise. The Aztecs also won in overtime at Nevada, which followed that with losses to Air Force and Fresno State after having opened the season with a victory at Cal.

``I can't sit here and say it's been glorious,'' Ault said Thursday on his weekly radio show. ``It's been a tale of two cities.

``We are not a terribly talented team. We were not terribly talented to begin with. To win games we knew we had to play hard... But they are locked in, especially playing a team like Boise. They understand it's a wonderful opportunity.''

Nevada offensive lineman Chris Barker agreed. He plans to celebrate senior day by starting his 52nd consecutive game, the longest active streak in the nation.

``There's been a lot of ups and downs,'' Barker said. ``We kind of had a midseason crisis.... We just want to end it on a good note.''

Expectations began especially high in Boise, where the Broncos are gunning for their seventh straight 10-win season but won't make it to 12 for the first time since 2007.

``You go into the season thinking we've got to appreciate every win and all those things,'' Petersen said. ``Boy, that's hard to do.''

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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...


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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?