Capitals

Carlos Hyde latest in long line of big OSU backs

Carlos Hyde latest in long line of big OSU backs

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) This sure wasn't the offense a lot of people expected out of Ohio State.

A lot of fans might have hoped the Buckeyes would average 40 points a game, which they are. But almost no one envisioned Urban Meyer's spread offense would end up working so seamlessly alongside Woody Hayes' tenets - a big back, a big line and enforcing your will on the opponent.

Despite ironing out the kinks in a new system, NCAA probation and a bowl ban, the seventh-ranked Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) in many ways look a lot like Hayes' Buckeyes teams from the 1970s that used to live off pushing people around.

``This is something that's new for Urban because we never had that type of physicality,'' said Stan Drayton, an assistant to Meyer at Florida and also his running backs coach at Ohio State. ``Now that we have it with these guys here, man, it's really fun to watch the offense develop.''

Meyer's hiring was supposed to usher in an era of throwing it around, backs used as receivers and receivers carrying the ball. The speed - in terms of personnel and even the rapidity and number of plays - would be breathtaking.

Instead, muscular Carlos Hyde has brought back a Buckeyes' attack from another time, when it was routine to see 235-pound tailbacks muscling through a sliver of daylight created by the hand-to-hand combat up front of a massive offensive line.

To his credit, Meyer doesn't have a problem with the Buckeyes grinding out first downs on terra firma.

``We have had two back-to-back games where it's almost 600 rushing yards,'' Meyer said, referring to the victories over Nebraska (223) and Indiana (353 yards on the ground). ``You kind of go back to what's working well for you. It's just been a little bit different the way we manage the game. Because at the end of the day we have to win it. If that means a little more imbalanced in the run, I'm fine with that.''

The reason the Buckeyes can rely so heavily on Hyde, who has rushed 296 yards the past two weeks, is because of the threat of quarterback Braxton Miller breaking loose out wide.

Defenses have to be wary of the shifty Miller in the open field, so they have difficulty packing the line of scrimmage to stop runs between the tackles. Behind a big front wall that is playing at its best, Hyde has found a home.

``I don't think that we knew we'd be running the ball out of as much power stuff as we are now,'' said starting left tackle Jack Mewhort.

When Meyer and his staff first arrived in the spring, the line wasn't terribly aggressive, Hyde wasn't working hard and the receivers were not very good. No wonder Meyer called the first few days of running his spread ``a clown show.''

Gradually, the line started clicking, Hyde and the other backs began to find some rhythm, the receivers improved - and Miller was always there to make up for any part of the offense that didn't get the job done. Early in the season, he saved the Buckeyes time and time again by freelancing for big yardage. It appeared that Meyer was basically saying to his sophomore signal-caller, ``Go out and make a play and win this for us.'' And he did.

Now Ohio State has advanced far beyond that. Miller can still make plays with his arm and his feet - he's rushed for 912 yards and nine TDs through seven games and has thrown for 1,271 yards and 11 scores - but the rise of Hyde at tailback has transformed the offense.

``I saw a lot of passion in him, breaking through arm-tackles and stuff,'' left guard Andrew Norwell said of the 6-foot, 232-pound Hyde. ``He was just trying to get the first down, running really hard. That makes us more confident up front, that we have a big back back there doing his job makes us feel pretty good.''

Meyer said of Hyde's career-high 156 yards rushing and two touchdowns against Indiana: ``We just didn't start very fast. He did not (either). But he got real strong. By the end of the game, he was a man.''

Hyde couldn't be happier with his increased role in the attack. He got 28 carries against Nebraska, 22 last week.

``I'm ready. Whatever the number is they give me, I'm ready,'' he said. ``Whenever the coach calls my number, I thrive off of that. I want to run the ball and when I have the opportunity to run the ball I'm going to make the best of it.''

Meyer and his offensive staff have adapted to think bigger. It has paid huge dividends. Rather than try to make Ohio State players fit into the mold the coaches perfected during two national championship seasons at Florida, they've massaged their own offensive philosophy and theories so it includes backs unlike what they've used before.

``The beauty of this offense is that it fits the skills of our players,'' Drayton said. ``It can always be adjusted to the skill that we have with them, our personnel. (Meyer's coaches) have always been a power, inside-zone outfit, no matter where we've been. It's just that down in Florida, you were doing it with guys who weighed 185 or 190 pounds. Now you're doing it with a 235-pound back, and these guys when they hit it they break a tackle or two.''

And that would have pleased the late Hayes to no end.

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Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

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Capitals vs. Golden Knights Game 1 Stanley Cup Final: Date, Time, TV Channel, Livestrem

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Capitals vs. Golden Knights Game 1 Stanley Cup Final: Date, Time, TV Channel, Livestrem

The wait is finally over. 

After two decades, the Capitals are back in the Stanley Cup Final. 

After a convincing 4-0 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Capitals are in Vegas to take on the Golden Knights. They'll be facing off against a handful of familiar names, with former Caps GM George McPhee, fan favorite Nate Schmidt, and ex-Penguins goalie Marc Andre-Fluery are just a few of the names that'll be suiting up for Vegas. 

What will the X-factors in the series be? Who will be the unexpected heroes of Game 1? The action is almost underway, and here are all the details you need to know.

Game 1 Capitals at Golden Knights
Date: Monday, May 28
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Location: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, NV.
TV Channel: NBCSN 
How To Watch Live StreamingNBC Sports App Live Stream
Radio: Capitals Radio Network (106.7 FM)

WHEN IS GAME 1 OF THE CAPITALS-GOLDEN KNIGHTS SERIES?

Game 1 of the Capitals-Golden Knights 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final takes place on Monday, May 28 at 8:00 p.m. at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV.

WHAT TV CHANNEL IS GAME 1 OF THE CAPITALS-GOLDEN KNIGHTS SERIES ON?

The TV broadcast of Game 1 between the Capitals and Golden Knights is on NBC. Capitals pre- and postgame coverage takes place on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

5:00 p.m. — Caps Cup Preview
6:00 p.m. — Caps GameDay Live
6:30 p.m. — Caps Face Off
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
8:00 p.m. — Game 1 Capitals vs. Golden Knights
10:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
11:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM CAPITALS vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS GAME 1?

Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final between the Capitals and Golden Knights is available for online stream on the NBC Sports App. Click here for the NBC Sports live stream page.

CAPITALS vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS GAME 1 OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals digital producer JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.