Cincy, UConn both playing for something Saturday

Cincy, UConn both playing for something Saturday

STORRS, Conn. (AP) A month ago, when Connecticut was 3-6 and Cincinnati had questions at quarterback, few expected this season-ending matchup to have bowl and Big East championship implications.

Think again.

The Bearcats (8-3, 4-2 Big East) will have a chance for a share of their second straight conference title when they visit East Hartford Saturday to play a UConn team that is coming off upset wins over Pittsburgh and Louisville.

``To be in the hunt still is a great feeling,'' Cincinnati safety Drew Fry said. ``To potentially win another title is a great experience for us. It's definitely going to be a motivating factor.''

UConn (5-6, 2-4) also has motivation. A third straight improbable win would make the Huskies bowl eligible for the fifth time in six seasons.

``It's very easy to throw in the towel when you are 3-6 and you have three of the better teams in the league coming,'' said UConn receiver Nick Williams, who will be playing his final home game, along with 15 other Husky seniors. ``You can go home early for Christmas, and everybody is frustrated. But, for us to stick with it and beat two of the better teams in the league and have an opportunity to win our last game at home on senior day, I'm proud of that.''

The Huskies' triple-overtime victory at Papa John's Stadium last week set the stage for a jumble at the top of the Big East standings. With Louisville's win over Rutgers on Thursday, Cincinnati can tie the Scarlet Knights, the Cardinals and Syracuse with a 5-2 conference record. But because they have lost to both Louisville and Rutgers, the Bearcats have no chance to get the conference's BCS bowl berth.

``This year, there's more of a competitive balance in our conference than there's ever been,'' Cincinnati coach Butch Jones said. ``And that's why I keep saying it; you have to manage your adversities. You can't be too high, you can't be too low. You just have to have a bunker mentality and go to work every day.''

Saturday's game likely will hinge on whether UConn's top-10 defense can stop Cincinnati's offense and running back George Winn. The senior already has rushed for more than 1,100 yards this season, and needs 227 to set the school's single-season record.

But the Huskies are ninth in the nation against the run, giving up just 100 yards per game. They held Louisville to 28 yards on the ground last week.

Brandon Kay, who took over the quarterback duties from Munchie Legaux last month, will start his fourth game for the Bearcats. He will have to avoid UConn defensive end Trevardo Williams, who had three sacks a week ago and has already set the school's career record (30.5).

``I feel like this is my last game,'' he said, ``and I need to put my best foot forward because this is an opportunity to get more tackles, sacks and get to a bowl game.''

UConn's quarterback situation is more of a question mark. Junior college transfer Chandler Whitmer is expected to play despite suffering a head injury against Louisville. Huskies coach Paul Pasqualoni would not call it a concussion, and Whitmer returned to practice late in the week.

If he can't go, Connecticut will turn to senior walk-on Johnny McEntee, who started last year when the Huskies also were 5-6 headed into the Cincinnati game. That time, they lost, 35-24. McEntee redeemed himself a bit last week, though. He came off the bench to help give the Huskies their first ever road win against a ranked opponent, throwing a touchdown pass in the second overtime vs. the Cardinals.

``That's a memory that this team and Johnny McEntee and these seniors will have forever,'' Pasqualoni said. ``They may forget their wife's birthday, but they'll never forget that win.''

McEntee and his teammates hope there is at least one more good memory to be made.

``I just kind of realize that I'll be working in a few months,'' McEntee said. ``I just want to enjoy the last semester of college with my teammates and the guys I came in with, just do anything I can to help the team.''

A win wouldn't hurt that cause.


AP Sports Writer Joe Kay in Cincinnati contributed to this report.

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Dustin Hopkins isn't 100-percent so the Redskins reportedly worked out five kickers


Dustin Hopkins isn't 100-percent so the Redskins reportedly worked out five kickers

Lost in the fact that Tress Way is having a stellar season is that his fellow specialist, Dustin Hopkins, is getting it done, too.

The Redskins' kicker has made 17 of 19 field goals so far in 2018, giving him an 89.5-percent conversion rate on kicks. Against Carolina, he nailed a career-long 56-yarder, plus he's 17-for-17 on extra points.

But on Tuesday, a report came out saying that Hopkins is "a bit banged up." As of now, the Redskins don't know if they'll have Hopkins or not this weekend vs. the Texans, which is why they worked out five kickers five days before the Houston matchup, per Field Yates.

Among the group of free agents was former 'Skin Kai Forbath, who made 32-of-38 three-pointers for the Vikings in 2017. He was with the Burgundy and Gold from 2012-2014 and also briefly in 2015. 

Washington also reportedly tried out two maligned kickers in Roberto Aguayo and Blair Walsh. 

The Bucs drafted Aguayo in the second round of the 2016 draft but he flamed out in Tampa and was gone after a single year and poor 2017 preseason. Walsh, meanwhile, hasn't been the same since missing a 27-yard game winning playoff attempt versus Seattle while he was with Minnesota.  

Rounding out the group was Sam Ficken and Jon Brown.

The Redskins have been very reliant on both Hopkins and Way this season, seeing as their offense has had its issues. They've needed Hopkins to cash in on field goals to avoid wasting points and Way to help win the field position battle each week.

For some franchises, losing a kicker for a week or two wouldn't be much of a problem. And while Washington could very well be OK without Hopkins, they'd rather not have to bring in a new foot for any amount of time.


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Capitals winger Tom Wilson returns from suspension, but has he learned his lesson?

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Capitals winger Tom Wilson returns from suspension, but has he learned his lesson?

WASHINGTON —Tom Wilson had his 20-game suspension reduced just in time by a neutral arbitrator Tuesday and the Capitals will welcome back their rugged winger tonight against the Minnesota Wild. 

Better late than never after Wilson missed the first 16 games of the season. The arbitrator, Shyam Das, actually knocked the suspension down to 14 games from the original 20, but there’s no time machine to put Wilson back in the lineup for home losses to Columbus and Arizona.

There’s also no time machine for Wilson to go back and avoid illegally checking St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist in the head. That play, during a Sept. 27 preseason game, was the final straw for the NHL, which had suspended Wilson three times in the previous 13 months. 

It was a bad hit at a pointless time in a meaningless exhibition game and gets right to the heart of the matter: Can Tom Wilson change how he plays? And if he does, is he worth what the Capitals invested in him this summer?

“The hitting aspect of the game is definitely changing a little bit, and I’ve got to be smart out there, and I’ve got to play within the rules,” Wilson said on Oct. 14. “And at the end of the day, no one wants to be in the situation that I’m in right now. I’ve got to change something because obviously it’s not good to be out and not helping your team.”

Washington signed Wilson to a six-year, $31 million contract in July. He is a unique player in the NHL, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound wrecking ball who can put the fear of God into opposing players, but isn’t just another goon. He can play. He had 14 goals and 21 assists last year, doubling his previous best, while playing on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Capitals believe Wilson has more in him.

"No, I don't think he has to change. I've been in this situation, too,” Ovechkin said. “To be honest with you, I don't want to talk about his game because he knows what he has to do. I think it's just a situation where you let it go…He just have to play the same way he played and don't listen to no one because it's your choice how you playing."

There is also an elephant in the room. Ovechkin is only under contract two more years after this one. Nicklas Backstrom is a free agent after next season. Both players will be well into their 30s when free agency hits. The Capitals would love them to retire here, but no one can say what will happen. Wilson is a potential captain, a gregarious, vocal presence who is under contract through 2024. He is young enough to lead the post-Ovechkin team the organization builds. 

But all of that investment goes to waste if Wilson can’t stay on the ice and that is the immediate problem. Because the next bad decision, the next time Wilson crosses the line the punishment only goes higher. Remember when he broke Zach Aston-Reese’s jaw in the second round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins last May? If that happens again Wilson will be staring at a 25-to-30 game suspension. That’s almost one-third of an entire season. 

Wilson’s teammates have been supportive. Ovechkin’s comments indicate that. T.J. Oshie has been outspoken on Wilson’s play since the playoffs last year when he had multiple close calls, including the Aston-Reese hit that earned him a three-game suspension during the Pittsburgh series. Wilson hit Columbus forward Alex Wennberg in the first round, but escaped supplemental discipline.    

“When I'm going to hit someone, I'm going to hit him as hard as I can. But that doesn't mean I want to hurt him,” Oshie told NBC Sports Washington on Oct. 2. “It means I want to change the way the game's going. I want to separate him from the puck. I want him to fall down so for a brief moment, we have five guys going and they've got four. Tom does it the same way. He gets penalized, I think, for his size and strength.”

There is a fine line, however, between being supportive and enabling a player and Washington’s players, coaches and executives at least walk that line with their public comments. The organization is still upset at the suspension for the Aston-Reese hit. Wilson himself, while acknowledging all the work he did last year to meet with NHL officials and understand what he can and can’t do, said after that hit that ex-players and friends around the league were texting him not to change a thing. 

Those mixed messages could prove troublesome because the NHL itself is unambiguous. Wilson is out of chances and no matter how the Caps feel about that interpretation, they need him to heed the warnings.     

“There are certain ways they are calling things,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “You need to be aware of how they’re making their calls on suspensions. Tom is a big, strong guy who skates really well. There is a lot of force behind his contact. He needs to be aware of how they’re determining what’s legal and what’s illegal from the league’s standpoint.”