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Colorado, Arizona State rested and ready after bye

Colorado, Arizona State rested and ready after bye

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) The Colorado Buffaloes are coming off their first bye week since Jon Embree took over the program two years ago. It may not help.

Arizona State is also rested and rejuvenated after its own bye and the Sun Devils bring another dynamic offense to Folsom Field along with a pass rush that has been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.

The Sun Devils (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12) have three players ranked in the top 40 in the nation in sacks per game in junior tackle Will Sutton, sophomore linebacker Carl Bradford and junior defensive end Junior Onyeali. The three combined for six sacks in their 27-17 win over Cal on Sept. 29.

``That's a good combination to have when you're getting that inside pressure along with pressure from the edge,'' said Embree, whose Buffaloes (1-4, 1-1) host the Sun Devils on Thursday night. ``They'll pressure. They'll bring their linebackers; they'll bring their corners, occasionally a safety blitz. They have all the different kinds of pressure.''

Buffs quarterback Jordan Webb said, ``I think the offensive line is really prepared. We've got some schemes that will help us. I think I have full faith in our offensive line. I have every game. I think we'll continue to improve. Getting hit, a lot of that is on my back too, I have to get rid of the ball quickly.''

The game is on ESPN, giving the Buffs a potential recruiting boost - or a chance to show a national audience just how far they've fallen since their heyday.

Colorado is 2-0 on Thursday night games at Folsom Field, having beaten Stanford in 1990 and West Virginia in 2008, but the Buffs are more than three-touchdown underdogs this week.

Arizona State is averaging 38.4 points per game with Taylor Kelly running new coach Todd Graham's up-tempo offense, and the Sun Devils' defense is superb despite a lack of depth at cornerback, leading the Pac-12 in scoring defense (13.6 points), total defense (276.2 yards) and tackles for loss (9.8 per game).

Not exactly the prescription for all that ails the Buffaloes, who got off to another disappointing start this season and are coming off a 42-14 loss to UCLA at home two weeks ago.

At least the Buffaloes caught a break this year: last season, they played 13 straight weekends.

``It's been good for us, we're excited to get some guys back healthy, allow us to address a few issues, tackling and turnovers,'' said Embree, who gave his players a Friday-Saturday furlough. ``We did a lot live tackling. To the players it may not have felt like a bye, because we had a lot of live periods within practice and it was good to do that.''

The Buffaloes could get a big boost if fifth-year free safety Ray Polk can return from an ankle injury he sustained in the opener, leading to an out-of-sync secondary that was burned time and again in the Buffs' 0-3 start in non-conference games.

``When he went down in the CSU game, I know in my heart if he would have been in there, their two touchdowns don't happen just because of the communication issue,'' Embree said. ``That's how big it is having someone like Ray Polk in the game.''

The Buffs, who are giving up a league-high 39.4 points and 309 yards passing per game, also expect to get linebacker Doug Rippy back from a sprained knee.

The key for the Sun Devils is to not look ahead.

After playing the Buffaloes, the Sun Devils get No. 2 Oregon in another Thursday night game at home. Then comes UCLA, which has been in and out of the polls, followed by road games against 10th-ranked Oregon State and No. 11 USC.

Considering the Sun Devils lost six of their final seven games last season after a 5-1 start, this week's game is one they can't afford to look past.

``I have said this earlier in the year that coming back from adversity is hard; I think handling success is harder,'' Graham said. ``I think you have to stay hungry, you have stay focused on what you are doing, you have to stay motivated on the opponent that is right in front of you, so those are the things we have talked about.

``I haven't gotten any sense that our guys are overlooking Colorado.''

The Buffs are looking beyond this game in one sense- ``With recruiting and exposure, it's huge,'' Polk said.

``One of the reasons I came here is that I saw it as kind of a ground zero for a program, something you can build off of your hard work and the efforts of your teammates,'' Polk said. ``It's kind of a challenge that we extend out to our recruits: Can you come to a place and know that you built something of your own instead of taking something that has been passed down? It's a program where you can build something and refurbish something to what it once was.''

An upset of the Sun Devils would have immediate implications, too.

``Shoot, we win this game and we're tied for first in the Pac-12 South,'' Polk said. ``It's huge regardless of what preseason handed us.''

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AP College Football Writer John Marshall contributed.

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Reach out to AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter:http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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Redskins Talk hosts "Redskins On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

Redskins Talk hosts "Redskins On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

It's the moment we've all been waiting for: finding out who the Redskins are going to take as their No. 15 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

After much anticipation and countless mock drafts, Redskins fans will finally find out what's to come for the Burgundy and Gold in the upcoming NFL season. 

And we couldn't let you handle this news alone: So we've got the Redskins Talk crew hosting a special "Redskins on the Clock" live stream to address, analyze and hopefully rejoice over the 'Skins decision. 

<<CHECK OUT NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON'S LATEST NFL MOCK DRAFT>>

On Thursday, Apr. 25th, JP Finlay, Peter Hailey and Mitchell Tischler from the Redskins Talk Podcast, along with guests Travis Thomas and Trevor Matich, will be offering a live look into their thoughts and concerns surrounding both the Redskins' pick and all of Round 1. The live stream will be available on the MyTeams by NBC Sports App from approximately 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. 

And if you haven't already downloaded the MyTeams App, you can do so right now, RIGHT HERE.

Redskins Talk Podcast "Redskins on the Clock" Special

CLICK HERE to watch the daily live stream of the Redskins Talk Podcast

When: 8 p.m. - (approximately) 11 p.m. ET, Thursday, Apr. 25th 

Live Stream: Click to stream Redskins Talk Podcast Live every day this week

Want to subscribe to Redskins Talk?: 
Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19

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How the Capitals went from 'chokers' to 'closers' in Game 6s

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USA TODAY Sports

How the Capitals went from 'chokers' to 'closers' in Game 6s

RALEIGH — There was a time when a Stanley Cup Playoff series lead of any kind produced nothing but stress and anxiety for the Capitals and their tortured fan base.

This is an organization, after all, that has blown a 3-1 playoff series lead five times – often in horrifying, heartbreaking fashion. That has only happened 28 times in NHL history, and Washington owns 18 percent of those epic collapses. But the league’s biggest chokers have put those demons to rest. And that trend started well before winning the Stanley Cup last year. 

Tonight, the Capitals have a chance to close out the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 6 of a first-round playoff series at PNC Arena. They lead 3-2. They know they always have another chance, if necessary, on Wednesday for Game 7 at Capital One Arena back home. 

But if ending a series on the road once seemed like a daunting task, it hasn’t fazed the franchise for a while now. Washington has won four Game 6s in a row when up 3-2 in a series.  

“When we play to our identity and force other teams to make mistakes and they’re in an elimination situation, then those mistakes become magnified,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “That team is already feeling the pressure of that being their last game. And if we play to our identity then it really seems to match up nicely for those elimination games.”

The Capitals were ahead 3-2 with road Game 6s in Philadelphia (2016), Toronto (2017), Columbus (2018) and Pittsburgh (2018) and won them all. They also put Vegas away last June up 3-1 in the series with Game 5 on the road and won the Stanley Cup that night. If the recent version of the Capitals has a chance to put a team away, the team has done it.

The last time they blew a lead with a chance to eliminate the opposition was 2015 when they coughed up a 3-1 advantage in a second-round exit to the New York Rangers. 

There are theories why.

A big, physical team with elite skill, Washington has been able to wear teams out the later a series goes. In 2017, the Maple Leafs put up a great fight against the Presidents’ Trophy winners in the first round. They won two overtime games. They took a 2-1 series lead and had a chance to go up 3-1 on the Capitals with Game 4 at home in Toronto. 

Washington, instead, won Game 4 by a 5-4 score and allowed just two goals in Games 5 and 6 to end the series.

The offense went dry in 2016 against Philadelphia in the first round and a 3-0 series lead suddenly was cut to 3-2 with the Flyers hosting Game 6. They had life. The old Capitals might have panicked. But they won that game 1-0. Philadelphia managed just four goals over the final three games of the series and had nothing left in Game 6. 

There is a mentality that goes into playing a game where the other team’s season is on the line and yours is not.   

"To ourselves, I think, to show that when we play that way, we're going to be real tough to beat,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “I don't think we put much emphasis on [Carolina]. We know they're going to prepare and play as if it's an elimination game for them. We know they're going to come hard, we know they're a good young team and they never shy away from anything. It's on us to play like that and take everything else out of it."

Last year against Columbus in the first round, Washington overcame a 2-0 deficit to tie the series. Game 4 on the road was a clinic with the frustrated Blue Jackets hardly able to get the puck through the neutral zone in a 4-1 Capitals win. Washington broke Columbus’ will with its relentless, physical play. It scored 10 goals in Games 5 and 6 to end the series.  

The same thing played out the next round against Pittsburgh. A dominating 6-3 win in Game 5 at home – much like the 6-0 win over Carolina on Saturday – set the stage for a classic road Game 6. Washington scored first. The Penguins tied it. But the Capitals were the team with enough juice left in overtime to take the series on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s game-winning goal. 

The best example of how the Capitals have worn down one opponent after another actually came last season in the Eastern Conference Final when they were down 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Washington didn’t allow a goal in Games 6 and 7 and advanced. 

“Our team likes being on the road, plays well on the road, enjoys spending that time with each other,” Reirden said. “When you want to have success on the road you have to have contributions from everybody throughout your lineup. That makes you a very difficult team to match up as the home coach. So by us having the seven 20-goal scorers, we were a difficult match.

"And now, we started to see a little bit more of our depth scoring [Saturday]. … It certainly becomes an easier road assignment for the coach -- I can tell you. That’s an advantage for us.”

The Lightning last May looked like a boxer that had taken too many blows to the head after the Capitals blitzed them in Game 6.

If you looked closely on Saturday, you saw elements of that when Carolina defenseman Dougie Hamilton raced back for a puck, knew Alex Ovechkin was steaming right behind him, and gave up on the play. Hamilton didn’t appear to want to pay the price for winning that race and instead Ovechkin took the puck away and fed Brett Connolly in front for the goal that put Washington up 3-0. 

Maybe Carolina regroups tonight. The Hurricanes are a young team, but with grizzled veterans like Jordan Staal and Justin Williams who have won multiple Stanley Cups between them. They won’t play scared. The crowd at PNC Arena will be a factor. They do not want their season to end.

But these Capitals are a different breed. Time and again the past three years they have grinded their opponents into dust so by the time the series reaches this point there isn’t enough fight left to them.     

“We’ve just got to regroup here and move forward,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “That was just a 3-2 lead. Toughest one is the last one. We haven’t been happy with the way we’ve played in Carolina so far. Let’s change that.”

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