Dominant defense is way of life at Alabama, LSU

Dominant defense is way of life at Alabama, LSU

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) When Eric Reid arrived at LSU, the older players made one thing clear:

He was expected to contribute right away on defense. There was to be no drop-off from the guys who came before him.

Now, he passes it on.

``We tell the freshmen the exact same thing,'' said Reid, a junior safety and one of the leaders of the Tigers' defense. ``We don't want them to use youth as an excuse. You come to practice, practice hard and get the job done.''

The same could be said of top-ranked Alabama.

After last season, the Crimson Tide had six players off its national championship defense - considered one of the best in college football history - selected in the NFL draft. Three of them went in the first round. Another was taken early in the second.

For most programs, that sort of exodus would have led to a major rebuilding job. Not at Alabama (8-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference), which again leads the nation in all four of the major defensive categories, seemingly just as dominant as it was with players such as Mark Barron, Dont'a Hightower and Dre Kirkpatrick.

``I'm not really surprised,'' said one of the replacements, linebacker C.J. Mosley. ``Great players left last year, but we had players that could fill their roles. So far, we're getting the job done. It's all about communication because we've got the athletes and we've got the players who can play with anybody in the nation.''

Defense isn't just a vital part of the game for these two schools.

It's who they are.

It's why they seem to meet every year with so much on the line.

This year is no exception. Alabama will travel to Baton Rouge on Saturday night for what is essentially a playoff game in the national championship race. The winner will have the inside track to a spot in the SEC title game, which has become a routine conduit to the BCS finale.

Despite plenty of inconsistency on offense, LSU (7-1, 3-1) is right in the thick of things again largely because of its defense. While not quite as dominant statistically as Alabama, the Tigers are certainly in the same ballpark, ranking in the top 10 nationally in points allowed, total yards, rushing yards and passing yards.

``It's a tradition that was established long before we got here,'' said LSU linebacker Kevin Minter, the team's leading tackler. ``It's fundamental here. It's what we do. We play hard-nosed, hit-you-in-the-mouth defense. Both teams do.''

Like Alabama, LSU lost a number of top defensive players off last year's unit, which carried the Tigers all the way to the national championship game before they lost to the Crimson Tide 21-0.

Cornerback Morris Claiborne and defensive tackle Michael Brockers were both selected in the first round of the NFL draft, while safety Brandon Taylor went in the third. Then, the Tigers lost perhaps their most dominant player on either side of the line, cornerback and Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu. The Honey Badger was reportedly kicked off the team for several failed drug tests, and he's spending the year away from the field, trying to get his life in order.

Despite those heavy losses, especially in the secondary, there hasn't been much of a slide. LSU ranks fourth in the nation, allowing just 148.5 yards per game through the air. Tharold Simon and freshman Jalen Mills have filled those big shoes at cornerback, each coming up with a pair of interceptions. LSU ranks eighth nationally with 13 picks as team.

``Their secondary still looks good,'' Alabama receiver Kenny Bell said. ``They still have a good defense. I feel like this is going to be the one of the best defenses we've gone against all year. We've just got to keep working hard ... and get better so we can be able to execute against this defense. Because, you know, they are good. Their front four is very good and their secondary is real good.''

When you consider that Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron hasn't thrown an interception all season, the play of LSU's secondary becomes even more important. In last year's regular-season victory at Tuscaloosa, a 9-6 slugfest, Reid came up with a huge pick right at the goal line. The Tigers would like nothing better than a repeat Saturday night.

``Hopefully we can force him to make a bad throw and see if we can get an interception,'' Reid said. ``That definitely would be nice. It would give us some momentum for our offense.''

LSU's offense needs all the help it can get. In two meetings last season, the Tigers never got to the end zone against the Crimson Tide. It looks like they're facing another daunting challenge.

Robert Lester has three interceptions, and five other players have two. Mosley is the closer in the middle of coach Nick Saban's 3-4 defense, leading the team with 65 tackles. Ed Stinson spends a lot of time in opposing backfields, leading the team with 7.5 tackles behind the line.

Saban, along with defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, gets a bulk of the credit for assembling a defensive scheme that isn't that far off from the pros are doing. LSU has its own defensive guru, coordinator John Chavis, the man they call ``Chief'' and a must on any list of the nation's top assistant coaches.

``I feel like it's great coaching,'' Minter said. ``Bama obviously has great coaches with Saban and Kirby over there. I've always admired them. We have Chief over here. They're all great at developing talent. Both teams always find a way to reload, regardless of who leaves.''


AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Ala., contributed to this report.


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Capitals stars react to losing Barry Trotz as head coach

Capitals stars react to losing Barry Trotz as head coach

LAS VEGAS—Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom weren’t expecting to lose their head coach less than two weeks after winning the Stanley Cup.

But business is business, Ovi said, and Barry Trotz is handling his by attempting to capitalize on claiming the championship.

“It’s sad,” Ovechkin said on the red carpet at the NHL Awards, where he accepted his seventh Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy on Wednesday night. “Obviously, we won together.”

The Caps’ captain also thanked Trotz for directing him—and his teammates—to new heights.  

“First of all, [I want to] thank him for a great job to be our coach, to be our dad, to give us a chance to win,” Ovechkin said. “But then again, it’s a business. You never know what’s going to happen. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be fine and I wish him luck.”

Backstrom, meanwhile, said he was caught off guard by Trotz’s decision to step down over a contract stalemate with the team. Trotz asked for $5 million per for five seasons; the Caps balked over the terms Trotz’s camp sought.   

“I was a little surprised, obviously,” Backstrom said. “I heard the scenario.”

Like Ovechkin, though, Backstrom praised the job Trotz did during his four-year tenure.

“He’s done a great job in Washington,” Backstrom said. “We obviously have him to thank for a lot. He’s done a tremendous job of schooling us and winning a championship. No one is going to take that away from him.”

Trotz’s next move is unclear, but he’s a free agent and currently eligible to negotiate with any team. The Islanders are the only team with an opening for a head coach.

As for Washington, GM Brian MacLellan said that associate coach Todd Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz.

Ovechkin said he thinks Reirden would be a good fit.

“We all respect Todd,” Ovechkin said. “We all like him. Again, it’s not our thing to say who’s going to be head coach, but if it’s going to be Todd, it’s going to be fun.”


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A drawing of the moment Ovi lifted the Stanley Cup makes the moment joyful all over again

Daniel Duffy on Twitter/@RealArtOfWords

A drawing of the moment Ovi lifted the Stanley Cup makes the moment joyful all over again

How do you make a photo of Alex Ovechkin hoisting the Stanley Cup for the first time even more memorable?

You make it out of all the Capitals' game scores this year, of course.

Capitals fan and artist Daniel Duffy (@RealArtOfWords) posted a phenomenal finished piece commemorating the Cup win on Wednesday, June 20. It's a little meta and astounding to look at, but very fun to try and read. If you want to relive the glory that was the parts of the 2017-18 Capitals season, check out the piece.

The piece, which appears to be done in a traditional medium like pen or marker, holds the team faced, arena played at, and final score of every game. It uses six colors and over sixty lines of text. Ovechkin roars as he holds the Stanley Cup overhead, the white away jersey shaded with bits of grey text. It takes a skilled eye to sort text and colors into shapes and shading, but Daniel did a fantastic job! It's awesome to see a fanbase create different interpretations of iconic moments. We'll surely see more of Ovechkin in this moment.

Just as we thought we were going to get tired of the celebration, fans find new ways to surprise us. Stay creative, Caps fans!