NCAA

Falcons say 49ers' Kaepernick poses new challenge

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Falcons say 49ers' Kaepernick poses new challenge

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Michael Turner's trademark high-pitched laugh filled the Falcons' locker room.

Asked about San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Turner grinned Thursday and said ``I'm glad I'm not on defense.''

Turner, the big running back, and the Falcons' offense want to hold the ball and limit Kaepernick's time on the field in Sunday's NFC championship game.

The Falcons have seen enough in Kaepernick's eight starts to respect the versatile quarterback with the long stride and strong right arm.

Kaepernick comes to Atlanta after running for 181 yards - an NFL record for a quarterback - with two touchdowns in last week's win over Green Bay. Kaepernick also threw for 263 yards with two touchdowns. He became only the third quarterback, after Otto Graham and Jay Cutler, to run and throw for at least two touchdowns in a postseason game.

It's little wonder the Falcons are impressed, even after facing such other dual-threat quarterbacks as Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson this season.

Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon says the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Kaepernick is unique.

``I think he's just a different guy altogether,'' Weatherspoon said. ``He's a taller guy, obviously. He broke the record last week, so that makes him special and different. I think he has a lot more speed. Russell is more of a quick guy. Colin is a faster guy.''

Wilson and Griffin are scramblers. Kaepernick looks more like a 200-meter sprinter with his unusually long stride.

``That's the thing,'' Weatherspoon said. ``You look at him and you think long striders are not fast, but then you look and he's covering a lot of ground and passing a lot of people. You can tell he can run. Speed won't be a surprise to us. We've watched the tape. We'll be ready to go.''

The 49ers don't have to be told they'll bring an unusually gifted quarterback to the Georgia Dome. In only half of a season, Kaepernick has given the San Francisco offense a facelift.

``He's super-fast, athletic and he can throw the ball,'' said 49ers running back LaMichael James. ``Once he breaks the pocket he's always looking downfield. He's looking to throw the ball more than run the ball. But once he takes off, he's faster than a lot of running backs and linebackers. He's an incredible athlete.''

Kaepernick has avoided the big hits that have made it difficult for such other running quarterbacks as Griffin and Michael Vick to avoid injuries.

He said his strategy is ``Run where they're not.''

``You want to run away from where the defensive players are,'' Kaepernick said. ``When they get close, get down.''

The Falcons' defense has reason to worry about the matchup. Atlanta survived its 30-28 divisional playoff win over Seattle last week despite Wilson's fourth-quarter dominance. The Falcons led 27-7 at the start of the quarter but trailed 28-27 before winning on Matt Bryant's late 49-yard field goal.

Wilson passed for 385 yards with two touchdowns and led Seattle with 60 yards rushing and a touchdown.

Falcons coach Mike Smith said he is preparing for the 49ers' ``traditional offense that we're used to seeing'' as well as the pistol formation with read-option plays that Kaepernick ran in college at Nevada.

``We're going to have to be prepared to stop him,'' Smith said. ``We're going to see things we haven't seen in terms of what they'll do with their formations.''

Wilson found open room when he took off on long runs after first looking to pass. Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud said Kaepernick shows more determination to run.

``With Kaepernick, I think once he tucks the ball he's looking to run,'' DeCoud said. ``There will be a few rare instances where he has his eyes looking downfield. More times than not, if he's dropping back and tucks the ball, he's taking off to run where Russell, he had his head up looking downfield and wasn't really looking to cross the line of scrimmage. He was just trying to buy time for his guys to get open.''

Kaepernick's big game last week earned him the promise of more attention from the Falcons defense.

``We definitely have to have somebody accounting for him,'' DeCoud said, adding defensive backs have to be ready to leave their assignments to help contain Kaepernick's runs.

``Last week we kind of bought into plastering the receivers if (Wilson) broke containment because of the fact he likes to find the open receivers,'' DeCoud said. ``This week, we'll have to be cognizant of maybe coming off coverage if he crosses the line of scrimmage to thwart him making a big play on us.''

Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson said the one obstacle Kaepernick can't dodge with his speed is inexperience. Sunday's game will be Kaepernick's first playoff game on the road.

``You've got to get in his mind and change the looks up on him,'' Peterson said. ``He's a great quarterback, doing a lot of good things for his team, but the common denominator is that he's still a young quarterback.

``He can't run from that.''

NOTES: Smith said CB Christopher Owens (hamstring), who hasn't played since Dec. 22, ``looked well-rested and recovered from his injury'' in practice. ... DT Jonathan Babineaux (shoulder) and DE John Abraham (left ankle) had limited participation in practice for the second straight day.

No. 7 Maryland takes down Northwestern for 9th straight win

No. 7 Maryland takes down Northwestern for 9th straight win

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) -- Jalen Smith had 22 points and a career-high 19 rebounds for his ninth consecutive double-double, and No. 7 Maryland extended its winning streak to nine games by defeating Northwestern 76-67 Tuesday night.

Smith achieved his 17th double-double of the season by halftime. In two games against Northwestern this season, the 6-foot-10 sophomore has 47 points and 30 rebounds.

Anthony Cowan Jr. scored 19 for the Terrapins (22-4, 12-3 Big Ten), who never trailed in improving their record at home to 15-0. The victory, combined with Penn State's loss to Illinois, left first-place Maryland with a two-game lead with five games to go.

Ryan Young scored 17 and Boo Buie added 15 for the Wildcats (6-19, 1-14) in their 10th successive defeat.

Down by 12 at halftime, Northwestern trailed only 50-46 with 10:45 left. It was 63-57 before a dunk by Smith, two free throws by Cowan and layup by Aaron Wiggins put the Terps up 69-57 with 3:23 remaining.

When the teams met at Northwestern a month ago, the Terrapins rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to win 77-66. This time, Maryland took charge at the outset.

Smith had 10 points and six rebounds in the opening seven minutes to stake the Terps to a 17-6 lead. After the Wildcats closed to 25-22, Darryl Morsell, Wiggins and Eric Ayala hit successive 3s and Cowan added a free throw for a 13-point cushion.

A late dunk by Smith made it 37-25 at halftime.

MOVING ON UP

Cowan passed Tom McMillen to move into eighth place on Maryland's career scoring list. Cowan, a senior guard, has 1,809 points and is 49 short of catching Lonny Baxter for seventh. The school record is 2,269 by Juan Dixon.

BIG PICTURE

Northwestern: The Wildcats can take solace in making a game of it on the road against a Top 10 team. But what Northwestern could use instead of a moral victory is a real one, a feat the Wildcats haven't accomplished since Jan. 11 against Nebraska.

Maryland: One week after squeezing past lowly Nebraska at home, the Terrapins left nothing to chance against an overmatched opponent. It wasn't a blowout, but the outcome was never really in doubt. Maryland now stands two wins away from a perfect season at home.

UP NEXT

Northwestern hosts Minnesota on Sunday, the rematch of a game the Wildcats lost 77-68 on Jan. 5.

Maryland faces No. 25 Ohio State on Sunday to begin a stretch in which the Terrapins play three of four on the road.

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If Georgetown wants to make the NCAA Tournament, they must beat Providence

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If Georgetown wants to make the NCAA Tournament, they must beat Providence

An improbable upset over No. 19 Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse suddenly vaulted the Georgetown Hoyas into the NCAA Tournament conversation over the weekend. 

They pulled out the victory with only seven scholarship players, missing their top two scorers on the season. But no matter how they accomplished the feat, they win drew attention across the country. Any team in the Big East conference that just pulled out a road victory against the ranked Butler Bulldogs has to have postseason aspirations, right? 

There was a surprising revelation when evaluating the Hoyas: The don't have that bad of a tournament resume. 

Yes, at 15-10 (5-7 Big East) the Hoyas can be considered a bubble team. They're ranked 46th in the NET, 47th in KenPom, 60th in BPI and are the last team in Joe Lunardi's bracketology projection as of this writing. Their surprising win over Butler, along with an atrocious bubble this season, has helped them get there.

Now is when the season gets important for the Hoyas, though. One loss to a subpar team could derail that. On Wednesday they host Providence for their second matchup of the season. If they lose, the Hoyas can kiss an at-large bid goodbye. 

Georgetown's resume is contingent on them avoiding bad losses. Their worst loss on the season was to a solid UNC Greensboro team. Every other one is qualified as a Quadrant 1 loss according to the NET. They are 10-1 in non-Q1 situations. 

Bad losses are abound in college basketball this season, even from the top teams. Those losses have Virginia, VCU and Alabama stuck on the bubble. Somehow, the scrappy Hoyas have kept them off their resume. 

Losing to Providence would be a bad loss for the Hoyas. It would be their worst loss to date, according to the NET. Providence is, in fact, one of those teams with a handful of poor losses (9-4 vs. sub-Q1 opponents). And while Providence is also in consideration for the NCAA Tournament, it would crush the Hoyas' outlook since they don't have the Q1 wins to offset a loss like that. 

Beating the Friars at home will not likely be enough for the Hoyas to make the tournament. They'll have to also beat Xavier, DePaul and likely find some magic in one of their other three games. 

The Hoyas can get there, but their quest for the NCAA Tournament starts by beating Providence. 

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