Redskins

First-year coaches ready for Arizona state rivalry

First-year coaches ready for Arizona state rivalry

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and Arizona State's Todd Graham have had successful debuts in the desert, overcoming some adversity to get their teams bowl eligible.

All the success they've had so far sets them up for the most important goal of the season: beating each other.

The Territorial Cup takes on added significance Friday night at Arizona Stadium when the two first-year coaches try to establish a foothold in the heated rivalry.

``It's the biggest game of the year, every year,'' Graham said.

This year's matchup will feature new coaches on both sidelines for the sixth time in the series' 85-year history, and first since John Mackovic took over at Arizona and Dirk Koetter at Arizona State in 2001.

Those coaches had rough first seasons in the desert; the Wildcats won five games under Mackovic, the Sun Devils four as the teams finished eighth and ninth in the Pac-10.

Rodriguez and Graham have had better starts.

Coming off a disappointing stint at Michigan, Rodriguez took over an Arizona program that had plenty of offensive weapons, but not a lot of depth.

The combination led to some wild games for the Wildcats, who are among the most prolific offensive teams in the country - and need to be with the defense often giving up yards and points in bunches.

Arizona (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) opened the season with three victories, lost three straight to ranked opponents - two in shootouts - and has won four of five after beating Utah 34-24 last weekend.

``I enjoy coaching these guys,'' Rodriguez said. ``You never really know what you have until you start coaching them. We had a lot of concerns coming in and I still have those concerns. But I like the way that our players have responded.''

Graham has faced some adversity of his own.

Bolting Pittsburgh after one season to take over at Arizona State, Graham vowed to get the Sun Devils to play fast and add a level of discipline that had been missing in the program.

It worked early in the season, when Arizona State opened with five wins in six games. Starting with a 43-21 loss to then-No. 2 Oregon, the Sun Devils started bogging down on offense and lost four straight.

Arizona State (6-5, 4-4) finally broke through the bowl-eligibility barrier in its fifth try last weekend, sending its seniors off in style in their final home game with a 46-7 win over Washington State.

The Sun Devils have maintained their discipline for the most part all season and will need to dig down to keep their composure in what will be the most volatile road environment of the year.

``What I tell my players is, you are not going to remember what some person said to you hanging over the rail. You're not going to remember who had the best tweets or who talked the most trash. You are going to remember who won the game,'' Graham said. ``That is one of the things that is always a challenge when going on the road, especially in a rivalry game.''

Friday night's game will be a reunion of sorts for Rodriguez and Graham.

The two coaches crossed paths during the 1993 NAIA national championship game when East Central, with Graham as its defensive coordinator, beat Glenville State in its fourth season with Rodriguez as head coach.

The coaches crossed paths a few times on the recruiting trail after that when Graham was a high school coach, and when Rodriguez took over at West Virginia, he brought in Graham as an assistant.

Graham spent two seasons with Rodriguez, the second as co-defensive coordinator, before leaving in 2003 to become the defensive coordinator at Tulsa, where he later became head coach after a stint at Rice.

Once they became coaches at rival schools in Arizona, they remained cordial but haven't exactly been calling each other on the phone every week.

``I don't have a whole lot of interaction with a lot of people other than the people who I work with every day. It's just the way that the coaching profession is,'' Rodriguez said.

Friday night, they'll be on opposite sidelines as the two former co-workers try to get a head start in what will be the biggest game of the season every season they're in the desert.

Quick Links

Vernon Davis pulls off memorable proposal in Ocean City

vernondavis.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Vernon Davis pulls off memorable proposal in Ocean City

Vernon Davis has long been a fan favorite in the D.C. area since his University of Maryland days. The 34-year-old is almost always well-dressed and respectful to the media. 

More recently, he has been outspoken about his interest in acting after his football career. A true renaissance man who just so happens to be a force in the National Football League. 

In April, NBC Sports Washington ran into Davis at the Team USA Awards where he was serving as guest speaker. 

He took his smooth nature to a whole new level Tuesday while vacationing in Ocean City, Md. with his girlfriend Kayla. 

Dressed in all white on the beach, Davis proposed in an epic way. 

The best motivation I ever had. #shesmyrock

A post shared by Vernon Davis (@vernondavis85) on

Check out the whole video produced below. We won't spoil it for you, but there were skydivers involved. Take a look: 

Davis will suit up for his third season with the Redskins when training camp opens July 26 in Richmond. 

Quick Links

Stephen Strasburg returns to Nats lineup after DL stint

strasburg.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Stephen Strasburg returns to Nats lineup after DL stint

Friday night marks the first second-half game of Major League Baseball's 162-game season. 

The Washington Nationals begin 5.5 games out of the first-place Phillies and host the second-place Braves for a three-game series before traveling to Milwaukee. 

One big piece to Dave Martinez's staff who has been missing since June 8 is Stephen Strasburg. The right-hander was activated from the DL and will start on the mound Friday night. 

Ryan Zimmerman was also activated but is not in Martinez's starting lineup. 

Prior to experiencing inflammation in his right shoulder during a June 8 start that forced him out of the game early, Strasburg saw flashes of dominance throughout his 13 starts owning a 3.46 ERA with 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings. 

Zimmerman hasn't played since May 9 due to a strained right oblique. With the emergence of Matt Adams, it will be interesting to see how Martinez uses both guys throughout the summer. 

Here is a look at Friday night's official lineup: 

According to Byron Kerr, Zimmerman is still happy to be back, despite not being in the starting lineup. 

Catch the Nationals hosting the Braves Friday at 7:05 p.m. on MASN2.