Nationals

Frogs, Spartans looking to build momentum for '13

Frogs, Spartans looking to build momentum for '13

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) All those years TCU was winning conference championships and busting the BCS, the Horned Frogs' accomplishments were always couched with this caveat: Look at who they played against.

All it took was one middle-of-the-pack season in the Big 12 to change perceptions.

``The interesting thing is perception-wise, as far as the media and the fan base, I think we gained more respect being 7-5, than we did 11-2 last year,'' TCU coach Gary Patterson said. ``In people's minds, they didn't know whether we could compete ... on a week-to-week basis. I think our kids showed us we can do that.''

TCU's next chance to prove something will be against Michigan State on Saturday night in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.

It figures to be as tough a task as anything the Horned Frogs (7-5) faced in the Big 12, at least from a defensive standpoint.

Instead of the quick-and-athletic defenses TCU faced in its first season in the Big 12, the Spartans (6-6) are big, physical and love to knock opponents around.

Michigan State finished the regular season with the nation's fourth-best defense, giving up 273.25 yards per game, and was 10th in scoring, allowing 16.33 points.

The Spartans' defense allowed them to keep every game but one - a 20-3 loss to Notre Dame on Sept. 15 - close, with five of their loses coming by a combined 13 points.

``Their D-line and linebackers are one of the best in the nation against the rush and they're a very aggressive defense,'' TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin said.

Boykin will be the key to TCU finding holes in it.

The redshirt freshman was thrust into the starting role against Iowa State in the fifth game of the season after Casey Pachall was arrested on driving while intoxicated charges and later left the team to enter an inpatient rehabilitation facility.

A dual-threat quarterback, Boykin had a less-than-stellar start, throwing an interception on his first pass and two more in the fourth quarter of the 37-23 loss to the Cyclones. He bounced back quickly, though, throwing for four touchdowns and running for another score while not turning it over once in a 49-21 win over Baylor.

Boykin completed 58 percent of his passes for 1,853 yards and 15 touchdowns with nine interceptions on the season.

``Their quarterback creates,'' Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. ``They have a plan, they have a function, but he's going to create some plays.''

The Spartans will need someone to create against TCU's defense.

Like Michigan State, the Horned Frogs have one of the nation's best defenses, finishing 18th in total defense at 332 yards per game while playing against the explosive offenses of the Big 12.

TCU has been particularly good against the run, allowing 103.92 yards per game, which should pit strength vs. strength Saturday night against Michigan State.

The Spartans, fitting the power-running Big Ten Conference, are led by powerfully-built running back Le'Veon Bell, who finished third nationally with 147.3 yards per game and had 1,648 yards, second-most in Michigan State history.

If the Horned Frogs do manage to slow down Bell, it'll be up to Andrew Maxwell to move the ball against them.

The junior had an up and down first season after taking over for Kirk Cousins, completing 52 percent of his passes for 2,578 yards and 13 touchdowns with nine interceptions.

``Certainly, there's some frustrations when the offense isn't producing how we think we can, how we know we can,'' Maxwell said. ``But I wouldn't say my confidence was shaken; I don't think our confidence as a team was shaken. It was a matter of playing through those rough spots, riding them out.''

The Spartans and Horned Frogs both had to get through some of those rough spots to get here.

After moving from the Mountain West, TCU got off to a good start, winning its first four games before the letdown against Iowa State. The Horned Frogs followed with the impressive win over Baylor, but lost four of six to close out the season, including 24-17 to Oklahoma in the season finale on Dec. 1.

Michigan State opened the season 4-2, but faded down the stretch as its offense struggled to score points, also losing four its six final games. The Spartans at least ended on a good note, beating Minnesota 26-10 thanks to Bell's 266 yards rushing.

The bowl game is chance for both teams to end the season with some momentum into spring and perhaps into next year.

The Horned Frogs are one of the youngest teams in the country after playing 16 true freshmen - matching Texas for most in the nation - and only have 11 scholarship seniors. Boykin should be better with most of a season under his belt, as should the young players who were thrust into bigger roles with all the injuries TCU suffered this season.

Michigan State should be better next year, too.

Like Boykin, Maxwell may benefit from a year of experience and the Spartans could get a huge boost if Bell and disruptive defensive end Willam Gholston decide to return for their senior seasons.

``We always felt like winning is the most important thing about going to a bowl game, carrying forward the enthusiasm you have coming out of it what you have to do - and how you have to do it - going into next season,'' Patterson said.

That's the same way the Spartans are looking at it.

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Max Scherzer leaves start against Mets after one inning

Max Scherzer leaves start against Mets after one inning

WASHINGTON -- Something didn't look right from the start Wednesday night when Max Scherzer took the mound.

He walked Mets leadoff hitter Brandon Nimmo on five pitches. Seven of his first eight pitches were balls. All told, he needed 27 pitches -- just 14 were strikes -- to make it through the first inning against the Mets.

His velocity was also down in the 92-94-mph range.

After the inning was over, Erick Fedde began to throw in the Nationals bullpen. Scherzer stood in the dugout with his hands on hips and talking to athletic trainers. Fedde came in to start the top of the second.

Scherzer made 27 starts last season, five fewer than normal, because of neck and back problems which put him on the injured list. He said at spring training he thought he figured out the reason for the problems.

RELATED: SOTO BACK IN NATS LINEUP

Injuries have been pervasive this season since Major League Baseball resumed July 23. That includes fellow Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg, who has missed his first two starts of the season while dealing with a nerve issue in his right hand. Strasburg threw a simulated game on Wednesday.

Scherzer was 0-1 with a 2.84 ERA in two starts in 2020 coming into the game.

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Lars Eller departs the bubble for birth of his second child

Lars Eller departs the bubble for birth of his second child

Capitals forward Lars Eller has left the NHL bubble in Toronto to be with his family for the birth of his second child, the team announced Wednesday. Eller had made it known he intended to do so before even arriving in Toronto so the news of his departure is no surprise.

Eller is actually not the first player to voluntarily leave the bubble for the birth of a child. That honor goes to Ivan Barbashev of the St. Louis Blues who departed on Tuesday.

Eller’s departure means he will miss Thursday’s game, Travis Boyd is expected to step into Eller’s position at third line center. Boyd has largely been an extra for much of the season in Washington and played in only 24 games, but still managed 10 points. Boyd also has experience playing the third-line center role in the playoffs as he did it in 2018 during the team’s Cup run. An injury to Nicklas Backstrom pushed Eller into the second line, which allowed Boyd to get into the lineup.

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Eller’s return will be complicated. It is not just a matter of rejoining the team, but also being able to re-enter the NHL’s bubble which will mean a period of quarantine and testing. That means that even upon returning to Toronto, he will not be available to join the team right away. Eller will almost certainly miss the team’s final round robin game as well against the Boston Bruins on Sunday.

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