Nationals

Ga. Tech fires defensive coordinator Al Groh

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Ga. Tech fires defensive coordinator Al Groh

ATLANTA (AP) Georgia Tech fired defensive coordinator Al Groh on Monday, hoping a change will save what has been a hugely disappointing season.

Coach Paul Johnson announced the move two days after the Yellow Jackets (2-4, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) lost 47-31 to No. 16 Clemson, their third straight defeat - all of them while surrendering more than 40 points, the first time that's happened in school history. The stretch included an embarrassing 49-28 home loss to Middle Tennessee.

Johnson has never fired an assistant during the season, but felt he had to do something to show he was committed to turning things around. The Yellow Jackets are off this week, giving them extra time to adjust to the jarring change.

``To me, it was inevitable,'' Johnson said. ``I didn't want to give up on the rest of the season. I still think we can come back and have a good season. That's why I did it now.''

The Yellow Jackets have one of the nation's worst-ranked defenses - 89th in points allowed (30.2), 90th in total defense (431 yards per game) and 103rd in third-down efficiency. That latter figure might be most troubling to Johnson, whose team has allowed opponents to convert nearly 48 percent in those situations and was especially poor against Clemson. The Tigers were 13 of 19 on third down, keeping Georgia Tech's potent offense on the sideline.

The defense has been especially leaky in the second half, squandering a 17-point lead to Miami and allowing Virginia Tech to kick a tying field goal after going ahead of the Hokies with less than a minute remaining. Both times, the Yellow Jackets lost in overtime.

Groh, a former head coach at Virginia and for one season with the NFL's New York Jets, was in his third year running Georgia Tech's defense. He issued a statement through Georgia Tech saying he understood the decision. The 68-year-old Groh also thanked the players and his assistants for their hard work.

``The institute has decided to go in a different direction, which I respect,'' Groh said. ``I aimed to give the best that I had every day. It's been an honor to be a part of the legacy of Georgia Tech football. I feel positive that this is a good time in life to move on to a new situation.''

The time to move on has been building for a while.

Johnson's discontent with Groh actually goes back to last season, when the Yellow Jackets lost five of their last seven games, capped by a 30-27 overtime loss to Utah in the Sun Bowl. The Utes scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to tie the game, then won in overtime.

This year, more of the same.

``I was hopeful as we started, this being the third year. I was hopeful we would see some improvement,'' Johnson said. ``I was encouraged at the first of year, but it became apparent that was short-lived. The last three games was a carry-over of the last six games a year ago.''

Secondary coach Charles Kelly will take over as interim coordinator, and Johnson shook up the rest of the defensive staff. Specials teams coordinator David Walkosky will oversee the line, Andy McCollum shifts from the line to inside linebackers, and Joe Speed moves from inside to outside linebackers.

Their orders are clear.

``My big goal is to simplify and see if we can't get lined up and play faster, play harder,'' Johnson said. ``I don't think you've got to trick people. You've got to line up and know what you're doing and play fast.''

Groh installed the 3-4 when he got to Georgia Tech, but it was clear the players never fully picked up the scheme. Also, there was a difference in philosophy with Johnson, who felt Groh didn't do enough full-speed work in practice.

``To me, defense is energy and playing fast and playing with enthusiasm,'' Johnson said. ``It's hard to get that if you don't go live (full-speed drills) some of the time.''

While Johnson's focus has been on running the option offense, he believes the Yellow Jackets have plenty of talent on the defensive side.

``I'm not sold that we don't have good players,'' he said. ``I'm very confident in our players' ability. We'll see.''

Johnson praised Groh's defensive knowledge, but said he was never able to pass it on to his players.

``Al is very smart man. He understands what's inside his head,'' Johnson said. ``The problem is we weren't seeing it on the field. For whatever reason, it wasn't transcending.''

That left the head coach with only one option - make a change.

``It's really disappointing and frustrating,'' Johnson said. ``You never want to do it. But, to me, that's part of being a leader. Sometimes you have to do hard things. I still have a great deal of respect for Al. In my mind, he's had a very good career. Maybe he will still coach. I don't know what the future holds. It just wasn't working here.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Juan Soto's 2-run double carries Nationals past Orioles

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USA TODAY Sports

Juan Soto's 2-run double carries Nationals past Orioles

WASHINGTON -- A teenager among men, Juan Soto has impressed his teammates on the Washington Nationals with his maturity and, even more so, his potent bat.

Soto hit a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning, and Washington beat the Baltimore Orioles 4-2 Thursday night in the deciding matchup of a three-game interleague series between neighboring rivals.

Soto, a 19-year-old rookie, is batting .326 with 16 RBIs in 28 games. Starting in the cleanup spot for the first time, he drew a walk and delivered the game's pivotal hit.

"I think we're all amazed every single day," Washington ace Max Scherzer said. "He puts together great ABs. He has antics and has some flair. He's a great young player. He's just enjoying himself."

Bryce Harper led off the eighth with a double off Mychal Givens (0-4) and Trea Turner followed with a single. After Anthony Rendon struck out, Soto hit a liner into the gap in left-center.

"He's got unbelievable poise," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said of Soto. "No matter what the situation is, he goes out there with a game plan."

Whatever that plan is, it's effective.

"I just try to be focused and keep working," Soto said.

Rendon homered for the Nationals, who received seven strong innings from Scherzer and flawless work from their bullpen.

Newcomer Kelvin Herrera (1-0) pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and Sean Doolittle got three straight outs for his 20th save in 21 tries.

Seeking to end a rare run of two straight losses, Scherzer left a tied game after allowing two runs -- both on solo homers -- and striking out nine.

Afterward, the right-hander heaped praise upon Soto for the manner in which he's adapted to playing in the big leagues.

"He has a great feel for the strike zone," Scherzer said. "To have that type of eye, it's remarkable for him to be able to do that at this time and this age and this level."

Activated from the 60-day disabled list before the game, Colby Rasmus homered for the Orioles in his first at-bat since April 6.

"Me and Max, we go way back, so I felt real good," said Rasmus, who had been sidelined with a hip injury.

In addition, Rasmus made an outstanding throw from right field to the plate, nailing Wilmer Difo on a tag-up play in the seventh inning with the score tied.

Mark Trumbo also homered for Baltimore, his sixth of the season and third in four games.

Baltimore starter Kevin Gausman gave up two runs and four hits over six innings. The right-hander was lifted with the score tied, leaving him winless in his last seven starts.

MORE NATS COVERAGE: 

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How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

While meeting with Oregon's Troy Brown during the pre-draft interview process, evaluators from the Washington Wizards issued him an on-the-spot challenge. Head coach Scott Brooks pulled out a dry-erase clipboard and a pen. He wanted to see Brown draw up a play.

This is a test Brooks has administered before to other players. Some have failed miserably.

"It sounds easy to throw a board at somebody in front of a big group and say 'okay draw a play' and I have seen many plays drawn, and I have seen it where there are not five players on the floor," Brooks said.

That wasn't the case with Brown. He didn't just draw up one play, he drew up several. One in particular came to mind when asked by reporters on Thursday night soon after the Wizards took him 15th overall in the first round of the NBA Draft.

“I think it was a situation where we were down by two or something like that," he said. "It was like a back screen into a slip, and then the fade three and they gave you a lot of various options to cause mismatches on the court for a last minute shot to either go ahead, or even attack the basket for a layup to go into overtime.”

NBC Sports Washington analyst Cory Alexander, a veteran of seven NBA seasons, demonstrated what Brown's play looked like on a whiteboard:

The Xs and Os of basketball flow effortlessly for Brown and Wizards' brass couldn't help but be impressed.

"He really understands the game. I think for a kid that is 18 years old, that is rare but he just has a good feel," Brooks said. 

"We were impressed with his character and the type of person he is and his basketball knowledge," team president Ernie Grunfeld said. "Obviously, like any young player, he has a lot of work to do but he has a lot of the intangibles that I think you need in today's game."

Smarts are a big part of what makes Brown a good basketball player. He isn't a particularly explosive athlete, with a modest 33-inch max vertical leap, but he boasts a 6-foot-10 wingspan and solid agility. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to operate an offense helps him make the most of his natural abilities.

Passing is where his basketball IQ comes in handy. Brown is unusually good at distributing for a 6-foot-7 small forward. He averaged 3.2 assists as a freshman at Oregon and nine times had five assists or more in a game.

He can pass like a point guard and the Wizards are excited to implement that skill into their offense.

"Passing is contagious. We’ve been pretty good the last two years and with talking about that how we even want to take another step," Brooks said. "He has the ability to make a lot of quick plays and his ball handling is pretty good for a guy his size. That is one thing I was impressed in his workout last week or when we had him. He is able to take the contact and use his strong frame to get inside the key and make plays.”

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