Redskins

Ground game pivotal in Bulldogs, Gamecocks matchup

201210021349497909602-p2.jpeg

Ground game pivotal in Bulldogs, Gamecocks matchup

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier knows firsthand that freshmen running backs can make a huge impact.

He saw it two years ago with Gamecocks star Marcus Lattimore and hopes things don't repeat themselves Saturday with Georgia freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.

``As we all know, freshmen running backs can certainly play and can play well, just like Marcus came in here two years ago,'' Spurrier said. ``That's a position you don't have to have been there for two years and learn the offense and all that kind of stuff.''

All you have to do is run. Expect to see plenty of handoffs and pitches to the tailback when the fifth-ranked Bulldogs (5-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) take on the sixth-ranked Gamecocks (5-0, 3-0) at Williams-Brice Stadium.

South Carolina's Lattimore and Georgia's freshmen of Gurley and Marshall - who some fans have dubbed ``Gurshall'' - are all coming off big performances heading into the SEC Eastern Division showdown.

Lattimore ran for 120 yards and two touchdowns as South Carolina rallied past Kentucky, 38-17.

Gurley and Marshall combined for 294 yards and five TDs rushing in Georgia's 51-44 shootout against Tennessee. Gurley, the SEC's leading rusher, gained 130 yards against the Vols, his fourth 100-yard rushing game this season. Marshall rushed for 164 yards on 10 carries, including touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards.

``It's very fun, especially when the offense is rolling like it has been rolling,'' Marshall said. ``Everyone's been making plays and it's very exciting.''

Gurley and Marshall have shown the explosiveness of famed Georgia star and 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker. Lattimore's powerhouse play is similar to that of South Carolina's own Heisman Trophy winner, George Rogers, in 1980.

Spurrier, who's coached standouts like Fred Taylor and Errict Rhett at Florida, couldn't believe what he saw from Lattimore against Georgia two years ago.

In his first SEC game, Lattimore shredded Georgia's highly regarded defense for 182 yards and two touchdowns in a dominating 17-6 victory, a game that jumpstarted South Carolina's run to the SEC East crown.

Spurrier said Lattimore broke about 40 tackles in the game, a powerful showing that even surprised the Gamecocks staff. ``It was one of the most amazing days I've ever seen a running back have,'' Spurrier said.

Lattimore stung the Bulldogs again last year at Athens with 176 yards and a touchdown in a 45-42 South Carolina victory. He missed the final six games after tearing a knee ligament and has played strongly in his return.

Lattimore's importance to the offense was crystal clear last Saturday. He had just five carries for 12 yards as the Gamecocks trailed Kentucky 17-7 at halftime. Lattimore rushed 18 times for 108 yards in the second half to help South Carolina outscore the Wildcats 31-0 the final two quarters.

``If we win'' against Georgia, Spurrier said, ``he will have probably had another big day.''

Lattimore's rushed for 440 yards this season, third in the SEC behind Gurley and Tennessee's Rajion Neal. The junior understands he'll have to step up his game once again for South Carolina to gain its third straight win over Georgia.

``My body feels great right now and I'm only going to continue to get better as the season goes on,'' Lattimore said. ``I've just got to stay patient.''

South Carolina running backs coach Everette Sands said Lattimore and the Gameoccks other runners are aware of the big numbers Gurley and Marshall have put up. Sands thinks his backs are ready for the matchup after last week's slow start.

``We came back and our guys realized, `Hey, on any given Saturday, anybody can beat us,'' Sands said.

Gurley and Marshall are making Georgia pretty hard to beat this season. The two say they don't fight for playing time, eager to watch the other excel in the Bulldogs' undefeated start.

``Any time he scores I'm jumping up and down just ready for him to get to the sideline to give him words of encouragement,'' Gurley said of his freshman teammate.

They'll get their toughest test of the year against South Carolina. While Gurley and Marshall have combined for 964 yards and nine touchdowns this fall, the Gamecocks have given up just 388 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

The pair will be counted on even more this week since Georgia's leading receiver, Michael Bennett, tore a knee ligament in practice this week and is lost for the season.

Georgia receiver Tavarres King expects the two freshmen to embrace the challenge as they have all year.

``They are doing a phenomenal job, especially being as young as they are and not knowing what they are getting into,'' King said. ``They have handled it well.''

Quick Links

Redskins G Arie Kouandjio likely out for the seasons

kouandjio_2017_usat.png
USA Today Sports Images

Redskins G Arie Kouandjio likely out for the seasons

The news about Arie Kouandjio’s quad injury didn’t sound good when NBC Sports Washington broke it a couple of weeks ago. It didn’t sound any better when Jay Gruden said that they were seeking a second opinion. 

And now we have word that Kouandjio will be out for the season, per multiple media reports. While there was some initial hope that he might be able to play at some point this season, he is likely to be put on injured reserve soon. 

The corresponding move is expected to be the signing of guard Isaiah Williams, per JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington. He spent training camp with the Redskins in 2016 and 2017 before being released in the final cuts. Last year he also spent time with the Chiefs and the Colts but he has yet to appear in an NFL game. 

At worst, the Redskins have lost their starter at left guard. Kouandjio was set to compete with Shawn Lauvao for that job. Lauvao, who has been the starter at left guard going into the season for each of the last four years, would have been tough to unseat, but the 26-year-old Kouandjio may have had the inside track.

And at best, the Redskins lost experienced depth. Last year, when injuries hit hard along the offensive line, Kouandjio was re-signed and he started six games. It’s tough to lose experienced depth before the players even put pads on.

We will see if the Redskins make a move to shore up the guard position. Over the next couple of weeks, teams will be evaluating their veteran players and their rookies to see if they have younger and cheaper options. That could lead to some serviceable players getting released or some quality options being put on the trading block. 

The Redskins likely are set to get four compensatory draft picks in 2019, which would give them a total of 11 selections. They certainly could afford to deal one of those picks if they are offered a chance to upgrade at left guard. 

More 2018 Redskins

- 53-man roster: Player one-liners, offense
- Tandler’s Take: Best- and worst-case scenarios for 2018
- The draft: Redskins should get 4 additional picks in 2019 draft
- Schedule series: Gotta beat the Cowboys

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

Quick Links

Braden Holtby saved his best performance of the season for when the Caps needed it most

Braden Holtby saved his best performance of the season for when the Caps needed it most

Braden Holtby has been largely overshadowed in the headlines of the Eastern Conference Final by Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

After two games, Vasilevskiy was one of the bigger storylines for how poorly he played in giving up 10 goals in just five periods. The next three games after that, the storyline changed to how well he was suddenly playing and how he had helped the Lightning steal two wins in Washington and take a 3-2 series lead after Game 5.

Holtby was not mentioned much. His play was not the reason the Caps went up 2-0 or the reason they went down 3-2.

But if the Caps hoped to force a Game 7, they needed him to at least be a reason why they won Game 6.

Holtby responded in a big way. With his team facing elimination, Holtby registered his first shutout of both the regular season and the playoffs.

"It's a perfect time," Devante Smith-Pelly said after the game. "He's been great all year. Obviously an up-and-down year for him personally, but the way he's bounced back, he's been amazing all throughout the playoffs."

Holtby is now just the seventh goalie in NHL history to record his first shutout of the season in a game in which his team faced elimination.

Holtby, however, was not concerned with the stats or the shutout.

"The only reason it’s good is we won," Holtby said of his shutout performance. "Aside from that, it’s just good for [the media], I guess you can write about it. But for us it’s just that W."

Vasilevskiy made a number of jaw-dropping saves, especially in the first period, but Holtby matched him save for save as both teams battled for the first goal. With the score knotted at zero, Holtby made a toe save on Anthony Cirelli on a 2-on-1 opportunity to keep the Lightning off the board. He really upped his game in the third period as Tampa Bay made a late push to tie it. He turned aside 10 shots that frame including a nifty snag on Nikita Kucherov and a glorious glove save on Ondrej Palat.

Holtby's performance ensured the Caps would live to fight another day...for now.

As the series shifts back to Tampa Bay, Washington will again be facing elimination. This time, however, so will their opponents.

Anything can happen in a Game 7. In a winner-take-all game, it may come down to who has the better goalie on Wednesday and Holtby seems to be picking a good time to up his game.

"Braden has been the backbone of our hockey club," Barry Trotz said. "You can’t go anywhere without goaltending and he’s been solid. ... Braden is a true pro, he works on his game, he finds ways to make a difference and he does."

MORE CAPITALS STORIES: