It's back to work for O'Brien, surging Penn State

It's back to work for O'Brien, surging Penn State

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Bill O'Brien allowed himself to relax a little for his first weekend without a football game in nearly two months - but only briefly.

So after taking his wife out for a nice dinner, it was back to the work - bright and early - the next day for Penn State's coach. Following a well-earned off week, the Nittany Lions want to keep the momentum of a four-game winning streak rolling into this weekend's tough trip to Iowa.

``Our team needs to understand that, that it's one thing to have a bye week,'' O'Brien said Tuesday. ``But it's a whole other thing to be playing a team like Iowa, and we've got to try to go out here and practice and be precise and practice hard with great effort every day.''

His players seemed to have heeded the message, even the younger Nittany Lions thrust into starting jobs who have never played such prominent roles before this season.

``We're not leaving any stuff on the field, and taking the approach of six one-game seasons,'' sophomore receiver Allen Robinson said.

Both Penn State and Iowa enter this weekend's tilt with identical records (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten). A win Saturday for Penn State, coupled with a victory by No. 7 Ohio State over Purdue, would set up a high-stakes showdown on Oct. 27 between the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes for first place in the Leaders Division.

But O'Brien has schooled his players well. While they appreciate the kind words, they're ignoring the feel-good narrative that has emerged from the four-game winning streak for a rebuilding program that been mired for months in scandal.

That storyline may disappear if Penn State can't snap its four-game losing streak to Iowa in Iowa City. The Nittany Lions haven't won there since a 31-7 victory in 1999.

``This is the meat of the schedule, a very tough schedule, starting with an excellent Iowa football team,'' O'Brien said. ``It's nice, we respect the recognition ... but it's much more important to focus on the opponent.''

If the first half of the season is any indication, the Nittany Lions won't have a problem getting motivated for Saturday. The NCAA took away any shot at the postseason because of sanctions related to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, so these players treat every game like it's a bowl game.

Senior leaders like standout linebacker Michael Mauti and fullback Michael Zordich have set the every-second-counts tone. But O'Brien has also received strong first-half performances from the sophomore Robinson (Big Ten-best seven receiving TDs); and redshirt freshman tight end Kyle Carter, the team's second-leading receiver with 23 catches for 279 yards and a score.

``What's impressed me is the poise, the ability to focus ... and the ability to understand the task at hand,'' O'Brien said. ``We've got a bunch of guys here who understand there are certain things you can't control.

``Let's do the things we can control and try to get better at those.''

Carter this week was named to the John Mackey Award midseason watch list, the only freshman to be named a candidate for the postseason award for the best collegiate tight end. They're two of a group of Nittany Lions who have nicknamed themselves the ``Supa Six,'' with the other members being cornerback Adrian Amos, left tackle Donovan Smith, tailback Bill Belton and defensive end Deion Barnes.

All six players have played big roles in O'Brien's considerable rebuilding program.

``That's what you work for,'' Amos said. ``It's our job to make an impact.''

O'Brien said neither he, nor his team, care about individual honors, though the coach didn't pass up an opportunity to lobby for his players, though. Mauti and fellow linebacker Gerald Hodges, along with defensive tackle Jordan Hill, were left off the midseason list of the Top 25 candidates for the Rotary Lombardi Award, given each postseason to the nation's top college lineman or linebacker.

Mauti, Hodges and Hill are the key cogs on one of the Big Ten's top defenses.

``But I do think that there's a certain amount of ridiculousness that a guy like Mike Mauti or Gerald Hodges or Jordan Hill, those three guys defensively aren't on,'' O'Brien said when asked about the omissions. ``I can't imagine that there (are) many linebackers or defensive linemen in the country better than those guys.''

O'Brien also singled out middle linebacker Glenn Carson for his first-half play. He said he didn't know how the awards process worked, but that he thought the lists should be released after the season instead of in the middle of the year.

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Wizards' second pre-draft workout to feature possible first-round pick, NCAA star

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Wizards' second pre-draft workout to feature possible first-round pick, NCAA star

The Wizards will have some recognizable names at their second pre-draft workout on Wednesday including potential first round pick Aaron Holiday of UCLA, NBC Sports Washington has learned.

Here is the list with some notes on each player...

Aaron Holiday, guard, UCLA (6-1, 185)

The brother of two NBA players (Jrue and Justin), Holiday played three years at UCLA and averaged 20.3 points, 5.8 assists and 1.3 steals as a junior. He also shot 42.9 percent from three on 6.2 attempts per game. He registered a 6-8 wingspan at the NBA Combine.

Potential fit with Wizards: possible first round pick, likely won't be there in second round; would solidify backup point guard position

Devonte' Graham, guard, Kansas (6-2, 175)

The Big 12 player of the year, Graham averaged 17.3 points and 7.2 assists as a senior. He posted a 6-6 wingspan at the combine. His uncle played for the Cincinnati Reds in the 1990s.

Potential fit with Wizards: second round pick; would provide backup point guard depth

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, forward, Kansas (6-8, 195)

A big-time three-point shooter, Mykhailiuk shot 44.4 percent from three on 6.6 attempts per game as a senior. He averaged 14.6 points and 3.9 rebounds.

Potential fit with Wizards: second round pick; could be a three-point threat off the bench

Moritz Wagner, center, Michigan (6-11, 241)

Originally from Germany, Wagner was a standout in the NCAA Tournament as the Wolverines went all the way to the final. He averaged 14.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.0 steals as a junior. He also shot 39.4 percent from three and measured at nearly 7-feet in shoes at the NBA Combine.

Potential fit with Wizards: second round pick; could develop into a capable stretch-five

Johnathan Williams, forward, Gonzaga (6-9, 225)

Williams began his career at Missouri before transferring. He averaged 13.4 points and 8.5 rebounds as a senior. 

Potential fit with Wizards: undrafted free agent; possible G-League forward

Zach Thomas, SF, Bucknell (6-7, 228)

Thomas was the Patriot League player of the year with averages of 20.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game as a senior. He shot 40 percent from three for his college career.

Potential fit with Wizards: undrafted free agent; possible G-League forward

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Caps push Lightning around in Game 6 with physical game plan

Caps push Lightning around in Game 6 with physical game plan

As the NHL continues to focus more on speed and skill, the Capitals took a very old-school approach to Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. From the moment the puck dropped until the clock hit zero, it was clear Washington came into Monday with a very physical game plan.

"It made a big difference," T.J. Oshie said. "I think in these games, everyone’s bringing energy and you kind of want to control that and direct it towards some positive play, some momentum building for your team, and tonight I think we handled that and did that pretty well."

"We just wanted to throw everything we had at them," Stephenson said. "It was a do or die game and we don't want our season to end."

It worked.

The scoresheet officially credited the Caps with 39 hits for the game. The Lightning had only 19. The physical play seemed to wear down Tampa Bay as the game went on.

After an even first period, Washington took a 1-0 lead in the second. Then, very fittingly, a physical fourth line extended that lead to 2-0 in the third to finish the Lightning off.

"All of a sudden now we turn a puck over, you’re back in your end, they’re feeling it, they’re being physical, crowd’s behind them and we’re spending way too much time in our D zone," Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said. "That’s what hurt us."

What made it so effective was the fact that the entire team bought into it. Alex Ovechkin was certainly the most noticeable player as he threw himself around like a wrecking ball against everyone wearing a white jersey. But it was not just his line. Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six hits, Devante Smith-Pelly recorded five of his own while Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both had four.

The Lightning faced a constant barrage from the Caps from every line and defensive pair. There was no respite.

The hits also gave the fans plenty to cheer for.

The Caps were playing an elimination game at home and Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was standing on his head. Even with the score locked at 0-0 through the first period, the crowd was still very much into the game. There was no apprehension, there was no quiet tension. There was just a loud crowd cheering on its team.

"[The fans] were loud right from the start, which I think we fed off of and wanted to give them something back," Brooks Orpik said. "We didn't get a goal early. I think some of the physical play kind of helped carry that. They were great for us."

Now in the third round of the playoffs after six intense games between the Caps and Lightning, the hope is that Game 6's physical play will continue to take its toll on Tampa Bay heading into Game 7.

"We need to do that every game," Nicklas Backstrom said. "That's our forecheck. Hopefully, we can keep it going here in Game 7."