Capitals

Liberty Bowl offers different kind of rematch

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Liberty Bowl offers different kind of rematch

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Iowa State and Tulsa don't necessarily think of the Liberty Bowl as a rematch, even though they faced each other Sept. 1 in the season opener for both teams.

So much has changed since Iowa State's 38-23 victory over Tulsa that both teams feel as though they'll be facing an entirely new opponent Monday in a game sponsored by AutoZone.

``Obviously they look like a completely different team, as do we,'' Tulsa defensive end Cory Dorris said.

Tulsa (10-3) seeks its second 11-win season in school history. Iowa State (6-6) is aiming for its second winning season in the last seven years.

Iowa State's depth chart reveals how much has changed since these teams last met.

Steele Jantz threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third score in the regular-season victory over Tulsa. He has since been replaced by Sam Richardson.

Shontrelle Johnson, who rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown against Tulsa in September, will sit out the Liberty Bowl with a knee injury. Iowa State linebacker Jake Knott, who had 11 tackles in the Sept. 1 matchup, missed the Cyclones' last four regular-season games with a shoulder injury and also won't play Monday.

``It isn't the same team we had in Week One,'' Iowa State running back James White said.

White, who has rushed for 469 yards on 89 carries this season, replaces Johnson as the Cyclones' main running back. He will be joined in the backfield by Richardson, who threw seven touchdown passes without an interception and rushed for 162 yards in Iowa State's final two regular-season games.

Richardson faces a Tulsa defense that has recorded 48 sacks and 104 tackles for loss to set school records in each category. Tulsa ranks third in the nation in sacks per game and fourth in tackles for loss per game.

Tulsa recorded four sacks in its loss to Iowa State, which yielded only 10 more sacks the rest of the regular season.

``The matchup with our offensive tackles and their defensive ends will be one of the pivotal matchups in determining the outcome of the game,'' Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said.

Tulsa believes it has come a long way since Sept. 1, when it squandered a 16-7 lead over Iowa State.

``It was our first game,'' said Tulsa linebacker DeAundre Brown, one of eight seniors on the Golden Hurricane's first-team defense. ``We had to get our bumps and bruises over with. After that, we just became a better team and corrected our mistakes.''

They also became a more run-oriented team. In their loss to Iowa State, the Golden Hurricane attempted 49 passes and 34 rushes. Tulsa has run the ball nearly 60 percent of the time in 12 games since.

Tulsa's versatile ground attack includes three 700-yard rushers: Trey Watts (161 carries, 959 yards), Ja'Terian Douglas (129 carries, 857 yards) and Alex Singleton (187 carries, 765 yards). Singleton also has run for 21 touchdowns.

They work alongside 6-foot-4, 247-pound quarterback Cody Green, whose size makes him tough to tackle. Green, a Nebraska transfer, went 23 of 49 for 198 yards with two touchdown passes and a pair of interceptions in Tulsa's earlier loss to Iowa State.

``Offensively, we know a little more who we are,'' Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said. ``We had a new quarterback, three new offensive linemen. On offense (in September), we weren't sure if we could run block or not. We weren't sure if we could protect. We weren't real sure what our personality was going to be like with a new quarterback. We've evolved a little more to a run-first team than we were in the first game.''

Tulsa's defense got a boost from the addition of linebacker Shawn Jackson, a three-year starter who didn't play against Iowa State in September while serving a three-game suspension.

All these changes have given this familiar matchup a new dimension.

``It still kind of feels like a rematch because watching them on film brings back memories of the game and the tendencies of the guys we were playing against, but it's also two different teams from the beginning of the season to the end of the season,'' Iowa State offensive tackle Carter Bykowski said.

Tulsa should be accustomed to rematches. The Golden Hurricane edged UCF 23-21 on Nov. 17 and beat the Knights again 33-27 in overtime in the Conference USA championship game two weeks later.

The difference here is that so much time has passed since Tulsa last faced Iowa State.

``The identities of the teams are the same, (but) the personnel has changed,'' Iowa State linebacker A.J. Klein said. ``We have two teams here who are hard-nosed teams who love to play gritty football. It's going to be a battle. It's going to be a four-quarter battle just like it was the last game.''

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Who are the Caps' award winners this season?

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USA TODAY Sports

Who are the Caps' award winners this season?

There won't be any suspense for the Capitals on Wednesday night during the NHL Awards show (8 p.m., NBCSN). Alex Ovechkin will receive the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top goal scorer, but no other Caps are up for any other hardware.

Instead, let's give out some of our own.

If the NHL awards were reserved just for the Capitals, here's who would be getting each trophy for the 2017-18 season:

Calder Memorial Trophy (best rookie): Jakub Vrana

The Caps had nine players play for the team this season who qualified as rookies according to the NHL: Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek, Nathan Walker, Shane Gersich, Travis Boyd and Liam O'Brien. Each of the first four were certainly worthy of consideration.

Vrana gets the nod with his 13 goals and 27 points. His game did suffer some inconsistencies throughout the season, but each rookie experienced that as well. Djoos and Bowey played major roles for the Caps this season as both were called upon to be regular blue liners, but they were largely protected by how they were utilized by Barry Trotz.

The deciding factor for me was this: Who was a better fit this season, Vrana when he played in the top six or Djoos when he played in the top four? The answer for me was Vrana.

Lady Byng  Memorial Trophy (sportsmanship combined with high standard of play): Chandler Stephenson

Stephenson recorded 18 points and proved to be a valuable member of the bottom six, but what really stood out was how clean his game was.

Here's a look at the players with the fewest PIM for the Caps this season: Jerabek (0 PIM), Gersich (0), Boyd (2), Tyler Graovac (2), Walker (4), Anthony Peluso (4), O'Brien (5), Stephenson (8), Taylor Chorney (8), Aaron Ness (8).

Excluding Stephenson, Chorney played the most with 24 games. Everyone else played in 11 games or fewer. Stephenson played in 67.

Bill Masteron Memorial Trophy (perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey): Devante Smith-Pelly

This award is unique in that every team gets a nominee as voted on by each local chapter of the Pro Hockey Writer's Association (of which I am a member). All 31 candidates are then voted on by the PHWA at large. I will go with the Capitals' nominee from this season, Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly was bought out of his contract last season by the New Jersey Devils and came to the Caps on a two-way contract. He filled a key role for the Caps on the bottom-six all season despite a shaky training camp and played in 75 games with 16 points.

When faced with racial taunts from fans in Chicago, Smith-Pelly reacted with class and grace in the wake of the incident. The way he handled the situation allowed for a negative to turn into a positive as Chicago fans raised and donated $23,000 to Fort Dupont.

Frank J. Selke Trophy (best defensive forward): Jay Beagle

No Caps forward had a lower percentage of offensive zone starts than Beagle. His 58.5-percent faceoff win percentage was among the league's best. He also blocked 44 shots per game over the course of the season, sixth among the team's forwards, but he had less ice time than all but one of the five forwards ahead of him.

James Norris Memorial Trophy (best defenseman): John Carlson

This one's a slam dunk. Before Michal Kempny was brought on, defensive depth was the obvious weakness of the Caps even before an injury forced Matt Niskanen out of the lineup for 14 games. Carlson was called upon to play nearly 30 minutes a night and he proved himself capable of playing strong, hard minutes on both ends of the ice.

Carlson's 68 points led all defensemen in the league. In a contract year, he earned himself a lot of money with how he played this season.

Vezina Trophy (best goalie): Philipp Grubauer

This one was tough, but considering this is a regular season award, the nod has to go to Grubauer.

Yes, Braden Holtby played in 54 games, 19 more than Grubauer, and he earned 34 wins, 19 more than Grubauer managed. But Grubauer's superiority when it comes to the stats is undeniable.

Holtby: 54 GP, 34-16-4, .907 save percentage, 2.99 GAA, 0 shutouts
Grubauer: 35 GP, 15-10-3, .923 save percentage, 2.35 GAA, 3 shutouts

From Nov. 1 through the rest of the regular season, no goalie who appeared in at least 20 games had a better GAA than Grubauer and only two netminders recorded a better save percentage.

Grubauer stepped in to stabilize the Caps in net when Holtby was in the midst of the worst slump of his career and he helped Washington win the Metropolitan Division with a strong finish to the season, especially in a brilliant performance in Pittsburgh.

There is no doubt Holtby remains the Caps' No. 1 given what he did in the postseason and revisionist history will have many questioning why Grubauer started for the Caps at the beginning of the postseason. If you followed the team all year, however, there was no question who the stronger netminder was at the end of the regular season.

Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP): Alex Ovechkin

Who else?

Carlson comes in at a close second because of what he was tasked to do on defense, but Ovechkin was the MVP for this team.

Not only did he lead the team in points with 87, the Great 8 once again found the fountain of youth scoring 49 goals to lead the NHL after tallying just 33 the season before. His 49 goals accounted for over 19-percent of the Caps' goals this season. Had Ovechkin scored the same number of goals as he did last season, that would have knocked the Caps from 9th in goals all the way down to 15th. That's how important his resurgent offensive performance was to the team.

MORE CAPITALS COVERAGE:

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The curious case of Alex Smith and the NFL Top 100 list

The curious case of Alex Smith and the NFL Top 100 list

Every offseason the NFL Network polls a number of current players to determine the Top 100 stars in the league.

It's a fun discussion topic during an otherwise slow time in the football calendar, and while the rankings carry no official meaning, it would be silly to dismiss the process altogether. After all, these are players voting for their fellow players. 

Over the last few seasons, the Redskins have seen a various number of their players make the list. Trent Williams is a mainstay, Jordan Reed made an appearance, and while he was playing in Washington, QB Kirk Cousins made the list. 

For example, in 2017, Cousins ranked 70th on the NFL Top 100. That same season, while quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs, Smith came in at 81 on the list. 

Now Redskins QB, there is a bit of a mystery surrounding Smith.

The NFL has revealed numbers 100 to 11, and Smith hasn't made the list. Cousins, now a Viking, landed 94th, the first QB on the list.

Another 10 QBs have been named to the Top 100: Jimmy Garoppolo (90), Derek Carr (60), Philip Rivers (56), Case Keenum (51), Deshaun Watson (50), Jared Goff (38), Matt Stafford (31), Matt Ryan (29), Ben Roethlisberger (18) and Russell Wilson (11).

Smith had the best statistical season of his career in 2017, and he led the NFL in passer rating. He certainly belongs higher on the Top 100 than a number of the quarterbacks listed above, particularly young players without his track record of success like Keenum, Watson or Goff. 

But does Smith deserve a Top 10 ranking in the NFL?

For Smith to make the list, it will mean a Top 10 ranking. Consider too that Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Carson Wentz have not yet landed on the Top 100. All four of those players seem like locks for the Top 10, which will be revealed next Monday night on NFL Network. 

It might seem surprising for Smith to land in the Top 10 of the NFL Top 100, but it would make zero sense for him to be left off the list altogether. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

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