LSU, South Carolina, still eying titles


LSU, South Carolina, still eying titles

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) Sam Montgomery's philosophical musings have led him to the conclusion that LSU has regained a certain focus, intensity and chemistry that had been lacking in recent weeks.

The proof came in the Tigers' 23-21 triumph Saturday night over a previously undefeated South Carolina team that came in ranked No. 3, a result which vaulted LSU back up the rankings from ninth to sixth.

``At the beginning of the season, it was about the national championship. But at the end of the day, it's all about family. I think we got back to that,'' Montgomery said. ``Last year, we never would have talked about a national championship. We took it week by week by week by week, getting closer and closer.''

LSU (6-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) had the appearance of a team in a slide for the previous several weeks, which included several unimpressive victories over heavy underdogs, followed by a loss at Florida on Oct. 6 in which first-year starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger and the Tigers' offense were unable to get into the end zone once.

``Maybe we needed a loss to be humbled, to get that hunger back, to get adversity knowing that everything doesn't comes so easily,'' said Montgomery, a defensive end, who had two sacks of South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw. ``It was something we needed to wake us back (up), to get us playing tough, hard-nosed football.''

LSU, which hasn't dropped back-to-back games since 2008, extended its school-record home winning streak to 22 games.

South Carolina (6-1, 4-1), meanwhile, was unable to extend its school-record 10-game winning streak, which dated to last season. The Gamecocks also seemed to lose a little of the swagger they had when they overwhelmed Georgia 35-7 the previous week.

Although the final score was close after a late South Carolina touchdown, LSU dominated statistically and might have won easily if not for four drives to the Gamecocks 15 or father that resulted in four field-goal attempts, one of which missed.

LSU outgained South Carolina by almost double, 406-211. The Tigers converted 11 of 19 third downs, compared to 3 of 13 for South Carolina. As a result, LSU had the ball for nearly 37 minutes.

``Our front seven didn't come to play,'' said South Carolina star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who was in on six tackles but did not have a sack. ``We gave up way too many yards and too many third down conversions. We can't win like that.''

Clowney went on to suggest some of his teammates may have let the intense and hostile Death Valley environment get to them, that they may have played ``scared.'' He said the Gamecocks would have to address that before they head to the Swamp next weekend to face unbeaten No. 3 Florida in a game that will decide the leader of the SEC East.

``All of our goals are still there,'' said South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, who was held to 35 yards on 13 carries, but impressively broke safety Eric Reid's tackle for a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. ``We can still accomplish them.''

Reid made up for it later with an interception on Shaw's overthrow in the fourth quarter, returning it to the South Carolina 22 and setting up a go-ahead field goal.

Shaw was under pressure much of the night, acknowledging his unit was ``stunned'' by its inability to run the ball. He was sacked four times in all, once by Josh Downs for a 9-yard loss that took the Gamecocks out of field-goal range late in the first half. Barkevious Mingo also got to him.

LSU was saved by its running game, which accounted for a whopping 258 yards despite having only two opening-week starters on the offensive line.

A pair of freshmen linemen, right tackle Vadal Alexander and right guard Trai Turner, earned praise from coach Les Miles after the game, having proved themselves against an elite defensive front. Then there was freshman running back Jeremy Hill, who announced his arrival as a big-time back with 124 yards on 17 carries, scoring LSU's only two touchdowns, the second on a 50-yard run in the fourth quarter.

Entering the season as the fifth-string running back, Hills' emergence highlighted the Tigers' embarrassment of riches at that position.

The Tigers opened by giving the ball to Spencer Ware until he was briefly sidelined by cramps and nausea. Miles turned to Hill, who led LSU to a win that kept the Tigers well in the hunt for SEC and national titles.

``Jeremy Hill's a pretty talented back and has really great speed for a big man and he's developed right along,'' Miles said. ``He certainly came along at the right time. ... We were fortunate that Hill was ready to step in.''

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The Kerrigans are having a baby and, WOW, this is all so very exciting


The Kerrigans are having a baby and, WOW, this is all so very exciting

The Kerrigan family is about to make a big-time addition to its roster.

Ryan and his wife, Jessica, already have two very, VERY, very, very cute bulldogs in their household. 

But on Tuesday, the two announced in separate Instagram posts that Jessica is 18 weeks pregnant and that a third human Kerrigan will arrive in 2019.

"Can I eat dis sign aftur da picturr iz over?" George the bulldog said when reached for comment on the news.

"How did dey gett such a smawl jerzey for da baby alreddy?" Franklin the other bulldog added.

This is all very wonderful.

Come next March, the world is about to get a little precious-er.


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The Caps are a bad faceoff team, here’s what they’re doing about it

USA Today Sports

The Caps are a bad faceoff team, here’s what they’re doing about it

Tuesday’s practice was a lot like every other for the Caps until the end. After working on the power play, the team gathered at one end of the ice and began working on faceoffs. It was not just the centers, but wingers and defensemen alike got into the action with every win celebrated by loud cheers from teammates.

It should could as no surprise to see faceoffs as a point of emphasis for Washington considering just how much the team has struggled with them in the early season. The Caps rank 30th in the league in faceoff win percentage at only 43.8-percent.

“Yeah, there's little details that can help our game,” Lars Eller told reporters after practice. “The more you have the puck, easier the game is gonna be for you. We have a little more time in between games than usual during the season here, so we have the time to work on something like that, which can be little things that makes the difference.”

The team as a whole watched video on faceoffs prior to practice and then worked as a five-man unit during the drill. The main point of emphasis head coach Todd Reirden wanted to drill into his players was that faceoffs are not simply the responsibility of the centers alone.

“The days of it just being center vs. center and a clean draw being won back are a rarity now so it's important to have all five guys helping, something we watched video on earlier today,” Reirden said.

“You ask any centerman if they have a good group of wingers that can help them out on draws, that makes a huge difference,” Nic Dowd said. “I've been lucky, I have [Devante Smith-Pelly] on my right and I'm a righty so I win all my draws my backhand side so a lot of pucks go his way and he wins a lot of draws for me. That's huge. You have a guy that's sitting over there that's sleeping, you could go easily from five wins to five losses and then that's your night. It makes a big difference.”

Faceoffs were always going to be more of a struggle for the Caps this season with the departure of Jay Beagle who was, by far, the team’s best faceoff man for several years. Whenever the team needed a big draw, Beagle was the player relied upon to win it. With him gone, it is no surprise to see the team struggle.

But the Caps don’t like the idea of keeping possession off a draw just 43.8-percent of the time.

“It's essentially like the ref is creating a 50-50 puck and you snap it back, you get possession, now you're forechecking and it makes a huge difference,” Dowd said. “You play against those top lines, they want to be in the O-zone. Well, if you lose the draw, now you're playing D-zone, you win the draw now you're playing O-zone. So effectively, you've shut down their shift.”

There is a school of thought suggesting that perhaps the importance of winning faceoffs is overrated and a team’s faceoff win percentage is not overly important. Eller himself admitted as much to reporters.

What no one can argue, however, is that while some faceoffs may not matter all that much, there are some that are hugely important in a game. The Caps recognize that. For them, being a strong faceoff team is not necessarily about improving the team’s win percentage, but more about being able to win those critical draws.

“It's something that for the most part the players understand and a neutral zone faceoff with 14 minutes to go in the first period is not nearly as important as one that's 5-on-6 at the end of the game,” Reirden said. “We all know that. It's important to put the right people on those situations and give them the best chance to have success.”

“A center ice draw, I could see where guys could make the argument, well you lose it you still will play hockey and stuff could still happen,” Dowd said. “But I think the game is such a possession game now that any opportunity you can win a 50-50 puck whether that's a faceoff or a board battle, it makes a huge difference.”