Wizards

LSU's pass D braces for challenge from Clemson

LSU's pass D braces for challenge from Clemson

ATLANTA (AP) The most obvious matchup of strengths Monday night in the Chick-fil-A Bowl will be Clemson's high-scoring spread offense against Louisiana State's defense.

``These guys are top 10 in defense,'' Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. ``We're top 10 in offense. So it's pretty easy to get excited about that.''

A closer look shows No. 9 LSU's pass defense hasn't been so stingy lately.

LSU gave up more than 300 yards passing in three straight wins over Mississippi State, Mississippi and Arkansas to close the regular season. That sets the stage for a tougher test against Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins.

LSU began November ranked fourth nationally against the pass. It has dropped to 11th - still a strong ranking. The exposed late-season vulnerability against the pass will be tested by No. 14 Clemson, which ranks sixth in scoring with 42.3 points per game.

LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis said Clemson has a ``very, very talented offense.''

``I certainly would rank it as high as any offense we've faced,'' Chavis said Saturday.

Chavis has plugged holes to have LSU eighth in the nation in total defense and 11th with its average of 16.9 points per game.

Defense was the strength for the 2011 LSU team that played for the national championship. Then cornerback Morris Claiborne and defensive tackle Michael Brockers were selected in the first round of the NFL draft, while safety Brandon Taylor went in the third.

An unexpected loss followed when star cornerback and return specialist Tyrann Mathieu, a 2011 Heisman finalist, was dismissed from the team.

Suddenly, LSU was forced to start freshman Jalen Mills at cornerback. A redshirt freshman, Jalen Collins, joins the defensive backfield on passing downs. Each has two interceptions.

Junior safety Eric Reid said Mills and Collins are young ``but very talented.''

``I have seen them develop and tried to help coach them,'' Reid said. ``They've come a long way. They're two guys we'll rely heavily on in the game. They'll play some very good receivers. I'm confident in them. I think they're going to do their job very well. And hopefully they can get some turnovers for us.''

Hopkins and Watkins combined for 126 receptions for 1,922 yards and 19 touchdowns, including 16 by Hopkins. Watkins was suspended for the first two games and missed another game with a sickness.

Watkins, a first-team All-America as a freshman in 2011, has had a decline in production this season but could be poised for a big bowl game.

``We expect Sammy to be Sammy,'' Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said Saturday. ``We need him to play well and we're going to turn him loose.''

LSU already has proved it can beat a similarly talented quarterback and offense. The Tigers beat Texas A&M 24-19 on Oct. 20 while holding Johnny Manziel, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, to 23 yards rushing and 276 yards passing with three interceptions and no touchdowns.

LSU linebacker Kevin Minter said Boyd ``may have a better arm, a little more accurate'' than Manziel.

``Other than that they're pretty much the same,'' Minter said.

LSU can't expect Clemson to play a one-dimensional game on offense. Senior Andre Ellington has 1,031 yards rushing with eight touchdowns. Boyd, a dual-threat quarterback, leads Clemson with nine rushing touchdowns and has almost 500 yards rushing.

``It's a great challenge anytime you play that kind of attack,'' LSU coach Les Miles said. ``A quarterback that can throw and very, very explosive receivers. You have to handle it in a variety of ways. Certainly changing coverages and an opportunity to rush the passer.''

Added Miles: ``We enjoy the matchup.''

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Wizards coach Scott Brooks issues strong defense of John Wall after win over Clippers

Wizards coach Scott Brooks issues strong defense of John Wall after win over Clippers

After his team showed resilience in erasing a 24-point lead to beat the L.A. Clippers on Tuesday night, head coach Scott Brooks swept aside an opportunity to fire back at critics of himself and his team following a barrage of negative headlines in recent days.

Brooks did, however, take the time to address one particular angle of the whole mess. He issued a passionate defense of his star point guard, John Wall, who has been at the center of the controversies surrounding the organization.

Brooks and Wall had an altercation last week during practice that led to Wall receiving a fine from the team. Brooks spoke at length about the incident itself at shootaround. After Tuesday's win, he honed in on a specific criticism of Wall, that he is out of shape and not giving an honest effort on the floor.

"John, he's been taking hits. Let's face it," Brooks said. "You hear all the reports that he's heavy. The guy has seven percent body fat..."

"He's in great shape. I like the way he plays. He plays hard."

Brooks went on to point out how Wall hasn't been playing at 100 percent for much of this season. Wall has dealt with a deep thigh bruise and it's partly to explain for the Wizards' 6-11 start.

The overall numbers look about how they should for Wall.

He's averaging 21.5 points, 7.9 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.2 blocks while shooting 44.4 percent from the field. But his defense has been lacking and he's not getting the assists he usually collects because he hasn't had the same burst in transition.

Playing through injuries is always tricky for professional athletes. When people know they're hurt, that effort is often appreciated. But when the injuries aren't disclosed, fans and members of the media can only draw conclusions based on what they see.

Brooks explained in detail why he thinks Wall should be cut some slack for his start to the season.

"He's a warrior. There's a lot of guys that I've seen in my playing career that they love to sit out. They're just talented and they've got talented contracts. They sit out and you can't do anything about it. You admire and you appreciate and you celebrate the guys that play hard. You don't have to tell the world that he's banged up," Brooks said.

"He didn't say one word and I wasn't gonna say it. It's over. He's feeling great. He's fought. He's not gonna tell the world 'look at me, I'm sore.' He doesn't want your sympathy. He just fights and he plays the right way. He plays hard."

Brooks is clearly trying to stick up for his star player and change the current media narrative.

As long as the Wizards win, that shouldn't be hard to do.

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Emotional John Wall opens up about trade rumors, coming arrival of son after comeback win

Emotional John Wall opens up about trade rumors, coming arrival of son after comeback win

The subject of trade rumors and reports of in-fighting at Wizards practice over the past few days, John Wall proved his worth to the Wizards on the court Tuesday night. 

Washington trailed the Clippers by as many as 24 points, but Wall helped orchestrate a furious comeback which concluded in a 125-118 Washington win. Wall led all scorers with 30 points and dished out eight assists. 

After the game, Wall opened up to NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller about the cloud of controversy which has surrounded the Wizards this week, as well as a far more serious matter in his personal life: he's gonna be a dad soon!

"It's amazing, man. All the heart and effort and drive I've had for this organization, this team, to hear certain things like being traded, I try to stay focused," he told Miller. "Focused on getting ready to have my new son, trying to turn this organization around, this franchise around and win some games."

"All it is is go out there and compete, dog. All of us go out here and compete, that's one thing I always did since day one is give everything I got. And to hear those type of things, it's kind of funny. It's frustrating at the same time, but I've been through worse things. I just stand over top of all that."

And as his coach, Scott Brooks, has been preaching over the last few weeks, Wall believes the only way the Wizards turn around their season is if they show one thing: effort. 

"It's just about effort, man. Effort and heart," he said. "I've been preaching that since I've been here from day one, and in the second half we gave a lot of effort and heart. That's why we came back and fought hard, and got a great win that we needed."

"In the first half, we didn't play with no energy, no sense of urgency, and they beat the brakes off of us. We got to find a way to dig deep, and we made some big shots and got some big stops."

"It's not where we want to be, it's not where we started. Dealing with injuries, dealing with those type of things, you make no excuses. Whoever step between these lines, you go out there and compete, and that's all I ask for the14 guys, including myself, is to go play hard.

It's far too early to declare it as such, but if the Wizards can build off of Tuesday's performance, it may very well be looked at as the night Wall and Washington turned their season around. 

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