Redskins

Lynch's footwork gets him to Orange Bowl stage

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Lynch's footwork gets him to Orange Bowl stage

MIAMI (AP) Seems like every half-century, a quarterback from Northern Illinois does something never seen previously in college football.

In 1963, the buzz hovered around George Bork's passing.

This season, the acclaim was over Jordan Lynch's running.

It's not a stretch to say that without Lynch's footwork, Northern Illinois wouldn't have busted into the Bowl Championship Series and gotten a spot in the Orange Bowl against Florida State. Lynch can throw the ball - 24 touchdowns against only five interceptions this season - but he seems better when he takes off running.

The native of Chicago's south side entered the Orange Bowl with 1,771 yards rushing, the most by any quarterback in any college season.

He also carried a streak of 11 straight 100-yard rushing games into the matchup with the Seminoles, another NCAA record for quarterbacks.

``Probably the toughest player I've ever seen,'' Northern Illinois quarterbacks coach Bob Cole said.

Ask Lynch about his records, and he'll simply shrug.

Ask him about people raving over his toughness, and he'll happily start talking.

``Living in Chicago and growing up, I think you're sort of blue-collar, always got a chip on your shoulder, always do things the right way and respect the game,'' Lynch said. ``Always tough. The neighborhood was a bunch of guys like me, just liked to get after it, blue-collar guys, always playing football in the street, tackling instead of two-hand touch, stuff like that.''

So in other words, a perfect primer for the offense he's operating now.

Northern Illinois thrives on going no-huddle, up-tempo, with Lynch operating the read option. When he throws it, he's typically accurate - of all the quarterbacks in the nation with more than 350 attempts so far this season, only three had fewer interceptions.

When he takes off, the former running back tends to forget he's a quarterback.

``I think the best part is he delivers the blow most of the time,'' offensive lineman Jared Volk, Lynch's roommate. ``He's not a quarterback that's going to slide. He's going to go into you head-first and he's going to make you regret trying to tackle him. So I think that's the best part about Jordan. He gets a lot of respect from the offensive line for the way he runs.''

But wouldn't it be a little easier if Lynch tried to avoid contact every now and then?

``I know Jordan,'' Volk said. ``He's never going to slide.''

Lynch doesn't see reason to change his ways, certainly not now.

He also can't help but wonder if his rugged style might be his ticket to the next level as well. In this era of young, dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL, Lynch said it gives a 6-foot-1, 220-pounder like himself hope of getting there.

``I think the quarterback level is definitely changing in the NFL,'' Lynch said. ``I mean, there's only a select few Peyton Mannings.''

Even after all the accolades that Lynch has received this season, he's hardly the first Northern Illinois quarterback to be widely celebrated.

While it's certainly possible that many college football fans didn't know much about the Huskies until they got invited to the Orange Bowl, the program is steeped in both the game's history - and its innovation. It was somewhere around the early 1960s that Northern Illinois was credited with bringing what was then called the ``shotgun spread'' offense into the game, and in 1963 Bork threw for a then-college-record 3,077 yards.

The 3,000-yard mark was history-making for Bork.

And in the second quarter of the Orange Bowl, it was for Lynch as well.

He entered the Orange Bowl needing only 38 yards passing to become the first player in Football Bowl Subdivision history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,500 more in the same season. And it took him 14 attempts against the Seminoles to do it, but his third completion of the Orange Bowl gave him 40 passing yards for the night and 3,002 for the season.

``How does he practice?'' Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher asked. ``I mean, he does so much in the game, I don't know how he's got the energy to practice all week. The guy runs the ball for 130 yards a game and throws it for 250 or whatever. It's amazing what he does and the pounding and the beating ... I mean, he's not an extremely big guy. He's well built, but he's not a huge guy, and to do the things he does he's a great competitor.''

And the Seminoles are quick to point out that Lynch isn't Northern Illinois' only competitor.

``They've won all but one game, and there's other weapons besides Jordan Lynch that we're going to have to be prepared for,'' said D.J. Eliot, Florida State's defensive coordinator for the bowl game before he departs for Kentucky. ``They've got good speed, and their offensive line is very effective. They work well together. So you know, we're conscious of more than just one player.''

Still, for Lynch, it's funny how things can change so quickly.

Lynch wasn't even the starting quarterback at Northern Illinois until this season. Coming out of high school - where he ran the triple-option - he had exactly one scholarship offer for college.

And then came this breakout season, where he was seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting and gets to finish on the BCS stage.

``I thought he would have a good season,'' Volk said. ``But I didn't think he was going to have a season like this.''

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One side of the Redskins' offensive line is struggling, and it's not the one you expected

One side of the Redskins' offensive line is struggling, and it's not the one you expected

One side of the Redskins' offensive line is made up of a 36-year-old tackle who showed up on July 31 and a guard who's played a grand total of two games at the position. The other side, meanwhile, features a third-round pick who signed a pricey extension in 2017 at tackle and a two-time Pro Bowler at guard.

The first pair, somehow, is holding up OK through two contests this year. It's the second pair that's having trouble. And no one really expected that to be the case.

In Washington's Week 1 loss against Philadelphia, Morgan Moses — the one with the hefty contract — committed two penalties, a holding and a false start. Another holding call was declined.

In the team's Week 2 loss to Dallas, meanwhile, Brandon Scherff — the one with the Pro Bowls — was whistled for holding twice.

Beyond the penalties, though, Moses and Scherff haven't helped out the running backs. At all.

So far, according to the NFL's logs, the Burgundy and Gold have had 11 runs to the left for 46 yards, which comes out to an average of 4.18 yards per carry. There have been 14 carries to the right, on the other hand, for just 27 yards, which comes out to an average of 1.92 yards per carry.

To be fair, it's not like Donald Penn and Ereck Flowers are totally tearing it up at left tackle and left guard. But those stats show they've been surprisingly effective as run blockers and, overall, they're giving the Redskins all they could've hoped for. Moses and Scherff simply aren't.

Now, on the list of problems Jay Gruden's squad is facing, the defense's discouraging start is at the top, while injuries and poor adjustments follow. They need to seriously evaluate how they're trying to stop opposing offenses and what they are (or aren't) doing at halftime.

But Moses and Scherff's slumps are high up on that list of problems as well, because they were supposed to be two reliable veterans and pave the way when they were asked to.

Instead, they're holding the offense back, sometimes literally, sometimes because of sloppy play. The right side of the O-line is currently on the wrong side of things, which wasn't supposed to be the story up front.

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Talent, scheme or coaching, something needs to change for Redskins defense

Talent, scheme or coaching, something needs to change for Redskins defense

After two games, the Redskins defense clearly does not appear ready for some of the expectations that arrived before the season. That's obvious. What isn't is why. 

In consecutive losses, Washington's defense has given up more than 30 points-per-game and more than 400 yards-per-game. With just two sacks, the defensive front hasn't generated much pressure at all. The sack numbers are low, but opposing quarterbacks aren't taking many hits or pressures either. Heck, on Sunday against Dallas, Dak Prescott completed every pass he threw during the second half. 

Before the year started, the Redskins defense looked poised for a breakout. The team had strong young talent up front with Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Matt Ioannidis. The edge rushers were a pair of first-round picks in veteran Ryan Kerrigan and rookie Montez Sweat. Landon Collins was supposed to provide Pro Bowl play at safety. 

It just hasn't worked. 

The biggest Redskins struggles have come on third down. The defense just can't get on the field. In a Week 1 loss, the Eagles converted 11 of 17 third downs and went on long drives throughout the second half. Against the Cowboys in a Week 2 loss, Dallas never punted in the second half.

Against Philly, the Redskins gave up 4 yards-per-carry, which is usually a losing formula. Against Dallas, the Redskins gave up more than 6-yards-per-carry, which is definitely a losing formula. 

There are plenty of stats to show how bad the Redskins defense has been. These are just a sample. The bigger issue, however, is why it's happening.

And there aren't easy answers.

Injuries are a part of the equation. Losing Allen hurts a lot, as does losing cornerbacks Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau for the Dallas game. But still, injuries aren't a full explanation. 

Scheme is part of the problem. The Redskins tend to play conservative defense, without much blitzing or disguised looks. And if the defensive front isn't getting home, it's big trouble for the secondary when the quarterback has plenty of time. 

Coaching is a problem too. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is in charge of the conservative scheme. He could change that, and maybe should change that, but so far he has not. In his post-game comments, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said his staff isn't "reaching" the defensive players yet. That doesn't sound like a vote of confidence. 

Players also need to play better. Sweat, Ioannidis and Kerrigan aren't generating much pass rush, and that's a major problem. Josh Norman needs to be better too. 

There are no easy fixes here. There's no silver bullet, no singular answer. 

Gruden said there would be no coaching changes because it's so early in the season. That doesn't mean the questions won't keep coming. 

"There are no excuses to be had. We have to look at ourselves, and we have to play better," the coach said of his defense after the 31-21 loss to Dallas.

"We’re minus a couple pieces in the secondary, that has an issue. But really, we should be better than this."

Through two games, the Redskins defense should be much better than it has been. Gruden knows it. Fans do too. 

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