Redskins

Miller's 186 yards, big plays spur Buckeyes, 63-38

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Miller's 186 yards, big plays spur Buckeyes, 63-38

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) The scary part for Ohio State's opponents is that Braxton Miller is still learning the offense.

Miller broke his own school record for a quarterback by rushing for 186 yards, zig-zagging 72 yards for one score and passing for another, to lead the 12th-ranked Buckeyes past No. 21 Nebraska 63-38 on Saturday night before the largest crowd ever at Ohio Stadium.

``I'm learning every week,'' Miller said. ``They're throwing new stuff at us every week. I'm just trying to get it all down pat.''

There were plenty of standouts for the Buckeyes (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten). Corey Brown returned a punt 76 yards for a TD, Bradley Roby brought back an interception 41 yards and Carlos Hyde rushed for career highs of 140 yards and four touchdowns before a raucous crowd of 106,102 in the Horseshoe's 90th season.

Asked how coach Urban Meyer responded in the dressing room, Miller smiled and said, ``He was, like, `How many points did we put up again?'''

Meyer said the offense has developed far faster than what he ever expected.

``Our offensive line eventually took over that game,'' he said. ``We have two great runners right now. The quarterback is kind of ridiculous right now and Hyde is a solid back.''

Taylor Martinez ran for two scores and completed 15 of 23 passes for 214 yards and a score but was intercepted three times for defenseless Nebraska (4-2, 1-1). Leading rusher Rex Burkhead injured his left knee early in the third quarter after rushing for 119 yards on 14 carries, but did not return.

``I told our football team we killed ourselves,'' Huskers coach Bo Pelini said. ``I'm frustrated and disappointed.''

Incredibly, Ohio State got off to a slow start but more than made up for it by scoring on six of seven possessions over one span - with the punt return touchdown thrown in.

It was the most points given up by the Cornhuskers since a 65-51 loss at Colorado in the final game of the 2007 season - also the last game of the Bill Callahan era.

The Buckeyes hadn't had so much production since beating Eastern Michigan 73-20 two years ago. The combined 101 points was the most in a Big Ten game involving Ohio State since an 83-21 win over Iowa in 1950. It was the most points scored by the Buckeyes in a conference game since a 69-18 win over Minnesota in 1983.

The win extended Ohio State's fast start in its first year under Meyer, winner of two national titles during his six years at Florida. The Buckeyes, still eligible to win a Big Ten division title even though on NCAA probation and banned from the postseason, are tied with Penn State atop the Leaders Division standings.

Ahead by 11 points at the half, the Buckeyes watched the Huskers cut the lead to 35-31 on Martinez's 3-yard pass to tight end Ben Cotton, but countered on Hyde's third TD run and Brown's lightning-fast burst through traffic on the punt return to build the lead to 49-31.

Burkhead, averaging 91 yards rushing a game, injured a knee on a 24-yard gain on the fourth play of the second half. He spent much of the third quarter pedaling away on a stationary bike on the Nebraska sideline.

Meanwhile, Ohio State was piling up the points.

Rod Smith also rushed for a 33-yard touchdown and Miller completed 7 of 14 passes for 127 yards.

It was the fourth meeting between the teams, but the first in Columbus since 1956.

The first half - really the second quarter - was the determining factor for the Buckeyes.

They didn't have a first down in the opening period, gaining just 17 yards on 13 plays while falling behind 14-7 as the crowd went quiet.

In the second quarter, however, they amassed 242 yards and scored 28 points.

Down 17-7 after a Nebraska field goal, the Buckeyes scored on their next four possessions.

It all started when Miller was confronted by Courtney Osborne in the backfield but juked him and then raced down the right sideline for a 72-yard gain, pushed out of bounds at the Nebraska 3. Miller limped off the field and was replaced by Kenny Guiton, who handed off twice to Hyde, the second resulting in a 1-yard dive for the score.

``When it's my chance to get the ball, I'm going to try to make something happen with it,'' Miller said.

Martinez, who worked extensively on his passing during the offseason, had been intercepted by Roby on the Huskers' second possession, with Roby bringing it back 41 yards for the Buckeyes' only points of the first 19 minutes.

``It's a team loss and we have to move on from here,'' Martinez said. ``We still have everything in front of us.''

On third and 5 at the Nebraska 20, Martinez threw the ball directly to Roby. His 8-yard return put the Buckeyes right back in business at the Nebraska 20. Two plays later, with Miller now back in, he had a nifty play-action fake before tossing a short pass in the right flat to Jeff Heuerman for an 18-yard score and Ohio State's first lead on a cool, crisp night, 21-17.

Despite starting their next drive with two false-start penalties, the Huskers came right back. Martinez was hit late but completed a post pass to Kenny Bell, who twice straight-armed defenders on a 74-yard gainer. Martinez stayed in and ended up scoring on a 9-yard run to make it 24-21.

But the Buckeyes weren't done.

Sticking mainly to the ground, they rolled downfield. The key play was Miller's 32-yard hook-up with tight end Nick Vannett for 32 yards. Hyde finished it off with a 7-yard TD run, bouncing outside to skirt right end for a 28-24 Ohio State lead.

After a Nebraska punt, the Buckeyes moved to a fourth and 1 at the Nebraska 30. Miller followed a big block by Hyde, skipped around the outstretched arms of a defender and coasted untouched the last 30 yards to make it 35-24 at the half.

A year ago, Nebraska trailed by 21 points before coming back to beat the Buckeyes 34-27 - the greatest comeback in school history.

But not this time.

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Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 20, two days before the Washington Redskins start OTAs.  

Best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

Last week I took a stab at figuring out what the best-case and worst-case scenarios were for the key players on offense and defense. While individual stats are fun to track, it’s what the team does that really matters. What range of outcomes is realistic for the 2018 Redskins? While anything is possible, here are my thoughts on the best they are likely to be able to do and the worst. 

In both cases, I am assuming that the Redskins have reasonably good fortune when it comes to injuries and that the good and bad bounces of the ball equal out over the course of the season. 

Worst case: 6-10, last in NFC East

This is based mostly on Alex Smith having a tough time adjusting to Jay Gruden’s offense, his new teammates, and the NFC. Thinking he could struggle is not just negative thinking, there is history to back it up. 

Smith was traded from the 49ers to the Chiefs in 2013. In his first nine games, he completed just 59.7 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and four interceptions He had an adjusted net yards per attempt of 5.23. Had he finished the season there he would have ranked 28th in the NFL. His passer rating was 81.4, which would have ranked 25th. It’s safe to say he was off to a very slow start. 

But the Chiefs went 8-1 in those nine games. It is doubtful that the Redskins could survive such a slow start. In the past three seasons, with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, they were 4-17 in games where Cousins’ passer rating was under 90. If you drop the ceiling to 81, the record drops to 0-14. 

Kansas City managed to start 9-0 in 2013 because of a running game that produced at least 100 yards rushing every game and a defense that got at least one takeaway every game and got three or more turnovers in a game five times. 

Could the Redskins duplicate that and survive a slow start by Smith? It’s possible, but this is the worst-case scenario. And there is no guarantee that the Redskins will significantly improve a running attack that was 27thin the league last year or a rushing defense that was dead last. 

Offensively, the hope is that Derrius Guice will improve the running game. But rookies are, well rookies. And being a high draft pick is no guarantee of success. In the past three drafts, 20 running backers were drafted in the first three rounds. Of those players, four rushed for 750 yards or more as rookies. Maybe Guice will be one of the productive players but the odds are not in his favor. This isn’t saying he will be a bust; however, he may not have instant impact. 

One other note about the rushing game. It’s important to remember that both tackles are coming off of surgery, the right guard was injured last year, the center has all of six starts under his belt, and left guard remains up in the air. Maybe everything will hum when the season starts but that seems like a tall order. 

Improvement in the stopping the run also relies at least in part on rookies. Daron Payne will have an adjustment period as will Tim Settle. The inside linebacker spot should be stronger but it’s hard to say that it will be a strength. The rushing defense probably won’t be last again, but it may not climb out of the twenties in the rankings. 

The Redskins haven’t been awful at getting takeaways, but they have not done it at a consistently game-changing level. They have three or more takeaways in a game five times in their last 30 games. I don’t see any reason to think that this will change dramatically. 

To put the 6-10 worst-case scenario onto the schedule, the Redskins could go 2-4 in the division with splits against the Cowboys and Giants and getting swept by the Eagles. Against the NFC South, which had three teams with 10 wins or more last year, they might be 1-3. That leaves a split with the AFC South (two of the final eight teams in the playoffs last year) and of their two other NFC games for a 6-10 record. 

Best-case scenario: 10-6, Wild card, win a playoff game

This scenario doesn’t require a whole lot of explanation beyond flipping the elements of the worst case into more positive outcomes. 

Smith could pick up where he left off last year when he completed 67.5 percent of his passes and was third in the league with 7.2 adjusted net yards per attempt. Maybe the yards per attempt will drop some as he tries to find a consistent deep target.

A healthy Jordan Reed would help Smith out tremendously. If Reed can participate in most of training camp, the two could hit the ground running. Smith’s ability to connect with Josh Doctson on some 50-50 balls also will be important. 

As for the running game, Guice could break out early behind a line that gels quickly. It’s not out of the question for him to gain 1,000 yards (that’s just about 65 yards per game), maybe a little more. A healthy Chris Thompson could kick in over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. 

Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis could pick up right where they left off last year before Allen was lost for the season with a foot injury and Ioannidis missed two games with a broken hand and was hampered by the injury for a few weeks after that. That would let Payne and Settle, well, settle into the pro game. 

The Redskins also would need at least to maintain the solid pass defense they had last year. And they would benefit from fewer turnovers on offense (27 last year, 26thin the NFL) and by adding a few takeaways to the 23 they got in 2017.

So how could they pull this off? The would need to go 4-2 in the division, with a sweep of the Giants and splits against Philly and Dallas. They then would need 2-2 records against the NFC South and AFC South. That part of it is probably the toughest task. To get to 10 they would need to beat the Cardinals on the road in the season opener and then have a good day against Aaron Rodgers and get a win over the Packers. It’s not an easy road but if enough pieces fall into place it’s not out of the question. 

A 10-6 record should be good enough for a wild-card spot. If they get through their fairly tough schedule with double-digit wins, they should be good enough to go on the road and take out the three or four seed. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 23
—Training camp starts (7/26) 68
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 82

The Redskins last played a game 139 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 113 days. 

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Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

There was no tougher critic on Matt Niskanen’s Game 5 performance on Saturday than Niskanen himself.

Niskanen and his defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, were on the ice for all three of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s three goals in the Capitals’ 3-2 loss. That was striking given the Orlov-Niskanen duo is typically Washington’s best defensive pair.

That was not the case on Saturday and Niskanen took full responsibility afterward.

“First three goals are all my fault,” Niskanen said. “I had a tough first 20:30 so I've got to be better next game.”

Pretty much no one played the first goal right.

The goal came just 19 seconds into the game. Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov looked like he could have gotten the puck, but instead played the body of Cedric Paquette. Niskanen stepped up at the blue line, but the Lightning got the puck past him creating a short rush that beat Braden Holtby who was way too far back in the crease.

Yes, Niskanen got caught a bit high, but he was just as at fault as Orlov, Kuznetsov and Holtby.

The second goal happened because Steven Stamkos tripped Orlov to create a turnover and it wasn’t called.

Niskanen got in between Ondrej Palat and the puck, but Palat beat both him and Holtby on the shot. Not sure I would put this one on Niskanen.

The third goal…well, that one was a bad play by Niskanen.

When you go one-on-one with a player, a defenseman cannot allow that player to turn the corner. That’s especially true when that player is defenseman Anton Stralman who is not exactly gifted with blazing speed. This was just a complete misplay.

Regardless of how many goals were strictly on Niskanen, that’s not the point. This was a message not so much to the media but to the team. That message was this: This one’s on me, I will be better next game.

Leaders always take responsibility. Niskanen is taking the blame here and saying he will be better in the hopes the team around him will be better as well.

They will need to be to win Game 6.

“A lot of people counted us out when we were down 0-2 in the first round,” Niskanen said. “Things got hard in the last series where we could have melted and we just kept playing. So that's what we've got to do again, bring our best effort for Game 6 at home, win a game and then we'll go from there.

“But we're focused on bringing our best game of the season for Game 6 and we'll be ready to go.”

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