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No. 12 Clemson preps for game vs. No. 13 Gamecocks

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No. 12 Clemson preps for game vs. No. 13 Gamecocks

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Clemson's offense hasn't been shut down often in coordinator Chad Morris' two seasons. The Tigers' 34-13 loss last year to rival South Carolina was one of those times.

Clemson managed 153 yards, by far the fewest in Morris' 25 games. Quarterback Tajh Boyd was 11 of 29 for 83 yards and Sammy Watkins dropped a sure touchdown pass early on that Morris believes might've swung momentum Clemson's way. Instead, the Tigers struggled to muster any offense against a South Carolina's defense that was ranked third in the nation.

``There wasn't a whole lot of pretty out of it, I'll tell you that,'' Morris said Monday.

Still, Morris said he won't dwell on last year's struggles when No. 12 Clemson (10-1) faces the 13th-ranked Gamecocks (9-2) at Death Valley on Saturday night. The Tigers are seeking to stop South Carolina's three-game win streak in the series.

Clemson is on an offensive roll unmatched in school history.

The Tigers lead the Atlantic Coast Conference and is sixth nationally at 535 yards a game. Boyd leads the league in total offense and is second in passing. Last week Clemson piled up 754 yards in a 62-48 win over North Carolina State - two yards shy of the program's all-time record set against Wake Forest in its national championship season of 1981.

For plenty of Clemson fans, those achievements won't mean anything without taking down the Gamecocks.

South Carolina's defense a year ago featured a pair of first-round NFL selections in cornerback Stephon Gilmore and defensive end Melvin Ingram. The Gamecocks are also led by a new coordinator in Lorenzo Ward, who was promoted by Steve Spurrier after longtime coordinator Ellis Johnson left last December to become head coach at Southern Miss.

Morris said South Carolina's secondary plays more man defense as the Gamecocks try and keep the pressure on up front with a defensive line led by sophomore star Jadeveon Clowney.

It'll be up to Clemson's improving offensive line to give Boyd a chance to complete passes to Tigers' dynamic WRs Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins.

``I've heard the name Clowney for a long time,'' Tigers right tackle Gifford Timothy said.

Morris has heard it a lot as well, especially from Tiger fans worried the Gamecocks defensive end will cause havoc in the backfield. Morris said he'll stick to the plan he's followed all season long, preparing his players to perform at their peak each game while blocking out the outside distractions.

``We've got to be who we are. You can't do something and be somebody that you're not,'' Morris said. ``If you do, you've got a problem.''

The Tigers were clicking last Saturday against the Wolfpack. Boyd passed for 426 yards, ran for 103 yards, and accounted for eight touchdowns - five passing, three rushing - against North Carolina State. Boyd was named the ACC's offensive back of the week Monday.

Center Dalton Freeman, starting his 47th straight game, was the league's offensive lineman of the week.

Despite surpassing 700 yards for the second time in the past three games, Morris believed his team could've done better offensively. The line was slow on its footwork early, while Hopkins and Watkins did not have strong games, Morris said.

``That's something I'm going to challenge those guys on this week,'' he said.

The stakes are high for both teams. A Clemson victory would mean the team's first 11-win season since going 12-0 in 1981. The Tigers also have a chance at an at-large BCS bid, something that would disappear with a loss.

South Carolina is seeking its second-straight 10-win season, a first in program history.

``It's a huge game, maybe one of the biggest games since I've been here of our rivalry series,'' Spurrier said.

Morris doesn't want his players worried about what happened last year. It's a different group with a different focus and demeanor. ``It's very unfair to compare this year to last year's team,'' he said.

Boyd has improved his game, becoming a stellar runner this season instead of a year ago when he stood in the pocket ``like a concrete deer'' against South Carolina, Morris said.

The quarterback sounds ready, too, weary of losing to South Carolina.

``I think it's a must-win situation for us. It is one of those deals where it has to happen,'' Boyd said.

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

1. Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

2. T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

3. Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

4. Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

5. Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

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