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No. 13 Georgia aims for rebound at Kentucky

No. 13 Georgia aims for rebound at Kentucky

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Georgia is looking to get back to its winning ways after a week off when the No. 13 Bulldogs meet Kentucky Saturday night.

The Bulldogs (5-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) were routed 35-7 at South Carolina in their last game, a loss that made their quest to win the East Division tougher. The loss featured defensive breakdowns, an ongoing problem for the Bulldogs - Georgia has given up 89 points the past two games.

Lineup shuffles caused by the early season suspensions of several players partly explains Georgia's breakdowns, though coach Mark Richt blames it more on miscommunication.

``Everybody has to be on the same page, and we made all the corrections we could make from what happened in the South Carolina game and really the entire season,'' Richt said in a conference call. ``We looked at the entire first six games and said what are the things that are causing these big plays, and most of it was communication issues on the back end. We tried to make those corrections.

``Once you do close that loophole of a big play, then you've got a really good chance of playing good defense and that's what we've got to make sure we're doing.''

With everyone talking now, the next step is backing it up against the injury-plagued Wildcats (1-6, 0-4).

The Bulldogs found themselves in trouble early against the Gamecocks on Sept. 29, trailing 21-0 behind several big plays including a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown. South Carolina gained 392 yards overall, leaving Georgia ninth in the SEC in total defense at 373.8 per game.

The Bulldogs' main question is whether their marquee player will be available against Kentucky.

All-America junior outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (5.5 sacks) hasn't practiced this week after injuring his ankle against South Carolina and looks doubtful. Freshman backup Jordan Jenkins is ready to go just in case.

And Georgia has others capable of filling the void.

Senior nose tackle John Jenkins is coming off a career-high, eight-tackle game against the Gamecocks. Sophomore linebacker Amarlo Herrera had a career-high 11 tackles in that game, and suggests that Georgia just needs to reclaim the defensive style that worked so well last season.

``We should never have had excuses for anything, no matter who was in or who was out,'' Herrera said. ``We're ready to get back to the top defensive form we were in last year.''

The off week came at a good time for the Bulldogs, helping them get over the Gamecocks loss prepare for the stretch run. They're 13-4 following an open date under Richt.

Playing a struggling Kentucky team could also help Georgia move forward.

The Wildcats have lost five in a row and are coming off a rain-shortened 49-7 drubbing at Arkansas. Injuries have forced them to use freshmen on both sides of the ball but especially on defense, where four rookies could start in the secondary against Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray.

``We've just got to be ready to make the plays based on coverages and who's guarding who,'' Murray said. ``I don't want to start talking trash. We've just got to be ready to go no matter what we see, no matter who we see.''

For Kentucky, that means generating more quarterback pressure, a tricky deal considering it has spent most of its time in coverage.

``I feel we're pretty close'' to having pressure, Wildcats senior defensive end Taylor Wyndham said. ``Because we have a lot of young guys it makes it difficult sometimes but it's also a good thing.

``In the first half against South Carolina, oh man, we shut `em out. But we didn't come out the same way in the second half. We'll play for good stretches. It's just so close. You just got to be able to finish.''

Offensively, Kentucky has multiple purposes in wanting to establish the rush. The Wildcats haven't broken 100 yards the past two games, which has pressured freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow to throw; the combined results are 74 yards and one touchdown on 12 of 31 passing.

Besides taking some of the pressure off Whitlow, a decent ground game might ease the burden on a defense that has spent long stretches on the field. Opponents are keeping the ball nearly 34 minutes per game, 10 more than the Wildcats.

``We've got to establish the run, establish it early and try to take some pressure off'' Whitlow, Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said.

Saturday's homecoming game ends a demanding stretch for the Wildcats, who have faced four SEC opponents ranked 20th or higher. Their schedule is considered the nation's toughest by the Anderson and Hester, Colley Matrix and Massey ratings.

Kentucky's past seven opponents are a combined 37-7, with three still unbeaten and three having only one loss.

Georgia will face one of those unbeaten teams next week in Jacksonville in East-leading and No. 2 Florida. That's why it's important the Bulldogs make sure there's no confusion on either side of the ball - starting at Kentucky.

``We're ready to move forward,'' Herrera said. ``The off week provided us with an opportunity to improve on a lot of things, and a lot of people have been working to get better. We're just ready to work hard.''

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AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Athens, Ga., contributed to this report.

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Redskins Talk hosts "Redskins On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

Redskins Talk hosts "Redskins On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

It's the moment we've all been waiting for: finding out who the Redskins are going to take as their No. 15 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

After much anticipation and countless mock drafts, Redskins fans will finally find out what's to come for the Burgundy and Gold in the upcoming NFL season. 

And we couldn't let you handle this news alone: So we've got the Redskins Talk crew hosting a special "Redskins on the Clock" live stream to address, analyze and hopefully rejoice over the 'Skins decision. 

<<CHECK OUT NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON'S LATEST NFL MOCK DRAFT>>

On Thursday, Apr. 25th, JP Finlay, Peter Hailey and Mitchell Tischler from the Redskins Talk Podcast, along with guests Travis Thomas and Trevor Matich, will be offering a live look into their thoughts and concerns surrounding both the Redskins' pick and all of Round 1. The live stream will be available on the MyTeams by NBC Sports App from approximately 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. 

And if you haven't already downloaded the MyTeams App, you can do so right now, RIGHT HERE.

Redskins Talk Podcast "Redskins on the Clock" Special

CLICK HERE to watch the daily live stream of the Redskins Talk Podcast

When: 8 p.m. - (approximately) 11 p.m. ET, Thursday, Apr. 25th 

Live Stream: Click to stream Redskins Talk Podcast Live every day this week

Want to subscribe to Redskins Talk?: 
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How the Capitals went from 'chokers' to 'closers' in Game 6s

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USA TODAY Sports

How the Capitals went from 'chokers' to 'closers' in Game 6s

RALEIGH — There was a time when a Stanley Cup Playoff series lead of any kind produced nothing but stress and anxiety for the Capitals and their tortured fan base.

This is an organization, after all, that has blown a 3-1 playoff series lead five times – often in horrifying, heartbreaking fashion. That has only happened 28 times in NHL history, and Washington owns 18 percent of those epic collapses. But the league’s biggest chokers have put those demons to rest. And that trend started well before winning the Stanley Cup last year. 

Tonight, the Capitals have a chance to close out the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 6 of a first-round playoff series at PNC Arena. They lead 3-2. They know they always have another chance, if necessary, on Wednesday for Game 7 at Capital One Arena back home. 

But if ending a series on the road once seemed like a daunting task, it hasn’t fazed the franchise for a while now. Washington has won four Game 6s in a row when up 3-2 in a series.  

“When we play to our identity and force other teams to make mistakes and they’re in an elimination situation, then those mistakes become magnified,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “That team is already feeling the pressure of that being their last game. And if we play to our identity then it really seems to match up nicely for those elimination games.”

The Capitals were ahead 3-2 with road Game 6s in Philadelphia (2016), Toronto (2017), Columbus (2018) and Pittsburgh (2018) and won them all. They also put Vegas away last June up 3-1 in the series with Game 5 on the road and won the Stanley Cup that night. If the recent version of the Capitals has a chance to put a team away, the team has done it.

The last time they blew a lead with a chance to eliminate the opposition was 2015 when they coughed up a 3-1 advantage in a second-round exit to the New York Rangers. 

There are theories why.

A big, physical team with elite skill, Washington has been able to wear teams out the later a series goes. In 2017, the Maple Leafs put up a great fight against the Presidents’ Trophy winners in the first round. They won two overtime games. They took a 2-1 series lead and had a chance to go up 3-1 on the Capitals with Game 4 at home in Toronto. 

Washington, instead, won Game 4 by a 5-4 score and allowed just two goals in Games 5 and 6 to end the series.

The offense went dry in 2016 against Philadelphia in the first round and a 3-0 series lead suddenly was cut to 3-2 with the Flyers hosting Game 6. They had life. The old Capitals might have panicked. But they won that game 1-0. Philadelphia managed just four goals over the final three games of the series and had nothing left in Game 6. 

There is a mentality that goes into playing a game where the other team’s season is on the line and yours is not.   

"To ourselves, I think, to show that when we play that way, we're going to be real tough to beat,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “I don't think we put much emphasis on [Carolina]. We know they're going to prepare and play as if it's an elimination game for them. We know they're going to come hard, we know they're a good young team and they never shy away from anything. It's on us to play like that and take everything else out of it."

Last year against Columbus in the first round, Washington overcame a 2-0 deficit to tie the series. Game 4 on the road was a clinic with the frustrated Blue Jackets hardly able to get the puck through the neutral zone in a 4-1 Capitals win. Washington broke Columbus’ will with its relentless, physical play. It scored 10 goals in Games 5 and 6 to end the series.  

The same thing played out the next round against Pittsburgh. A dominating 6-3 win in Game 5 at home – much like the 6-0 win over Carolina on Saturday – set the stage for a classic road Game 6. Washington scored first. The Penguins tied it. But the Capitals were the team with enough juice left in overtime to take the series on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s game-winning goal. 

The best example of how the Capitals have worn down one opponent after another actually came last season in the Eastern Conference Final when they were down 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Washington didn’t allow a goal in Games 6 and 7 and advanced. 

“Our team likes being on the road, plays well on the road, enjoys spending that time with each other,” Reirden said. “When you want to have success on the road you have to have contributions from everybody throughout your lineup. That makes you a very difficult team to match up as the home coach. So by us having the seven 20-goal scorers, we were a difficult match.

"And now, we started to see a little bit more of our depth scoring [Saturday]. … It certainly becomes an easier road assignment for the coach -- I can tell you. That’s an advantage for us.”

The Lightning last May looked like a boxer that had taken too many blows to the head after the Capitals blitzed them in Game 6.

If you looked closely on Saturday, you saw elements of that when Carolina defenseman Dougie Hamilton raced back for a puck, knew Alex Ovechkin was steaming right behind him, and gave up on the play. Hamilton didn’t appear to want to pay the price for winning that race and instead Ovechkin took the puck away and fed Brett Connolly in front for the goal that put Washington up 3-0. 

Maybe Carolina regroups tonight. The Hurricanes are a young team, but with grizzled veterans like Jordan Staal and Justin Williams who have won multiple Stanley Cups between them. They won’t play scared. The crowd at PNC Arena will be a factor. They do not want their season to end.

But these Capitals are a different breed. Time and again the past three years they have grinded their opponents into dust so by the time the series reaches this point there isn’t enough fight left to them.     

“We’ve just got to regroup here and move forward,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “That was just a 3-2 lead. Toughest one is the last one. We haven’t been happy with the way we’ve played in Carolina so far. Let’s change that.”

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