No. 16 Nebraska will take wins any way they come


No. 16 Nebraska will take wins any way they come

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Style points are the last thing Nebraska cares about right now.

If it takes second-half comebacks - or perhaps a fortuitous call on an opponent's end-zone fumble - to keep the 16th-ranked Cornhuskers on track for the Big Ten Legends Division title, they aren't sweating it. They embrace it.

Nebraska (8-2, 5-1) erased a 14-point halftime deficit to beat Penn State 32-23 Saturday, the Huskers' fourth come-from-behind win in six games.

``Say whatever you want about the Big Ten Conference,'' receiver Kenny Bell said, ``but to win the four games we just won in the fashion that we won them, with the mental toughness we displayed, I'm really proud of this football team. You talk Penn State, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan State. That's one heck of a gauntlet of a schedule to get those four, and to be sitting where we want right now is nice.''

A win at home this week against Minnesota (6-4, 2-4) and one at Iowa (4-6, 2-4) the day after Thanksgiving would let the Huskers make good on coach Bo Pelini's public challenge to win out after that blowout loss at Ohio State on Oct. 6.

Michigan has the same conference record as Nebraska, but the Huskers own the head-to-head tie-breaker and have the inside track to playing Leaders champ Wisconsin for the Big Ten title Dec. 1 in Indianapolis.

``We talked about what we needed to do to get to Indy, and that's four down,'' Pelini said. ``We've got two more to go. Just have to stay the course.''

Since North Carolina State pulled off the feat six times in 2000, only Nebraska and two other teams (2008 Arkansas, 2005 UCLA) have come back from four second-half deficits of 10 or more points to win, according to STATS LLC.

The breaks have seemed to go the Huskers' way the last three games.

In the 23-9 win over Michigan, their only Big Ten victory that didn't require a comeback, the Wolverines lost star quarterback Denard Robinson to an elbow injury after they had driven inside the 10-yard line late in the second quarter. Michigan trailed just 7-3 at the time. After Robinson went out, the Wolverines did next to nothing offensively.

In the 28-24 win at Michigan State, the Huskers in the last minute went from trying to set up for a tying field goal to being put in position to win in regulation. That's because Spartans cornerback Darqueze Dennard was flagged for a questionable pass interference with 17 seconds left. Even Bell, the receiver on the play, acknowledged he thought Dennard did nothing wrong. The Huskers scored the winning touchdown with six seconds left.

In Saturday's win over Penn State, officials ruled that Nittany Lions tight end Matt Lehman fumbled before he crossed the goal line in the middle of the fourth quarter. A video review didn't change the call, though that judgment was questioned by Fox officiating analyst Mike Pereira and others. Instead of the Lions getting a touchdown to retake the lead, Nebraska got a touchback.

``We got very fortunate on the one where they fumbled at the half-inch line,'' defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. ``When that happened, you know things are going your way.''

If anyone suggests the Huskers are lucky this year, Papuchis doesn't want to hear it.

He pointed to instances of the breaks going against the Huskers, particularly in 2009.

That was the year Virginia Tech set up the go-ahead touchdown in a one-point win with an 81-yard pass in the last minute, when Nebraska committed eight turnovers in a 9-7 loss to Iowa State and when Nebraska lost the Big 12 championship game 13-12 after officials put one second back on the clock to allow Texas to kick the winning field goal.

``I don't think we got a lot of luck before,'' Papuchis said. ``I didn't blame it on bad luck. So when we win, I'm not going to say it's luck.''

Whether it's luck, karma or something else, the Huskers don't believe they can be stopped now.

``The pedal is all the way down, whether it's the last four games we played or the next two,'' Bell said. ``The expectation is to win. We don't exhale or take a deep breath now because that leads to losses. We've got three more weeks and then we can take a take a break when we get that month off before we go to the Rose Bowl.''

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20 Burning Capitals Questions: Will Radko Gudas be an upgrade on the ice over Matt Niskanen?

20 Burning Capitals Questions: Will Radko Gudas be an upgrade on the ice over Matt Niskanen?

The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2.

But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.

With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for four weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.

The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. Today, we look at the addition of defenseman Radko Gudas in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers that sent away Matt Niskanen after five seasons with Washington. Will that move pay dividends? Or lead to some regrets? 

The Capitals had a problem entering the summer. They needed to shed salary to make sure they could take care of their biggest priorities: Adding depth scoring, re-signing at least some of their own free agents and handing forward Jakub Vrana a decent raise. 

For months it was clear defenseman Matt Niskanen was the obvious player to go. He cost $5.75 million per year against the salary cap for the next two seasons. His play was admittedly not up to par for much of last season. 

Niskanen was a reliable second-pair defenseman for much of his time in Washington after signing a seven-year contract in 2014. He and veteran Brooks Orpik arrived from Pittsburgh that year and helped transform a blueline that had lost its way and, eventually, they were key members of the 2018 Stanley Cup championship team. But at 32 and with signs of decline obvious, the Capitals were ready to move on. 

On the surface, a straight flip between Gudas and Niskanen appeared to favor Philadelphia. Niskanen is the one who plays tough minutes against top competition. Gudas for a long time was considered little more than a goon on the ice, a player with an edge who repeatedly crossed the line with controversial hits and brought little to the table offensively. But while signs in 2018-19 showed Niskanen declining, Gudas was playing his way into a larger role with the Flyers. 

They are wildly different players. Niskanen at his best is still a defenseman who can make plays under pressure, skate the puck out of trouble and contribute offensively with 32 points or more his first three years in Washington and never fewer than 25. Gudas had 20 points last season and his career-best is 23.

But the questions isn’t whether you’d rather have had Matt Niskanen of 2014-2018. The question is who would you rather have at the current price for 2019-20? Gudas’ improvement at what he does well and Niskanen’s fade have made that a far more interesting question. 

Niskanen will cost Philadelphia $5.75 million for his age 32/33 and 33/34 seasons. The Flyers better hope he has a rebound season in him. And to be fair, Niskanen did play better the final two months of last season.

But Gudas costs the Capitals just $2.35 million this year because Philadelphia agreed to retain 30 percent of his salary. That savings of $3.4 million was enough to sign back free agent forward Carl Hagelin ($2.75 million) with money left over. That, in turn, allowed Washington to use its limited cap space to add free-agent forward Richard Panik ($2.75 million) and give Vrana his RFA pay bump at $3.35 million. They did have to trade Andre Burakovsky to Colorado instead of letting him sign his qualifying offer ($3.25 million).

But all of that financial flexibility started with Gudas. Is this a better blueline? In part that depends on Nick Jensen. The Capitals at least start the season believing Gudas can continue in the role best suited for him – an above-average third-pair defenseman. There is value in that. Advanced metrics clearly show it’s difficult for teams to get quality scoring chances with Gudas on the ice. Put that in context: He’s usually not on the ice against the opposition’s best. But he shouldn’t be with the Capitals, either. 

Jensen was the player acquired at the trade deadline and immediately given a four-year contract extension. He played the heavy minutes for Detroit last season against better competition and should settle into the second pair on the right side with Washington. If he can’t, that’s its own problem. But if Jensen is the player he was with the Red Wings then it limits Gudas’ exposure and he should thrive as a clear upgrade over the rotating second-year crew that played that position last year (Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey) before Jensen arrived just before the Feb. 25 trade deadline to pick up those minutes.  

The Capitals will still fret about his heavy penalty minutes and his known penchant for getting suspended. But a team that bled high-danger scoring chances even the year it won the Cup needed someone who could help change that. If it comes at an offensive cost, well, few teams are better positioned to withstand a few fewer goals and assists from a defenseman who hardly played on the power play anyway. That’s John Carlson’s gig and he is one of the NHL’s best at it.

It’s an interesting trade. Washington needed the financial flexibility this year and next when goalie Braden Holtby and center Nicklas Backstrom are free agents and will need raises. Gudas comes off the books and that will help. Niskanen would not have. 

At 29, Gudas is also almost four years younger. He doesn’t have the distinguished track record Niskanen does, but that’s not the player he’s replacing. Maybe Niskanen rebounds with the Flyers closer to his career norms and Gudas plays to his relatively limited ceiling or costs Washington games with penalties and/or a suspension. But given the Capitals’ roster as constructed, the cost and Niskanen’s age, it was probably a worthy gamble. 


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Former Redskins backup QB Mark Sanchez retires from NFL to become ESPN analyst

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Former Redskins backup QB Mark Sanchez retires from NFL to become ESPN analyst

Mark Sanchez's days as an NFL quarterback have finally come to an end.

The short-lived Redskins QB backup will retire from the NFL to take a position as a college football analyst on ESPN, the New York Post reported Tuesday.

Sanchez, infamously known as the "butt fumbler," played two games for the Redskins last season after Colt McCoy suffered a season-ending injury. During those two games, Sanchez threw three interceptions and had 138 passing yards.

Josh Johnson ultimately replaced Sanchez and finished out the year as the QB for the Redskins.

Sanchez's career initially seemed incredibly bright. He was drafted fifth in the 2009 NFL draft by the New York Jets where he led them to back-to-back AFC Championship Series appearances during his first two seasons. But his tenure with the Jets only lasted two more seasons before bouncing around the NFC East from 2014-18 until finally landing with the Redskins.