Capitals

No. 19 La. Tech hosts Utah St. in key WAC tilt

No. 19 La. Tech hosts Utah St. in key WAC tilt

RUSTON, La. (AP) Louisiana Tech has relied on its high-scoring offense to reach the brink of a second straight Western Athletic Conference crown.

Coach Sonny Dykes' big concern this week is whether that formula will work for the No. 19 Bulldogs (9-1, 4-0 WAC) again Saturday when defensive-minded Utah State (8-2, 4-0) visits with first place in the league on the line.

``You are living on borrowed time because a lot of times if you come up against a really good defense it is going to be difficult, and it will be for us on Saturday,'' Dykes said. ``We know that. Our players know that, so we are going to have to play better team football on Saturday than we played over the last couple of weeks.''

No one questions that Louisiana Tech has one of the best offenses in the nation. The Bulldogs have scored 50 points or more in eight of their 10 games. Colby Cameron has thrown for 3,283 yards, 27 touchdowns and zero interceptions, setting an NCAA record with a streak of 419 pass attempts without being picked off.

Freshman running back Kenneth Dixon has 1,052 yards on the ground and leads the nation with 24 touchdowns rushing.

And it's not like Tech has been doing all this against weak competition.

The Bulldogs have won two road games against teams from BCS automatic-qualifying conferences, defeating Illinois of the Big Ten 52-24 and Virginia of the ACC 44-38. Tech's only loss this season came against No. 9 Texas A&M - the only team to beat previous No. 1 Alabama - and the Bulldogs went touchdown for touchdown with A&M in that 59-57 thriller in Shreveport last month.

To beat the Bulldogs, Utah State coach Gary Andersen said, ``You better score and move the ball. ... It's arena football.''

Utah State's only losses came against BYU and Wisconsin, and both were close.

The Aggies' defense is rated 12th nationally, allowing only 13.5 points per game.

``The way our defense plays allows us to take more chances on the offensive side of the ball,'' Utah State running back Kerwynn Williams said. ``It's a good thing for us, knowing that our defense has our back if something were to go wrong. They make big plays and I think they'll continue that this game.''

Unlike Tech, Utah State has often looked strong on both sides of the ball, resulting in some rather lopsided victories. The Aggies have won their past four games by an average margin of nearly 30 points.

``You go and watch the film and you look up midway through the second quarter and they are usually ahead 28-0 or 24-0 or 31-0,'' Dykes said of the Aggies. ``It seems like they have gotten off to a great start with people and have really been able to hold them off.''

Sophomore Chuckie Keeton has completed more than 68 percent of his passes this season for 2,671 yards and 23 touchdowns against seven interceptions. His ability to distribute the ball to a variety of players makes him less predictable; five different receivers have caught at least 23 passes. He has also shown an ability to scramble for first downs and appears to be less prone to the types of costly mistakes that sometimes plagued him as a freshman.

``He was a little reckless at times last year with the ball,'' Dykes said. ``He does not do that this year.''

Last year, Tech pulled out a 24-17 victory at Utah State, and it was a defensive play - an interception return for a score - that made the difference for the Bulldogs. The Aggies have been looking forward to the rematch ever since.

``We always had them kind of marked on our schedule coming from the offseason just because we knew it was one of the games we should have won last year,'' Keeton said. ``To have it be on this magnitude where a WAC championship is kind of on the line is a great feeling.''

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Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: Are the stars aligning for another Capitals Cup run?

Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: Are the stars aligning for another Capitals Cup run?

Let’s get one thing straight: There are no easy roads to a Stanley Cup. Capitals fans know that better than most after seeing their team dominate the regular season just to get upset in the first or second round of the playoffs for several years. Having said that, seeing Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Calgary and Winnipeg all lose in the first round, it seems like things are setting up very nicely for Washington.

The Caps should have one thing and one thing only on their minds on Monday and that is the Carolina Hurricanes. Washington still needs one more win to advance and they should not catch themselves looking ahead to possible future matchups.

But we can look ahead.

The top seeds in both conferences have been eliminated in the first round for the first time. Long-time nemesis Pittsburgh is out. Either Boston or Toronto will soon be joining them plus there is a possibility that both Nashville and San Jose could still lose as well.

This is not meant to discount any of the teams the Caps could still play. Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders swept the Penguins and earned a spot in the second round. He has proven his worth as a coach and his team is going to be incredibly tough for anyone to score on, let alone beat. The Columbus Blue Jackets jumped out to a 2-0 series lead on Washington last season and got better this year as they showed Tampa Bay with a four-game sweep. Whoever comes out of the West no doubt will be a great team as well.

But if you were to draw up the best-case scenario for the Caps through the first round, having Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Calgary and Winnipeg all lose would likely be part of that scenario.

The Cup is truly up for grabs. This is true every year in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it is especially true this year. If the Hurricanes find a way to win Game 6 and shock the Caps in Game 7, we are going to look back at this season as a missed opportunity considering the number of contenders ousted in the first round.

SEE THIS WEEK’S STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF POWER RANKINGS HERE

Here are a few recent observations and thoughts on the Caps.

  • The Caps are, at their core, a physical team. That is how they ultimately find success and they went away from that earlier in the series, especially in Games 3 and 4. When they reestablished it in Game 5, they blew the Hurricanes away. Any team can play well for one game. Any team can respond after losing a really good player for one game. The real test is to see how they play in Raleigh where they were beaten so thoroughly and the offense was held to only a single power play goal and zero 5-on-5 production.
  • If you want to know why physical play still matters in today’s NHL, watch Brett Connolly’s Game 5 goal again. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton is in a footrace with Alex Ovechkin to get the puck behind Carolina’s net and he completely gives up on the play. He does not go into the boards and put himself in a position to get checked by Ovechkin. It looked like he thought the play would be called icing, but if you’re not 100-percent sure you need to get to that puck even if it means taking a hit. Hamilton looked like he wanted no part of that which allowed Ovechkin to get the puck and set up a goal.
  • The Caps may finally have settled on defensive pairings. The defense has been a work in progress ever since Michal Kempny’s injury, but Todd Reirden may have finally found three pairs he can stick with. After making his playoff debut in Game 4, Jonas Siegenthaler played on the top defensive pair with John Carlson on Saturday. We have seen Reirden mix and match his defensive pairs throughout games, but things stuck in Game 5 as Siegenthaler and Carlson played 11:19 together at 5-on-5. The most Carlson played with any other defenseman at 5-on-5 during the game was 51 seconds. I asked Reirden afterward if he felt he had found his top defensive pair and he remained non-committal saying he still would mix and match as needed depending on the situation, but the numbers speak for themselves. Siegenthaler is a defensively responsible player, he has not looked rattled at all by the forecheck and, perhaps most importantly, he’s a left-handed shot allowing Carlson to play on his natural right side. I like the look of this pair a lot.
  • Nick Jensen has had a rough series. In fact, it looks like it has been a rough transition from Detroit to Washington since he was acquired. That’s OK. Sometimes players take time to adjust to a new team and a new system, but because of that, it benefits the Caps more to have him play on the third pair than the top, especially if moving him up means playing with Carlson on the left. That’s a lot to ask. With Siegenthaler up top, Jensen moved back down to the third pair on Saturday and it was easily his best game of the series. Pairing him with Brooks Orpik allows Jensen to step more into the offense, an area of the game in which his skills are greatly underrated. Jensen looked good on both ends of the ice in Game 5 and was particularly strong on the penalty kill. He can be a top-four defenseman, but I am not sure he is ready for that type of role in Washington yet. He is a definite asset on the third pair, however, and he showed that on Saturday.

The Caps are one win away from advancing to the second round. Here is where they stand among the other playoff teams in this week’s Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings.

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: 20 prospects linked to Baltimore at No. 22

Baltimore Ravens Roundup: 20 prospects linked to Baltimore at No. 22

We've made in to NFL draft week. Here's the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

Player/Team Notes: 

1. The 2019 NFL Draft is Thursday night in Nashville, Tn. While the chances of pundits predicting each team's first-round pick accurately is about the same as picking the Powerball numbers, we can't seem to stop ourselves from looking at them. Here's a look at 20 prospects mocked to the Ravens at No. 22, courtesy of the Ravens' website.  


2. One of the many exciting parts of the NFL draft is waiting to hear which organizations trade forward or backwards to acquire a pick. Just last year, the Ravens traded back from their No. 16 pick several times to select Hayden Hurst at No. 25, before trading back into the first-round to pick Lamar Jackson at No. 32. But which trade in Ravens history was the most impactful? ESPN's Jamison Hensley selected the Ravens' trade for running back Jamal Lewis.


"In 1999, the Ravens traded their second-round pick (No. 43) for Atlanta's first-round pick in 2000, which they used to land running back Jamal Lewis," Hensley wrote. "The Falcons selected tight end Reggie Kelly, and the Ravens got what turned into the No. 5 overall pick in the 2000 draft. Baltimore drafted Lewis, who carried the offense during the team's 2000 Super Bowl championship season and recorded the NFL's fifth 2,000-yard season in 2003."


3. As Marlon Humphrey enters his third year in the league, the cornerback will not only be expected to take on a leadership role within the Ravens' new look defense, but top his impressive sophomore season. In 2018, Humphrey contested 35% of targets thrown into his coverage marking the second-best rate in all the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. 


Looking Ahead:

April 25-27: 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville, Tn.

May 3-6 or May 10-13: Potential three-day rookie mini camp

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get long-term deal done with designated franchise tag player

The 2019 NFL schedule is set!  See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

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