No. 19 Stanford tries to stay focused vs Wash. St.


No. 19 Stanford tries to stay focused vs Wash. St.

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) A power running game and a dominant defense against an Air Raid offense that has yet to take flight.

The styles of Stanford and Washington State couldn't be more different. As of now, neither are their places in the Pac-12 North Division race.

The No. 19 Cardinal (5-2, 3-1) look to stay in control of their league title hopes when they host the Cougars on Saturday, beginning two straight games against far inferior opponents than they've faced in recent weeks. Washington State (2-5, 0-4) is still winless in Pac-12 play under new coach Mike Leach and has four lousy losses in a row.

With no margin for error in the conference, that's all the motivation Stanford needs starting a stretch against cellar dwellers Washington State and Colorado (1-6, 1-3) before matchups with seventh-ranked Oregon State and at No. 2 Oregon.

``We're still able to meet all our goals,'' Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes said. ``We just need to keep winning. Every game is going to be a big game from here on out.''

If Stanford sought anything extra to stay focused, all it has to do is look at how the team fared against a similar spread offense last time.

The Cardinal defense has been dominant for all but one game this season: a 54-48 overtime victory against Arizona on Oct. 6, when Nunes rallied Stanford from a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter. They allowed 617 total yards - including 491 yards passing - against Rich Rodriguez's aerial offense and struggled to keep up with the fast pace.

The offense still has been mistake-prone, too.

Stanford's 21-3 win at rival California last week could have been - and perhaps should have been - even more one-sided after the Cardinal outrushed the Golden Bears 252 to 3 yards. Nunes threw an interception and lost a fumble, and Jordan Williamson missed two field goals.

``We're not nearly as good as we can be,'' Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt said. ``That alone is what should drive us. We haven't put together a game that's even close to four quarters of good football.''

The Cougars have not been good for most of the season.

At one point, Leach likened his seniors to an ``empty corpse.'' He saw an improved attitude in a 31-17 home loss to Cal two weeks ago, saying ``we weren't very corpselike on the sideline.''

Coming off a bye and getting ready to play in Silicon Valley, the never-afraid-to-say-anything Leach even banned his players from posting on Twitter. He declined to say what prompted the decision.

For a team that relies so heavily on the pass, there still is not a clear-cut choice at starting quarterback either.

Jeff Tuel is back on top in a competition that seems to change by the possession. Leach had settled on Connor Halliday as the starting quarterback the past five games until the sophomore threw two first-quarter interceptions in a 31-17 home loss to Cal and got benched.

Tuel entered the game and threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns. He took the majority of snaps with the first-team offense in practice and is expected to start at Stanford Stadium, where the Cardinal have won six straight and 17 of the last 18 games.

``We're not very consistent,'' Leach said. ``We need to get good everywhere. I don't think it's any one thing. It's a combination of not being as sharp or experienced as we could be in a number of positions.''

Stanford coach David Shaw praised Leach and Rodriguez for their innovative offenses when they first joined the Pac-12 this season.

After what Rodriguez's Arizona team did during Stanford's last home game, Shaw only has more respect for Leach's schemes. The architect of the Air Raid at Texas Tech just hasn't had the same consistent production at Washington State.

``They've had some spots where they are just dynamic,'' Shaw said.

He especially attributed those bursts to wide receiver Marquess Wilson, who has 38 receptions for 640 yards and five touchdowns. If nothing else, Wilson's athleticism has the Cardinal cornerbacks wary of Washington State's capabilities.

``He's a pretty good receiver. He has great ball skills and he'll go up and get the ball and he also has some speed,'' said freshman cornerback Alex Carter, who is expected to make his second collegiate start. ``You have to be careful.''


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Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Tom Wilson stayed on brand in his return from a long suspension.

The Capitals’ big man scored a goal and took a penalty on the same play in his first game of the season, a 5-2 win against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday night. 

Wilson won’t get the 16 games back he missed for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. But he tried to make up for it in his debut. 

Wilson scored Washington’s second goal at 19:32 of the first period when he drove the net hard and deflected a pass from teammate Dmitry Orlov past Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk. But this being Wilson, nothing is totally uncontroversial.  

The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder was moving fast. There was no stopping him. Wilson, with some help from Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, collided with Dubnyk. The puck was already in the net, but the referee decided Wilson needed to go think about what he’d done after Dubnyk got clocked in the head. It was a two-minute goalie interference call. 

That’s an odd play rarely called. Either the goal counts or it doesn’t, but maybe because Wilson had already scored before running into Dubnyk both calls could stand. 

“It was a first for me to score and get a penalty on the same play,” Wilson told reporters in St. Paul. “I was just going hard to the net and Snarls [Orlov] put it right on my tape. It was a great pass at full speed. I was trying to do everything I could to get out of the way. I’ll take the goal and the kill went out there and got it done. It was good to see.”

It was far from Wilson’s only contribution in his first game back. He also fought Marcus Foligno at 11:58 of the second period on the faceoff after Minnesota cut a Washington lead to 3-1. He didn’t back down when asked to go by Foligno. 

“He’s a key player for our team, brings so much energy both on the ice and off the ice,” forward Andre Burakovsky said. “Huge lift for the team to get him back earlier. Didn’t expect that and I think he had a really strong game today. Obviously, he got the goal in his first game back and then some dirty works. Obviously, I think he’s a huge guy for us in PK and it showed today.”

Wilson didn’t get the assist on the goal that put the game away. Alex Ovechkin found Orlov for a one-timer on a pass from the left faceoff circle to the right. But it was Wilson driving hard toward the goal that kept a Wild defenseman with him and allowed Orlov the space to finish Ovechkin’s pass. Those little things have been missed in the 16 games Wilson was suspended. He was relentless. 

One big issue for the Capitals: The penalty kill. Wilson has been a big part of that group in recent years and without him – and, to be fair the departed Jay Beagle and the injured Brooks Orpik – Washington entered the game 29thin the NHL in penalty kill percentage (71.7 percent). Wilson wasn’t eased into anything. He played 5:23 on the penalty kill and the Capitals killed five of six Wild power plays. 

[Wilson] does a lot not just on the ice, but in our room. Adds a ton of energy. Well respected player for how he trains,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden. “Going through a tough time and obviously kind of a surprise for us to get him back today. We were hoping to at any point here and we were able to take advantage of a fortunate bounce for our team before even the game started. But I didn’t expect him to have as strong a game as he did." 

"Obviously able to convert on a great play on a line rush, but just the other things he did. Our penalty kill, the opposition scores a goal and, you talk about shifts after goals, not giving the team any more momentum than they’ve already gotten and he gets in a fight there. There’s a lot to like about Tom Wilson and I thought he had a strong game. It was great to have him back.”


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4 reasons the Caps beat the Wild

4 reasons the Caps beat the Wild

Think the Caps missed Tom Wilson? It sure looked like it.

Washington looked like a completely different team with Wilson back in the lineup Tuesday in a dominant 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild.

Here are four reasons the Caps won:

Tom Wilson

Wilson made his season debut Tuesday after his suspension was reduced by a neutral arbitrator earlier in the day. Wilson’s addition to the lineup had two effects. One, it made the lineup a lot deeper. Without Wilson, Todd Reirden was having trouble putting together the right lineup. Several players cycled on the top line and every line behind the top had to shuffle. Wilson came back onto the top line and immediately the rest of the lineup fell into place.

The top line looked better, the second line looked better and the third line looked better with their regular lineups back intact.

Wilson’s return also brought a lot of energy to the team and that was evident from the very start of the game. The Caps outshot Minnesota 12-6 and took the 2-0 lead in the first period of the game. Compare that to the rather lethargic game we saw on Sunday, clearly, Wilson brought a spark.

Oh, yeah, Wilson has also had a pretty darn good game too. He scored in the first period of the game in a typical Wilson play. He completely blew past Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter and tipped in a pass from Dmitry Orlov as he crashed the net on goalie Devan Dubnyk.

Somehow Wilson was also given a goalie interference penalty… but the goal still counted? Regardless of what was an obvious reputation penalty, it was a good return for Wilson, who also had a fight with Marcus Foligno and helped set up Orlov’s second goal by crashing again and drawing the defense over to him.

Dmitry Orlov

Orlov broke a 19-game goal drought with a goal just 7:23 into the game.

Lars Eller had the puck and cut to the blue line in the offensive zone turning to the middle. Minnesota got caught puck watching as the defense shifted with Eller, leaving Orlov open on the left. Eller found him and Orlov took advantage of the extra space to score his first goal of the season.

Orlov would add an assist on Wilson’s goal and a second goal in the third period off a beautiful pass from Alex Ovechkin.

The typically reliable defensive pairing of Orlov and Matt Niskanen struggled at the start of the season prompting Todd Reirden to switch up the pairs and place Orlov with John Carlson. Clearly, the move had the desired effect in Tuesday’s game.

The schedule

Tuesday’s game was the Wild’s first at home since Oct. 27. Minnesota was coming off a seven-game road swing and they looked a bit weary at the start of the game. As mentioned above, the Wild were outshot 12-6 in the first period and then 15-8 in the second.

Really, this game was a perfect storm. Not only were the Wild tired from a lengthy road trip, but they also were dealing with a Caps team that was pumped up by the return of Wilson.

Part of what made Sunday’s loss to Arizona so disappointing was the fact that the Coyotes were on the second leg of a back-to-back with their starting goalie on IR. The Caps were not able to take advantage, but they certainly took it to a vulnerable, road-weary team on Tuesday.

The penalty kill

Washington’s porous penalty kill was the reason the Caps lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday and a major reason they fell to Arizona. The PK finally stood tall on Tuesday as the Caps were able to kill off four out of five penalties on the night. The lone power play goal the team gave up came in the third period when the Caps were already up 5-1 and the game was no longer in doubt.

You can add the penalty kill to the long list of things that Wilson instantly improved in his return. Wilson logged 16:47 of total ice time on Tuesday and 5:23 of that came on the penalty kill.