No. 3 Florida winning with 1-dimensional offense


No. 3 Florida winning with 1-dimensional offense

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) No. 3 Florida is making balanced offense seem overrated.

The Gators are last in the Southeastern Conference in passing, averaging a mere 145 yards a game at a time when throwing the football is as fashionable as alternate uniforms. And it's not because they're running the triple option or the Wing T.

Nope, the Gators are simply sticking with what works best - getting the most out of a shifty running back, a fleet-footed quarterback and a physical offensive line that tends to get better the longer it's on the field.

Although the close-to-the-vest, grind-it-out style has carried Florida to its highest ranking in three years, it also has created a perception that the Gators (6-0, 5-0) are vulnerable heading into Saturday's game against No. 9 South Carolina (6-1, 4-1).

What if the Gamecocks, who rank fourth in the league in rushing defense, shut down Florida's seemingly one-dimensional attack? What if Florida gets behind early? Could the Gators survive costly turnovers?

``I didn't realize we were last in passing, but we're first in the East,'' quarterback Jeff Driskel said. ``That's all that matters. We're undefeated. We haven't dropped a game yet. If you're winning, everything's all right. Obviously we got to get better in the passing game, but we're winning games. That's all that matters.''

The Gators have used stingy defense and stellar second-half performances to climb up the polls. They have trailed in five of six games this season, been down at halftime in three and never really looked like one of the best teams in the country.

It's clear that Florida has become exactly what Muschamp promised from Day 1 - a tough, physical team that outworks its opponents and does whatever it takes to win games.

Call them the orange and blue-collared Gators.

It should be no surprise that the Bowl Championship Series computers - unbiased machines that rank teams based on complicated algorithms and don't see a single down - love Florida. Others have their doubts, believing it's difficult to maintain success in this day and age while completing just 13 passes a game.

Offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who came to Gainesville after six seasons at Boise State, wants to be more balanced. But he also makes it clear that if his offense continues giving opponents fits on the ground, he's going to stick with it.

``When we go in and hit 10 explosive plays, the bottom line is run them again,'' Pease said. ``Run them again, OK. Let's not get greedy here as a coach and say, `I don't like that. I'm throwing the ball because that's what we all love to do.'''

Mike Gillislee ranks second in the SEC in rushing, averaging 102 yards a game. Sophomore Jeff Driskel has just four touchdown passes, but he's completing nearly 67 percent of his passes and has just two turnovers. He also has 326 yards rushing and four scores, including a school-record 177 yards and three TDs on the ground last week at Vanderbilt. And the offensive line, which raised eyebrows when coaches called it the strength of the team, has held its own against some formidable fronts.

Throw in Florida's stout defense and two of the best specialists in the nation - punter Kyle Christy and place-kicker Caleb Sturgis - and it's hard to argue when Muschamp and Pease pass on passing and play for field position and field goals.

``If Jeff Driskel can carry the ball 70 yards and outrun everybody, he's getting the ball,'' Pease said. ``If Mike Gillislee can get the ball and outrun everybody, he's getting the ball. And if our O-line blocks like they block, we're giving them the ball. I'm not going to be stubborn as far as playing off numbers every week. I'm going to do what's best for this team and what they create for us to be productive and score points and win football games.''

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who will return to his alma mater Saturday and the place he nicknamed ``The Swamp'' during his 12-year coaching tenure in Gainesville, always had Florida at or near the top of the league in passing. But even the head ball coach recognizes that what the Gators are doing could be special.

``There's all kind of ways to win the game,'' Spurrier said. ``The best one is to play outstanding defense, special teams and run the ball. There've been a lot of champions that ran the ball. I remember it was 1992 when Alabama won the national championship. I think they completed one pass in the national championship game against Miami. So you don't have to throw the ball to win championships.''

The Crimson Tide completed four passes in that Sugar Bowl, but Spurrier's point is valid.

And the Gators know it.

``We're just doing what it takes to win,'' receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. said. ``If it's running the ball 40 times and throwing it 10, as long as we get the `W,' I can't complain. Because at the end of the day, we're brought here to win games and win championships, and that's what we're trying to do.''

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Five observations from Wizards' 125-118 win over the L.A. Clippers, their best comeback of the season so far

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Five observations from Wizards' 125-118 win over the L.A. Clippers, their best comeback of the season so far

The Washington Wizards beat the L.A. Clippers 125-118 on Tuesday night.

Here are five observations from the game...

What a comeback

Against the Clippers on Tuesday, they appeared headed towards another epic beatdown. They allowed 40 points in the first quarter, 73 by halftime and trailed by as many as 24.

But they rallied and somehow stole a victory away from the scorching-hot Clippers to stop a two-game skid and momentarily end all the jokes and proclamations that the John Wall era is over.

It was only one game, but head coach Scott Brooks has to be happy with how his team responded to a tough few days.

Lineup changes

After two-plus seasons of rolling out chalk lineups, Brooks made some adjustments for Tuesday's game that went further than anything he's done since taking the job in Washington.

With Dwight Howard out due to injury, he promoted Thomas Bryant and not Ian Mahinmi to the starting lineup. Brooks also moved Kelly Oubre Jr. in to replace Morris. The idea was to add some youthful bounce to the starting lineup, and it sort of worked.

Bryant gave them a boost early. He threw down an alley-oop for Wizards' first basket. Soon after that, he blocked Marcin Gortat and finished with a layup on the other end.

Bryant was solid with seven points, three rebounds and a block. Morris didn't necessarily respond to getting demoted, as he shot 3-for-11, but he made some nice plays at the end.

Oubre got into early foul trouble and was held to three points in 12 minutes.

Brooks' changes can't be judged by one game, but the fact he made them speaks volumes about where this team is at right now.

Satoransky making some noise

Brooks fluctuating his lineups is going to create opportunities for others to take advantage. So far, in recent games, Tomas Satoransky has stepped up to fill the void.

He helped key the near comeback on Sunday against the Blazers and he was on the floor for the Wizards' best stretches against the Clippers. 

Satoransky is usually good for several things that the Wizards need right now. They need effort on defense, which he provides. And they need guys to pass and move without the ball on offense, which he does.

Satoransky ended up with 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists. The numbers may not pop in the box score, but his impact was clearly felt in this one. The guy deserves more playing time at this point.

Green was also good

The Wizards wouldn't have made this a game without Jeff Green, who continues to outperform his role and his contract.

The veteran forward got hot in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 of his 20 points in the frame. He hit back-to-back threes in the fourth that put the Wizards within striking distance.

The Wizards' front office has made some missteps with their bench free agent signings. But when it comes to backup power forwards, they are batting 1.000 the past two years. They found Mike Scott last season and Green for this season, both on bargain, one-year deals. Scott, ironically, now plays for the Clippers.

Howard out again

As mentioned above, Howard missed this game. He had a setback with his piriformis injury and it's not clear when he will return. Brooks said he is considered day-to-day, but that's what the Wizards said for weeks, all through training camp and into the regular season.

Surely, there could have been some intentional misdirection along the way. But the injury seems entirely unpredictable. It would not be a surprise of Howard missed more games. And the longer he's shut down, the longer it will take to get him back up to speed to return.


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The Yankees have so much money, they are thinking about paying Bryce Harper to not play outfield

The Yankees have so much money, they are thinking about paying Bryce Harper to not play outfield

It won’t surprise anyone to hear that the Yankees might have interest in Bryce Harper this offseason. The Harper-to-the-Yankees narrative has been ongoing for years, going back to Harper’s high school years. It’s also driven by a long and storied history of New York flexing their financial might over the rest of the baseball world.

What is surprising, however, is hearing that the Yankees might have interest in Harper as a first baseman.

Would a potential $300 million contract be worth it just to have Bryce Harper play first base? New York seems to think so. 

Harper mostly played catcher in high school, though his prodigious bat made a position switch a long-term inevitability. Outfield was the natural landing spot, as it’s considered to be the easiest position to learn and would allow Harper to focus on realizing his vast potential at the plate.

In his seven seasons in the big leagues, Harper has played more innings in right field than every other position combined, and the overwhelming majority of his other defensive innings have been in left and center. He is credited with one career game at first base, coming in 2018, though the inning count there is zero.

If he is going to head to the Bronx, however, another position switch might be a necessity. The Yankees are one of the few teams in baseball who already have two power-hitting behemoths in the outfield, in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. 

Either Judge, Stanton or Harper would be miscast in center field, especially considering Harper’s extreme defensive struggles in right last season.

Plus, it would take away at-bats for 2018 breakout Aaron Hicks and potential 2019 breakout Clint Frazier. Additionally, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are still hanging around.

There’s always the option of using one of three as the designated hitter, but the Yankees already have too many power hitters to find at-bats for, and not everyone responds well to not playing in the field.

The one position where the Yankees don’t seem to have a clear answer is first base, hence the recent speculation. Most fans haven’t quite bought in on Luke Voit’s out-of-nowhere 2018 season, and Greg Bird has never been able to put together a full, healthy season.

First base is generally considered to be even easier than the outfield. At the very least, it requires less range, which could be beneficial to Harper as he enters his prime and starts to slow down. It would fill a hole for the Yankees, both in the field and in the lineup, as the bulk of their power comes from right-handed hitters.

Obviously, this speculation is very preliminary, though the prospect of Harper taking aim at the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium is enough to excite any New York fan and haunt the nightmares of fans of the other 29 teams.

At the end of the day, the Yankees may end up interested in Harper playing first base, and in fact, they definitely should be interested in it. But it will come down to what Harper is interested in. If he really wants to wear the pinstripes, he may not have a choice. 

Much like 2018’s other mega free agent, Manny Machado, Harper will have to weigh the idea of playing in New York versus moving off his favored position. If the Yankees can pull it off, then Major League Baseball will have a new superteam to deal with.