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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Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers


Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

WASHINGTON  -- Kike Hernandez and Yasiel Puig each hit two-run homers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Washington Nationals 7-2 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Hernandez's blast off Stephen Strasburg in the fifth inning put the Dodgers up 3-2. Yasmani Grandal also homered off Strasburg (5-4), who allowed three runs and five hits over 6 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts.

Alex Wood (1-4) pitched six innings, allowing just three hits and two earned runs. Wood came out to start the seventh, but returned to the clubhouse after showing some discomfort during his warm-up tosses.

Trea Turner homered for Washington, which swept Arizona last weekend and then went five days without playing a full game because of rain before getting swept by the Dodgers.

Los Angeles, after losing six consecutive games, has now won four straight overall and five of six over Washington this season.

Washington's Juan Soto, at 19 the youngest active player in the majors, made his debut in the eighth as a pinch-hitter and struck out against Erik Goeddel.

The Dodgers added two runs in the ninth. Josh Fields recorded the final four outs for his second save of the season.


- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
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- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.

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George McPhee's Vegas Golden Knights advance to Stanley Cup Final


George McPhee's Vegas Golden Knights advance to Stanley Cup Final

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Ryan Reaves scored the winning goal, Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves and the Vegas Golden Knights pushed their remarkable expansion season into the Stanley Cup Final, beating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Sunday in Game 5 of the Western Conference final.

Alex Tuch also scored for the Knights. They lost Game 1 in Winnipeg before winning four straight to become the first expansion team since the 1968 St. Louis Blues -- when the six initial expansion teams were put alone in the West -- to get to the final.

Vegas will meet the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Washington Capitals in the final. Tampa Bay leads the Eastern Conference final 3-2, with Game 6 set for Monday night in Washington.

Josh Morrissey scored for the Jets, and Connor Hellebuyck made 30 saves.

Reaves, the bruising Winnipeg native acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins before to the trade deadline in February, snapped a 1-1 tie with 6:39 left in the second period when he tipped Luca Sbisa's point shot past Hellebuyck for his first goal of the playoffs.

Winnipeg got a power play early in the third, but couldn't muster much of anything. The Knights smothered much of the Jets' attack for the next 10 minutes, with Hellebuyck having to come up with big stops on William Karlsson and Eric Haula to keep his team within one.

The Jets pressed with under 4 minutes to go, with Fleury stopping captain Blake Wheeler on the doorstep, but it wasn't nearly enough as the Knights closed out their third straight series on the road.

The Jets beat the Knights 4-2 in Game 1, but Vegas snatched home ice with a 3-1 victory in Game 2 before picking up 4-2 and 3-2 wins at T-Mobile Arena.

The Knights, whose jaw-dropping inaugural 109-point campaign included a Pacific Division crown, swept the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, and knocked out the San Jose Sharks in six games.

The Jets had the NHL's second-best record with 114 points in the regular season. They advanced to the first conference final in city's history with a five-game victory over the Minnesota Wild in the opening round before topping the Presidents' Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in Game 7 on the road.

The usual raucous, white-clad crowd at Bell MTS Place -- not to mention the thousands of fans outside the arena attending a street party on a sun-drenched spring afternoon -- were silenced just 5:11 into Game 5 when Tuch jumped on Morrissey's turnover and fired his sixth past Hellebuyck.

The Jets were tentative to start and it got worse after the opener as Vegas dominated the next couple of shifts, forcing some good saves from Hellebuyck before Winnipeg got its feet moving.

After being outshot 7-1 in the first 7 minutes, the Jets finally pushed back and turned the tide with the next nine attempts on goal, culminating with Morrissey making amends for his early gaffe with 2:46 left in the period.

Bryan Little won a faceoff in the offensive zone straight back to second-year defenseman, who blasted his first career playoff goal past Fleury's glove.

One of Winnipeg's downfalls in the series through four games was an inability to maintain momentum. The Knights scored within 1:28 of a Jets' goal in each of the first four games -- a crushing 12 seconds after Winnipeg tied Game 3, and an equally gut-wrenching 43 seconds after the Jets knotted Game 4 -- but they managed to take the game to the locker rooms tied 1-1.

Both teams had chances in the second period before Reaves made it 2-1, with Jets center Mathieu Perrault just missing on a pass from Little that had too much speed.

Right after Reaves scored the second playoff goal of his career -- and first since 2015 with St. Louis -- Winnipeg's Nikolaj Ehlers rang a shot off the post on Fleury.