No. 8 Beavers don't need incentive against Utah

No. 8 Beavers don't need incentive against Utah

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) With no In-N-Out double-doubles to be found in the state, Oregon State coach Mike Riley will have to come up with another incentive for the No. 8 Beavers this weekend against Utah.

Not that they need it.

The Beavers have opened 5-0 and climbed to their highest ranking since they finished the 2000 season at No. 4 after a Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame.

It is a stunning turnaround for a team that went just 3-9 last season and was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 North. Instead, the Beavers are a win away from bowl eligibility at the halfway point of their season.

It's been a season of surprises for the Beavers. Their home opener against Nicholls State was postponed until December, so no one really knew what to expect when the Beavers opened at home with then-No. 13 Wisconsin on Sept. 8. Oregon State won, 10-7.

The Beavers lost starting quarterback Sean Mannion to a left knee injury in a 19-6 victory over Washington State two weekends ago, but junior backup Cody Vaz took over and threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-24 win last Saturday at BYU. It was Vaz's first start since high school.

The latest surprise? Even though Mannion had surgery to repair the meniscus in his knee last week, he returned to practice Thursday and was listed as Vaz's backup against the Utes.

Vaz, who earned Pac-12 player of the week honors following his start against the Cougars, wasn't concerned about playing a spotlighted Saturday night game at Reser Stadium against the Utes.

``I'd much rather play in a home game than an away game, to be honest, I don't think it adds any extra nerves,'' he said.

Oregon State is ranked eighth in the nation with an average of 338 yards passing per game. Brandin Cooks averages 131.8 yards receiving, also eighth nationally, while Markus Wheaton isn't far behind with an average of 112.8 yards, 10th in the country.

On defense, the Beavers are allowing an average of just 70 yards rushing and just 18.4 points per game to opponents. Cornerback Jordan Poyer is averaging an interception per game, and has five of Oregon State's 10 overall picks.

That doesn't bode well for Utah freshman quarterback Travis Wilson, who passed for 220 yards in his first career start last week, a 21-14 loss to UCLA. It was the third straight loss for the Utes (2-4, 0-3).

Utah lost its first four conference games last season but went on to win its next four, starting with a 27-8 victory over Oregon State.

Wilson got the start last weekend over senior Jon Hays, who started the three games this season after Jordan Wynn suffered a career-ending shoulder injury. Hays threw for two touchdowns against the Beavers last season, the Utes' first in the expanded Pac-12 Conference.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham says he's sticking with Wilson for now.

``You don't ever say forever but right now he is our guy,'' Whittingham said. ``We are pleased with his initial performance. We don't want him playing on eggshells. There is a fine line - we talk about being competitive and we need him to perform, but at the same time he has to know that we have confidence in him. And what we saw in that game, we have confidence in him that he will continue to improve.''

On defense, Utah leads the nation with 13 forced fumbles and three fumbles returned for a touchdown. The last time the Utes returned three fumbles for TDs was the 2003 season.

Utah ranks third in the Pac-12 in total defense, allowing opponents an average of about 351 yards a game.

But Utah is struggling on offense and is last in the conference with an average of just under 303 total offensive yards per game. They're second-to-last in rushing offense with an average of 100 yards on the ground.

Despite the stats, Whittingham believes the offense is coming together.

``We're headed down the path that we think is best for us. Have we been productive as want to be? No, we've been abysmal at times. But we have to keep working and find answers,'' he said. ``There are no moral victories but I think we're closer than a lot of people think we are.''

It has been Riley's custom this season to treat his team to In-N-Out burgers after road wins. He said he's been lucky that the chain's corporate office has been very cooperative about the postgame orders for 250 double-doubles.

When they're at Reser Stadium, the Beavers are treated to chef Raul Vera's special Victory Wings in the locker room after wins. If the rest of the season goes like the start, they'll be having a lot of those chicken wings because the team plays four of its next six games at home.

``We've got a couple of home games, so we'll just go the normal course of events at home,'' he said. ``I think it's 300 miles to the closest In-N-Out here.''


AP Sports Writer Lynn DeBruin in Utah contributed to this report.

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Pre-draft workouts begin; Michigan's Moe Wagner goes 1-on-1

USA Today Sports Images

Wizards Tipoff podcast: Pre-draft workouts begin; Michigan's Moe Wagner goes 1-on-1

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chris Miller caught up with Michigan star Moe Wagner after his workout with the Wizards.

Chris and Chase Hughes also gave their impressions of the first prospects to come in for pre-draft workouts, including which guys are most likely to be Wizards. One of those prospects is a point guard and a likely first round pick. Chase and Chris explain why that's not a crazy idea, even considering the presence of John Wall on their roster.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

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Redskins still absorbing rule changes involving kickoffs, contact with helmet

Associated Press

Redskins still absorbing rule changes involving kickoffs, contact with helmet

The NFL has passed two major on-field rule changes in the last two months. One, the rule that prohibits players from lowering their helmets to initiate contact with another player. That one passed during the spring meetings in March but it was just recently clarified. The other one changes how kickoffs are executed. 

Both rules, designed to make the game safer for the players, could have a major impact on the game. And the Redskins are still a little unclear about how to handle them. 

Safety D.J. Swearinger is one of the Redskins’ hardest hitters. After saying that the helmet-lowering rule, which is outlined in some detail in this video from the NFL, would not affect him because he hits low, he wondered why he was even wearing a hard hat at work. 

“I’ve got a helmet on, but I can’t use it or hit nobody with it, might as well take the helmet off if you ask me,” said Swearinger following the Redskins’ OTA practice on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday afternoon, coach Jay Gruden had not yet been filled in on the details of the helmet-lowering rule. He said that the team will sort it out over the three and a half months between now and the start of the regular season. 

“The lowering of the helmet, I don’t know which ones they decided to go with, so we’ll see,” he said. “I know there’s been a lot of talk about bull rushes and they’re trying to obviously protect the players, but we’ve just got to be careful.”

Gruden said that special teams coach Ben Kotwica went to meetings to help hash out the kickoff rule. What they ended up with looks a lot like another special teams play according to the player who will be executing the kickoffs. 

“It looks like they’re trying to make it more like a punt,” said kicker Dustin Hopkins. Among the similarities are that the kicking team will not be able to get a running start as the kicker approaches the ball. They will have to be stationary a yard away from the line where the ball is until it is kicked. 

The league probably will be happy if the play does more closely resemble a punt. The injury rate on punt plays is much lower than it is on kickoffs. 

Some believe that this change will lead to longer kickoff returns. Gruden didn’t disagree, but he said that he needs more information. 

“I think without the guys getting a running start, number one, it could be,” he said. “I think it’s just something I have to see it before I can really make any judgments on it.”

The new rule prohibits wedge blocking meaning that you are unlikely to see any offensive linemen on kickoffs as they were used primarily to create or break wedges. 

“I think for the most part, you’re going to see more speed guys,” said Gruden.

The Redskins will start to wrap their heads around the new rule during the next three weeks, when they have their final two weeks of OTAs and then minicamp before the break for training camp. Gruden said that they will continue to work on it in Richmond. He said that the joint practices with the Jets and the four preseason game will be important for sorting out just how the team will implement kickoffs. 

The best way to handle it might be to just let Hopkins pound the ball into the end zone every time. Last year 72.5 percent of his kickoffs went for touchbacks. He could have had more touchbacks, but he occasionally was told to kick it high to force a return with the hope of getting better field position. But if the rules lead to longer returns it may not be worth the risk. 

More 2018 Redskins

- 53-man roster: Player one-liners, offense
- Tandler’s Take: Best- and worst-case scenarios for 2018
- OTAs: Practice report: Smith sharp
- Injuries: Kouandjio out for the season

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.