Capitals

'Noles, Gators feature 2 of nation's top defenses

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'Noles, Gators feature 2 of nation's top defenses

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Two of the nation's best team, with national championship hopes on the line. Now this feels like one of those classic Florida-Florida State.

In recent years, the rivalry hasn't been quite what it used to be when Bobby Bowden was coaching the Seminoles and Steve Spurrier was leading the Gators back in the 1990s.

For the first time since 2000, both the Gators and `Noles are ranked in the top 10 for their regular-season finale.

Defense is each team's signature, so expect points and yards to be tough to come by.

The Seminoles (10-1, 7-1) lead the nation in total defense and rank among the top five in four other defensive categories.

Florida (10-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) isn't far behind, sitting fourth nationally in total defense.

Both will need the help of at least an upset or two this weekend, but it's certainly possible that the winner could play in the BCS championship game.

Florida's only loss was to third-ranked Georgia. Florida State, which plays Georgia Tech week in the ACC title game, was upset at North Carolina State.

Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease is well aware the Seminole defense has held Florida to a single touchdown in each of the last two years.

``They've got all the ingredients to be what they want to be,'' Pease said. ``They've got it all in place.''

Florida State is giving up 13.1 points and 236.3 yards a game this season and has 28 sacks with defensive ends Cornellius ``Tank'' Carradine and Bjoern Werner combining for 20 of those.

``They're going to win some battles,'' Pease said. ``You've got to have some man beaters and got to hold up in protection.''

The Gator front will need to keep the Seminole rush away from quarterback Jeff Driskel, who returns Saturday after missing last week's game with a sprained ankle. Driskel, who didn't play in last year's loss, has completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 1,324 yards and 10 TDs and is a threat running the ball with 424 rushing yards.

Gators running back Mike Gillislee is just 36 yards shy of 1,000 yards this season.

``Containing him will be a key factor,'' Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.

Containing the other team hasn't been a problem for either defense this season.

Florida kept LSU, Kentucky, South Carolina and Jacksonville State out of its zone and limited Missouri to a lone score.

But the Gators have had to rely on that defense more with an offense that had had plenty of issues.

Florida State has had those problems this year, with quarterback EJ Manuel leading the way.

Manuel will be making his 29th career start Saturday, though he had perhaps his poorest performance last year at Florida. Manuel was sacked four times and passed for just 65 of his team's 95 (not a misprint) total yards in the game and if not for punter Shawn Powell kicking his team out of trouble, the outcome - 21-7 Florida State - could have been different.

``We didn't do our part on offense,'' Manuel said this week. ``We have to do our part this year.''

Manuel, 23-5 as a starter, may also find himself in the shotgun formation more often where he has seemed to be more comfortable and productive as he winds down a sterling final season. Manuel has completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 2,785 yards and 21 touchdowns with five interceptions.

The Florida defense that has allowed 11.8 points and 328.8 yards a game is easily the best Manuel has faced this year.

``We will have to be ready to go,'' Manuel said. ``Getting scores on the board and not three and outs.''

A bit of turnabout from last year's Florida State win comes in the punting game, which could be especially important if offense is sparse.

The Seminoles had the edge a year ago with Powell. This year the Gators have it with Kyle Christy, who leads the SEC an average of over 46.3 yards a punt.

Florida State has gone with freshman Cason Beatty, who has struggled some at times. Beatty averages 37.6 yards a punt.

Both teams also have outstanding field goal kickers.

Florida State's Dustin Hopkins is already the most prolific kick scorer in NCAA history with 448 career points and two field goals shy of the NCAA mark of 87.

Florida's Caleb Sturgis has 66 field goals and is just one shy of the school record. Both are finalists for the Lou Groza award, symbolic of the nation's top placekicker.

Fisher hasn't lost yet to any Florida schools, standing 3-0 against Miami, 2-0 against the Gators and 1-0 over South Florida. And he says there's no way his players are looking ahead to their Dec. 1 game against Georgia Tech for the ACC championship.

``It's Florida,'' Fisher emphasized. ``We know them very well and they know us. It's just about that game.

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4 keys for the Caps to win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

4 keys for the Caps to win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

It all starts Monday!

The Vegas Golden Knights will host the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final as both teams look to take early control of the series.

Can the Caps steal one on the road to start? Here are four keys to winning Game 1.

Win the first period

The Golden Knights have not played a game since May 20. While rest can benefit a team at this time of the year, there is such a thing as too much rest and over a week would certainly qualify. If there is absolutely any rust in Vegas’ game to start, the Caps need to take advantage.

T-Mobile Arena and the Vegas crowd have already built a reputation in year one. The atmosphere is going to be electric, but the Caps can combat that with a good start to the game and by scoring first.

Vegas is 10-1 when scoring first this postseason. If they are able to come in and get on the board right off the bat in the first period after seven full days between games, that does not bode well for the Caps’ chances.

Don’t allow Marc-Andre Fleury to pick up where he left off

Fleury is having a postseason for the ages, but it’s hard to believe momentum is simply going to carry over to a new series after such a lengthy break. Players are not simply going to pick up where they left off and play as if there’s no rust to shake off. The need to get to Fleury as early as possible.

What that means is getting traffic in front of the net, making him move, contesting rebounds, making him feel uncomfortable as much as possible and generating quality offensive chances.

The Caps can do is starting flinging pucks at the net and giving him easy saves. Getting 12 shots in the first period would be great, but not if they are all perimeter shots for easy saves that help bring Fleury's confidence back to where it was in the Western Conference Final.

Limit the turnovers

Turnovers are blood in the water for Vegas. The high-effort, high-speed style of play of the Golden Knights has caught several players off guard at points this postseason. No one can afford to be casual with the puck at any point in this game because Vegas has a knack for turning those turnovers into goals.

Winning Game 1 on the road will be hard enough without giving the Golden Knights at any help.

Shut down the top line

Only three players have reached double digits in points for the Golden Knights in the playoffs: Jonathan Marchessault (18), Reilly Smith (16) and William Karlsson (13). What do these three have in common? They all play on Vegas’ top line. To compare, the Caps have seven players in double digits.

Much has been made of Vegas’ offensive depth and their ability to roll four lines, but the play of Fleury in net has really masked how much this team relies on its top line for offense. The Caps need to get Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against them and focus on shutting them down. Force the Golden Knights to win with their other three lines and see if they can.

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

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Need to Know: Redskins will have a lot of starter stability in 2018

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Need to Know: Redskins will have a lot of starter stability in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, May 28, 15 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Stability at the top of the depth chart

This post was originally published on March 23 Note that this was prior to the draft.

A Redskins defense that ranked 27thin total defense and was dead last against the run is likely to return nine or 10 of the players who were the primary starters in 2017. The Washington defense, which was 16thoverall and 27thrunning the ball, will certainly return seven starters and could have eight the same as last year. 

I’m sure that this will alarm many Redskins fans, but it shouldn’t. Before getting into that, let’s look at the changes. 

On defense, the nine starters who are assured of returning are DE Stacy McGee, DL Jonathan Allen, OLB Preston Smith, OLB Ryan Kerrigan, ILB Zach Brown, ILB Mason Foster, CB Josh Norman, S Montae Nicholson, and S D.J. Swearinger. 

As of right now, a tenth returning starter has to be penciled in at nose tackle. Yes, if the season started today it would be Ziggy Hood at nose tackle again. More on that in a minute.

The only starting spot that is certain to turn over is the cornerback opposite Norman. Even though Bashaud Breeland’s contract agreement with the Panthers fell through due to a failed physical he is much more likely to lad on another NFL team than he is to return to the Redskins. 

It is impossible to think that the Redskins will not do something to address the nose tackle position, whether it’s in the draft or in free agency. Then again, it’s impossible to believe they have run the 3-4 defense since 2010 without coming up with a long-term solution at the nose. (Udate: Of course, they did this in the draft when they took Daron Payne and Tim Settle).

On offense, the seven starters certain to return are WR Josh Doctson, WR Jamison Crowder, OT Trent Williams, C Chase Roullier, RG Brandon Scherff, RT Morgan Moses, and TE Jordan Reed. RB Samaje Perine could be an eighth returning starter depending on if the Redskins take a running back early in the draft. 

The new starters will be QB Alex Smith, WR Paul Richardson, and someone at left guard. 

Having between 16 and 18 returning starters from a team that went 7-9 in 2017 may not be enough turnover for some fans. That’s not a completely unreasonable point of view. However, there is a such thing has having too much churn in your starting lineup and some stability for the Redskins may be a good thing this year. 

They had five new starters on defense last year and a new defensive coordinator. They also had a new coordinator on offense along with two new wide receivers and, by midseason, changes in the starters at running back and center. This is not counting all of the on-the-fly changes that had to be made due to injuries. 

Continuing to make changes in the starting lineup is not always a recipe for success. Sometimes you just need to pick a group of players and, to the extent that you can in the free agency-salary cap world of the NFL, stick with them. Sure, you have to address weakness like nose tackle and possibly running back and fill holes created by free agency departures. However, it is often better to give a player time to acclimate to a system and, especially with a rookie, time to learn the fine points of the game.

Tearing things down and starting over again after a mediocre season is a recipe for, well, more mediocre seasons. 

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