Nationals

Northwestern thrilled after holding onto late lead

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Northwestern thrilled after holding onto late lead

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) The Northwestern Wildcats hope they can finally move on from their fourth-quarter struggles.

After holding on for a 23-20 victory over Michigan State on Saturday, the Wildcats are very much in the mix for a quality bowl bid at the end of the season.

Northwestern (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten) blew fourth-quarter leads in losses to Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan, so the Wildcats had reason to be anxious when Michigan State took over at its own 20-yard line with 1:29 remaining and needing a field goal to tie.

But Andrew Maxwell threw four straight incompletions, enabling Northwestern to close out the victory. The win came a week after an excruciating loss in overtime to Michigan after the Wildcats had lost the lead in the final seconds of regulation.

``We felt a little crushed last week but with a win this week we're hoping we can latch onto that momentum and get two more wins,'' tight end Dan Vitale said. ``Personally, I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing and I think good things are going to happen. We're getting more and more confidence each game.''

Now Northwestern can state its case even further to bowl representatives next weekend against Illinois in the regular-season finale. Among Big Ten teams, only Ohio State and Nebraska have more overall victories than Northwestern - and the Buckeyes are ineligible for postseason play.

Northwestern has a chance to play in a January bowl for the third time in four seasons.

``When you've had some tough defeats like we've had, you've got to shut out the noise and the negativity,'' coach Pat Fitzgerald said. ``With the 24-hour news cycle and social media, it's tough on our guys; it's hard as it's ever been. But we talked about that.''

The Wildcats held firm after their loss to Michigan, in which they allowed a 53-yard pass in the final seconds of the regulation that set up the Wolverines' tying field goal. Against the Spartans, Jeff Budzien kicked a 27-yard field goal with 7:30 remaining to give Northwestern a 23-20 lead.

Michigan State's final chance came in the last couple minutes. Fitzgerald was willing to punt to the Spartans (5-6, 2-5) on fourth-and-1 from the Northwestern 49.

The Wildcats' defense rewarded the coach for his confidence.

``To see the way that the program has responded I think is a terrific credit to our players. They've stayed the course,'' Fitzgerald said. ``We're going to set things out for them as far as a vision and a belief system and a value system. But it takes them to own it, it takes them to manage it every day, and it takes them to hold each other accountable to the Wildcat way, and they've done that.''

Michigan State enjoyed its own renaissance in 2010 and 2011, but this year has been rough. After beginning the season with Rose Bowl aspirations, the Spartans now need to win at Minnesota next weekend just to become bowl eligible.

All seven of Michigan State's conference games this year have been decided by four points or fewer. They'll need a win in the last one, no matter what the margin.

``You can only live in the present and the future,'' Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. ``We have to get ready for Minnesota and are in a situation to be playing for a bowl game. Credit Northwestern for making plays. I think they played extremely hard and they always do.''

The Wildcats don't need to worry about making a bowl - but every additional victory helps their case for moving up in the pecking order.

``We had a big pit in our stomach, a lot of pain in our stomach after last week,'' Vitale said. ``I think we released a lot of demons this game and it felt great to win.''

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Strasburg, Scherzer get in heated conversation after ugly inning

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Strasburg, Scherzer get in heated conversation after ugly inning

The Washington Nationals have had a less than ideal season thus far.

The reigning N.L. East champs entered the All-Star Break 5.5 games back of first place, have a new manager that has gotten his fair share of criticism, are riddled with injuries contributing to a lengthy disabled list and seem to be frustrated to no end on the baseball field.

In his first game back following a right shoulder injury that landed him on the DL for over a month, Stephen Strasburg started Friday night's game in Washington against the Braves, one of tewo teams above the Nats in the East standings.

Following a poor outing in the fifth inning in which Davey Martinez decided to pull Strasburg, fellow ace Max Scherzer attempted to greet the starter. Strasburg brushed Scherzer off as he sat down on the bench and the two got into what seemed like a very heated exchange.

The Nationals never recovered from Strasburg's start and fell to the Braves 8-5 in Washington.

The frustration was evident as Martinez met with Scherzer and Strasburg to hash out the argument, delaying postgame clubhouse access to the media while their meeting was going on.

The meeting was kept under lock by Martinez, Scherzer, and Strasburg, who chalked it up to just being a part of the "family."

According to Martinez, the dugout conversation was hashed out and he immediately brushed it off when pressed for questions.

The Nationals look to even up the series against The Braves in Washington tonight.

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10 Questions in 10 Days: What can the Redskins expect from Derrius Guice?

10 Questions in 10 Days: What can the Redskins expect from Derrius Guice?

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold before the team heads to Richmond. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

No. 8: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

No. 7: Do the Redskins have a 1,000-yard WR?

No. 6: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

No. 5: What can the Redskins expect from Derrius Guice?

No rookie draft pick excited the Redskins fan base like Derrius Guice since Robert Griffin III came to Washington back in 2012. That's a fact. 

Guice slipped during the draft to near the end of the second round, a position much too late for a player with his talent. Rumors emerged that he had character issues, but in the months since April's selection, they seem unfounded. In quick time, Guice has emerged as a Redskins fan favorite and has performed plenty of charitable acts.

So, moving past the erroneous off-field questions, it's time to manage expectations for what Guice can do on the field. 

DJ Swearinger recently said he expects Guice to make the Pro Bowl and rush for more than 1,000 yards. As a rookie. (Listen here)

That's not unheard of, last year rookie Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rush yards. In 2016, Ezekiel Elliott did the same thing. Rookie running backs can step in and produce right away in the NFL, unlike some positions that usually bring more of a learning curve. 

Can Guice do that?

The first and most important questions will be health and durability. Guice dealt with lingering knee injuries last year at LSU, and the Redskins will need him fully healthy. A 1,000-yard season is not unrealistic if Guice plays a full 16-game season. It would require rushing for about 65 yards-per-game. 

The bigger key is opportunities. 

How many carries will Guice log in 2018? Early on in the season, Guice might still be learning pass protection in the Redskins scheme, and Jay Gruden will not tolerate missed assignments that result in big hits on QB Alex Smith.

If Guice can lock in on blitz pickup, 200 carries seems reasonable. Remember that Chris Thompson will still be a featured part of the Redskins offense, and Rob Kelley will get chances too. 

Last season, Samaje Perine led all rushers with 175 carries. He didn't do much with the chances, averaging just 3.4 yards-per-carry. Kelley had 62 carries before injuries shut his season down after parts of seven games. 

Combine Perine and Kelley's carries, and then things start to get interesting. With 230 carries, at an average of 4 yards a pop, Guice starts to approach 1,000 yards.

One problem with extrapolating too much data from last season is the crazy amount of variables. Late in the year, with Perine largely ineffective and a very beat up offensive line, the Redskins simply couldn't produce on the ground. In their last five games of 2017, the Redskins never rushed for more than 100 yards. They averaged just 60 yards-per-game on the ground during that stretch, including a season low 31 rush yards against Arizona in December. 

The line can't be that beat up again, right?

Guice has to be able to deliver more than Perine, right?

If the answers to those questions are yes, then a 1,000-yard season seems possible for Guice in 2018. 

One misnomer from the Redskins 2017 campaign emerged that Washington simply did not run the ball well or enough. In fact, early in the year when the Redskins looked like a possible playoff team, they ran the ball quite well. In three of the first four games, Washington went over 100 yards on the ground, including 229 rush yards in a Week 2 win over the Rams. 

Guice might get to 1,000 yards in 2018. It's no sure thing, and there are plenty of variables, but it's possible. That hasn't happened in Washington since Alfred Morris, and would be a very welcome sight. 

The rookie runner has invigorated the Redskins faithful, and that's before he even steps on the field. If Guice can produce, the fans will go crazy.

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

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