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Not just footballs are deflated at USC

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Not just footballs are deflated at USC

LOS ANGELES (AP) It's not just the game balls that are deflated at Southern California this fall.

An unimpressive season reached a new, weird low late Wednesday night when No. 21 USC announced a student manager had been dismissed for underinflating several game balls before the Trojans' loss to No. 2 Oregon last weekend, earning a fine and a reprimand for the school from the Pac-12.

Coach Lane Kiffin then spent a soggy Thursday morning on campus explaining why the Trojans' latest brush with questionable tactics was an isolated misdeed by an overeager student, not an indication of a somewhat sleazy culture building around a program still attempting to emerge from the clouds of heavy NCAA sanctions in 2010.

``I was just disappointed, because it was just a distraction,'' Kiffin said. ``It was a distraction that nobody knew about here, that had no effect on the game. If anything, it had a negative effect to be throwing two different types of balls for a quarterback. I was just disappointed, because it was a distraction that we didn't need.''

Kiffin is telling the truth: With two straight losses, the preseason No. 1 team can't afford to waste much thought for anything other than the salvage of its season. USC (6-3, 4-3 Pac-12) hosts Arizona State (5-4, 3-3) on Saturday before finishing against No. 17 UCLA and No. 4 Notre Dame, hoping to earn a probable rematch with Oregon in the Pac-12 title game.

Kiffin insists his coaching staff and quarterback Matt Barkley knew nothing about the manager's actions on the Oregon sideline, where officials apparently discovered three underinflated balls before the game and two more at halftime. Kiffin offered no thoughts about the possible motivation of the unidentified manager, saying he hadn't spoken to the student.

USC athletic director Pat Haden, who took over the department after Kiffin was hired nearly three years ago, was obviously unhappy about the embarrassment.

``We acknowledge the Pac-12's reprimand and fine,'' Haden said in a statement released through Twitter. ``We regret this incident occurred. It was unacceptable and we apologize for it. I can assure you this will not happen again.''

Deflating footballs is an uncommon - but not unfamiliar - bit of gamesmanship on many levels of football. Softer balls are thought to be a bit easier to throw and catch - and that's exactly what the Ducks did while racking up 730 yards during a 62-51 win over USC, which had the worst defensive game ever at a school that began playing football in the 19th century.

Kiffin said he realizes ``conspiracy theories ... will think we were behind this,'' but thinks the lack of an obvious advantage to be gained from the tactic - and the sloppy manner in which it happened - should prove the innocence of his coaches and players.

``I don't think if we were trying to deflate balls, we would be directing a student manager on the Oregon sideline, right in front of them, to be deflating balls, and then playing with some deflated and some non-deflated balls,'' Kiffin said. ``I'm sure if we knew that, our kickers wouldn't have been happy with that, either. No kicker is ever going to happy with a deflated ball.''

While Kiffin claimed he didn't hear about the officials' discovery until Sunday, Oregon coach Chip Kelly told SiriusXM's College Sports Nation channel Thursday he heard about it after the game.

``It doesn't affect us,'' Kelly said. ``I mean, we worry every day, or are concerned with every day, of what we can control and what we can't control, and what other teams do doesn't really affect what we're doing.''

USC announced the Pac-12's fine and reprimand late Wednesday night, well after every member of the program except Kiffin is done talking to the media for the week. Barkley and his offensive teammates only speak to reporters for a few moments on Tuesday mornings - another part of a strict policy on injury reporting and media access instituted by Kiffin this season, ending USC's tradition of famously open practices and Kiffin's own largely cordial relationship with Los Angeles media before the last few months.

While Kiffin has been fairly successful on the field, particularly given the Trojans' NCAA-mandated scholarship limitations, the underinflated footballs are just the latest minor misstep adding up to a potentially major problem. Kiffin's apparent predilections for cutthroat competition and gamesmanship have followed him from USC to the Oakland Raiders to Tennessee and back again.

Last month, USC backup quarterback Cody Kessler took off his No. 6 jersey and put on No. 35 while playing on special teams against Colorado, even running for a 2-point conversion attempt with the new jersey. Players are allowed to wear different jerseys for many reasons during games, but it's widely considered deceptive, if not unethical, to change numbers during a game specifically to confuse an opponent.

USC also is still the FBS' most penalized team with 85 penalties for 702 yards, even after a relatively clean game against Oregon. The Trojans counter that they were a mostly clean team last season, and that the Pac-12 has seven of FBS' 16 most-penalized teams, perhaps indicating more about the conference's officiating crews than the schools' play.

But after USC's latest brush against propriety, even Kiffin acknowledged it's fair to wonder whether his staff has created a culture of moral relativism, where a student might deflate footballs on his own just to try to gain an advantage.

``I don't believe that at all,'' he said. ``I believe this was a very isolated incident that had nothing to do with the coaches or the players on this team.''

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Capitals vs. Lightning Game 6 Eastern Conference Final 2018: Date, Time, How to Watch, live stream

Capitals vs. Lightning Game 6 Eastern Conference Final 2018: Date, Time, How to Watch, live stream

When the Capitals take the ice in Game 6, they will be playing for their playoff lives. After losing Game 5 on Saturday to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Caps must win on Monday or their season will be over.

In order to do that, the Caps will have to change some things. First, they have to figure out how to win at home, something they have yet to do in this series. Second, they will have to find a way to get to Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy who has been dominant the past three games. Alex Ovechkin also needs to win the matchup against the fourth line since he has only two five-on-five points through five games. Finally, the defense will have to be better. Matt Niskanen took the blame for Game 5, but really it was a tough night all around.

Also, a few penalty calls against Tampa Bay would be nice too.

Where: Capital One Arena

When: 8:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Lightning, Game 6 will be broadcast on NBCSN

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Lightning Game 6 on NBC Sports' live stream page.

WHEN IS GAME 6 OF THE CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING PLAYOFF SERIES?

Game 6 of the Capitals vs. Lightning 2018 NHL Playoff series takes place on Monday, May 21 at 8:00 p.m. at Capital One Arnea.

WHAT CHANNEL IS GAME 6 OF CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING ON?

The TV broadcast of Game 6 between the Capitals and Lightning is on NBCSN. Capitals pre- and postgame coverage takes place on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
8:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Lightning Game 6 on NBCSN
10:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
11:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM GAME 6 OF THE CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING SERIES?

Game 6 between the Capitals and Lightning is available to stream online on Monday, May 21 live here through the NBC Sports live stream page.

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR GAME 6 OF CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING?

Capitals projected lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Chandler Stephenson - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana - Lars Eller - Brett Connolly
Devante Smith-Pelly -  Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Lightning projected lines:

Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Tyler Johnson - Brayden Point - Yanni Gourde
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - J.T. Miller
Chris Kunitz - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan

Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev

Andrei Vasilevskiy starts with Louis Domingue as backup.

CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING GAME 6 OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

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Need to Know: Redskins player one-liners, offense

Need to Know: Redskins player one-liners, offense

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, May 21, one day before the Washington Redskins start OTAs.  

Redskins player one-liners, offense

A few weeks ago, I did an early projection of the Redskins’ 53-man roster on offense and defense. As the team gets ready for OTAs here is a comment on each player expected to make the team on offense; the defense will be up tomorrow. 

Quarterbacks

—It seems likely that Alex Smith will jump right into the leadership role on the offense, unlike his predecessor, who often seemed to be a reluctant leader. 

—Since Smith has missed a few games with injuries here and there, the chances of the team needing Colt McCoy to come in and win a key game are greater than they were the past three years. 

Kevin Hogan has from now until the end of the season to show that he can be a viable No. 2 quarterback to help ensure that he has a job here in 2019. 

Running backs

—It’s been a while around here since expectations were this high for a player picked late in the second round but Derrius Guice will try to meet them. 

Chris Thompson could be ready to participate in OTAs but look for him to get a very light workload if he puts on a helmet at all. 

—If Rob Kelley wants to be a regular on the 46-man game day inactive list he will have to play a lot of special teams, something he has done sparingly in his two years in the league. 

—Since the team likely will monitor Guice’s workload as a rookie, Samaje Perine will get some carries in key situations this year. 

Wide receivers

—While Josh Doctson does need to get more chances to use his huge catch radius and take balls away from defenders, he also could benefit by working to get more separation on a regular basis. 

—Smith was one of the best deep ball throwers in the league last year and if he is going to maintain that status he will need to look for Paul Richardson at least a few times per game. 

—After his play leveled off in his second and third years in the league, will Jamison Crowder have a contract year breakout? 

—It will be interesting to see what Maurice Harris can do if he stays healthy and get some consistent playing time. 

—Will Trey Quinn be a project or will the last pick in the draft have some instant impact on the offense? 

Tight ends

—​Jordan Reed could be an All-Pro or he could be a cap casualty in 2019. 

—The numbers say that Vernon Davis needs to have Reed on the field to be consistently productive; he had no more than two receptions in any of the last six games. 

—​Jeremy Sprinkle will be relied upon to block and play special teams and anything he produces in the receptions department will be a bonus. 

Offensive line

—After making the Pro Bowl while dealing with a serious knee injury last year, who knows what Trent Williams can accomplish if he can, you know, practice during the week.

—Right now Shawn Lauvao is the Redskins’ starter at left guard but a trade or free agent signing could change that in a heartbeat.

—Jay Gruden has a great deal of confidence in Chase Roullier as the starting center and the hope is that he keeps the job for many years to come. 

—Will Brandon Scherff take the next step and attain All-Pro status?

—​Morgan Moses dealt with injuries to both ankles last year, but he was the only offensive lineman who didn’t miss at least two starts.

—If I had to bet right now I’d say that Ty Nsekhe will start the season as the backup tackle on both sides and not as the starting left guard. 

—As long as Nsekhe is the swing tackle, Geron Christin is likely to be inactive on game days. 

—​Tyler Catalina will have to battle his way onto the roster but his ability to play both guard and tackle will land him on the 53. 

—​Tony Bergstrom is the answer to the question, “Who is the Redskins backup center?”

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  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 22
—Training camp starts (7/26) 67
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 81

The Redskins last played a game 140 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 112 days. 

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