Capitals

O-lines paving way to BCS championship game

201301021727628781537-p2.jpeg

O-lines paving way to BCS championship game

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) Offensive linemen are usually the unsung heroes, the guys who only get talked about when they screw up.

Not at Alabama, where the second-ranked Crimson Tide's road to the BCS championship game has been paved by five talented 300-pounders, including two-time All-American and four-year starter Barrett Jones.

``This has a chance to be the best offensive line I've ever played on, and we've had some good ones over the past few years,'' Jones said.

No. 1 Notre Dame's offensive line doesn't have quite the star power or balance. The Fighting Irish don't hide the fact that they lean left - at least when it comes to running the football. Notre Dame has made a living running behind tackle Zack Martin and guard Chris Watt.

``We certainly use the left side of our offensive line I'd say at a ridiculous rate,'' Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said. ``I'm not giving away any secrets. They're not very good at what they do if they don't know some of the tendencies we have running the football. We typically like to go left. It's not by accident.''

When the Irish and Crimson Tide meet Monday night in Miami, the BCS championship could very well be on the lines - the offensive lines to be specific.

That the smart and personable Jones has become the face of the Crimson Tide seems rather apropos. Alabama has reached the BCS championship game for the third time in four seasons with a power running game as its foundation. No spread offenses, read-options and up-tempo in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Jones, from Germantown, Tenn., played guard in 2009 when he was opening holes for Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. Last year he was Alabama's left tackle, helping Trent Richardson become a Heisman finalist. This season Jones moved to center and has been as good as ever. According to Alabama, he has missed only six assignments, playing 731 snaps. And Alabama has two 1,000-yard rushers in T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy.

``He's just a smart player,'' Notre Dame guard Louis Nix III said. ``He knows what he has to do. He's strong at the point of attack. Just an overall great player.''

As good as Jones is, he's not even the best NFL prospect on Alabama's line.

Left guard Chance Warmack holds that distinction. Guards tend not to get picked in the first round, but Warmack is projected to be one of those rare commodities. Right tackle D.J. Fluker might jump to the NFL as a junior after the BCS title game. Sophomore left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio is a rising star who could develop into Alabama's next great tackle, joining the likes of Andre Smith and Chris Samuel. Steady right guard Anthony Steen is a two-year starter.

``We don't play running back but we got skills, too,'' Fluker said.

Those skills were never more on display than in the Southeastern Conference championship game against Georgia. The Tide fell behind 21-10 in the third quarter and went to the running game to shift the momentum. Alabama finished with 350 yards on 51 carries and all that running set up AJ McCarron's 45-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass to Amari Cooper off play action.

Against Notre Dame, Alabama will face possibly its toughest test of the season. The Fighting Irish front seven, led by All-American linebacker Manti Te'o and stud defensive linemen Nix and Stephon Tuitt, has allowed only two rushing touchdowns this season.

``Great O-line,'' Nix said. ``Arguably, the best O-line in the country.''

If you ask Notre Dame coaches, they will tell you they have the best offensive lineman in the country in Martin. The two-year starter from Indianapolis has been a rock for the first Notre Dame offense to average 5 yards per rush since 1996.

``Ridiculous,'' Chuck Martin said of his left tackle. ``He should have two scholarships. He's been so good every week. So consistent every play. He rarely misses his block. He's been such a dominant, dominant force for us.''

Watt, a senior, is Zack Martin's right-hand man.

``I would say we certainly don't use it 50-50 right and left,'' Chuck Martin said. ``(Zack Martin) and Watt get the lion share of tough blocks.''

The Irish also have a center who ranks among the best in the country in Braxston Cave, a third-team All-American. On the right side, Mike Golic Jr. holds the guard spot and Christian Lombard is the other tackle. It's a group that has started every game and allowed only 18 sacks while protecting a first-year starting quarterback in Everett Golson.

Chuck Martin gives plenty of credit to line coach Harry Hiestand, who is in his 30th season in coaching and first at Notre Dame. Martin said Hiestand has taught toughness and technique and Notre Dame will need both to run the ball against an Alabama defense that allows only 2.5 yards per rush, anchored by powerful nose guard Jesse Williams.

``Technically, he's as good as anybody in the world at teaching guys how to move people,'' Martin said of Hiestand. ``If you play with great technique you've got a chance. If you don't play with great technique, you've got no chance. That's what we're up against with Alabama. We have to play with great technique every snap up front or we'll have zero chance to ever get a yard rushing. If you do (play with great technique), it'll still be hit or miss, but hopefully you cover up enough people, you'll get a little bit of movement.''

Quick Links

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

las_vegas-sign-no_caps-stanley_cup_final.jpg
Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

Quick Links

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS: