Capitals

RBs Riddick, Wood give Notre Dame 1-2 punch

201301031141420663677-p2.jpeg

RBs Riddick, Wood give Notre Dame 1-2 punch

MIAMI (AP) Notre Dame tailbacks Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood showed how interchangeable they are in the final two games of the regular season for the Fighting Irish.

Game 11 against Wake Forest, Wood ran for 150 yards, while Riddick had 20.

Game 12 against USC, it was Riddick running for 146 yards, and Wood for 20.

And so has been the theme for the Irish this season: Two running backs - and sometimes three - are better than one. That approach has served Notre Dame pretty much since training camp, and the top-ranked Irish (12-0) are hoping it holds true once Monday night when they face No. 2 Alabama (12-1) in the BCS title game.

Riddick has run for 880 yards and five touchdowns this season, Wood 740 yards and four scores, and George Atkinson III - who got only 51 carries, compared with 180 for Riddick and 110 for Wood - added five touchdowns and 7.1 yards per carry.

``We try to utilize all their strengths,'' Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said. ``The truth be told, they all could be a feature back, they all could do all the things. Everybody is like, `He plays more, what's wrong with him?' There's nothing wrong with any of the three. We'd like to get George 20 carries a game but there's one football.''

Notre Dame was unranked to start the year, which means not many - well, very few - people thought the Irish would be in the national title game against the reigning champion Crimson Tide.

Among those who thought the Irish would play in the season's last game: Riddick, Wood and Atkinson.

``We've had RB meetings where we talk about what we want to do and what we all want to accomplish,'' Wood said. ``In the beginning of the season, what we said normally was, `We want to win them all.' That was word-for-word what we said. We want to win them all. And up to this point, we have. So we took that upon ourselves. We think we're one of the more skilled groups on the whole team. That's just how we go about our business.''

Martin was asked in the days leading up to the BCS title game to describe all three backs in rapid-fire style. His responses:

On Riddick, ``pound for pound as good a football player as they make.''

On Wood, ``as explosive a player as they make.''

On Atkinson, ``really explosive athlete.''

Notice any trends there? The Irish love their backs, and Alabama is raving about what they see from them all as well.

``Riddick is probably quicker than the other two,'' Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said. ``Great one-step quickness, the ability to make you miss, good stiff arm. Didn't think a former receiver would run with that much power, but he does run with power. They're really good backs.''

Riddick came to Notre Dame as a running back, then primarily played wide receiver for two years and returned to the backfield this season. He said he never complained, said he never wondered which position better suited him.

Whatever it took to win was fine with him, Riddick said.

``What can I say? I feel like I'm at ease,'' Riddick said. ``Everything slows down tremendously and I think it's just helped me.''

Ask anyone on the Notre Dame offensive line how Riddick has handled his return to running back, and they'll say they believe he's hitting his best stride at the perfect time.

That being, title game.

``He's been unbelievable,'' offensive lineman Zack Martin said. ``Especially in the last three or four games of the season, he's been great. To have a guy like that behind you, he's fun to block for.''

That probably can be said for Wood and Atkinson as well.

``It's a credit to all three of them that they've stuck with it and prepared hard every week, and some weeks they've gotten more touches, but that's the nature of the beast,'' said Chuck Martin, the offensive coordinator. ``But we're very fortunate to have three very talented kids at that position.''

Quick Links

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

1. Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

2. T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

3. Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

4. Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

5. Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.

MORE CAPITALS STORIES:

Quick Links

Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

usatsi_10847206.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Images

Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.