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San Diego St, Boise St meet with title at stake

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San Diego St, Boise St meet with title at stake

BOISE, Idaho (AP) San Diego State coach Rocky Long is taking a realistic approach to the fact his team heads into Boise State with a chance to take a big step toward the school's first conference title in 14 years.

Long is also being careful to play down the expectations building for Saturday's showdown with the No. 19 Broncos.

The second-year coach bluntly dismissed any speculation this week on where an upset of the heavily favored Broncos would rank among victories in school history, or what a win would mean to the future of a program facing a competitive upgrade next year as a member of the Big East.

``I don't want to talk about that,'' Long said. ``If we don't play our best this week, it could be embarrassing.''

He could be right.

Boise State (7-1, 4-0 Mountain West) is on a roll - again.

The Broncos have won seven straight since losing in the opener at Michigan State and own a one-game lead atop the conference ahead of the Aztecs (6-3, 4-1), Fresno State and Air Force. The Broncos, behind the development of quarterback Joe Southwick and a top-ranked defense, have also nudged their way back into the BCS bowl conversation.

Despite a weak strength of schedule, if the Broncos win their final four games they could get into the final top 16, be ranked higher than a champion from an automatic qualifying conference and in position to play in a BCS bowl. Boise State is No. 19 in the BCS standings, trailing Texas Tech, Southern California and Texas A&M.

In other words, there is plenty at stake for both teams in the Saturday night matchup.

``I think our team feels good about being in ... position this late in the year, that we still have a chance to play for a championship because that's the No. 1 goal in this program,'' said Long, whose team's last conference title came in 1998 when the Aztecs shared the crown as members of the Western Athletic Conference.

San Diego State also feels good about playing in big games on the road.

Confidence grew two weeks ago when the Aztecs rallied late in Nevada, coming back from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter and ultimately winning 38-37 in overtime. That comeback and a victory last week over UNLV came with the Aztecs playing with backup quarterback Adam Dingwell.

Dingwell replaced starter Ryan Katz, who injured an ankle against Nevada, and is 29 of 55 passing for 436 yards, five touchdowns and one interception in the last two games.

But the redshirt sophomore is also getting help from the running game. Adam Muema and Walter Kazee each rushed for more than 100 yards last week, and this season the Aztecs are averaging 233 yards per game on the ground, 18th in the nation.

``On offense, they're a powerful football team, a very physical football team,'' said Boise State coach Chris Petersen.

Still, the Broncos may be the best defense San Diego State will face all season.

The Broncos rank in the top 10 nationally in points allowed, passing yards allowed and pass efficiency defense. Their 23 turnovers are tied for fourth most in the nation. Last week when Wyoming scored a touchdown early in the second quarter, it was the first points allowed by the defense in the first half in five games.

The Boise State defense will have to adjust to the loss of two key players in the secondary. Bryan Douglas, the No. 3 cornerback, is out for the year with a torn ACL, and sophomore safety Lee Hightower will miss his second straight game after being suspended for violating team rules.

But Long said it doesn't really matter who plays or sits for Boise State. Instead, he wants his young quarterback and offense to focus only on executing, limiting mistakes and taking advantage of every opportunity.

``You don't worry about Boise State. You worry about yourself,'' said Long, whose team is bowl eligible for the third straight season. ``You worry about your team being as prepared as they can be.''

While the defense accounted for much of Boise State's success early this season, the offense is starting to click and put up points in bigger bunches. The Broncos have outscored opponents 77-21 in the last two games as Southwick has grown more comfortable in the pocket and made better decisions.

In those two games, Southwick is 42 of 57 passing for 441 yards. While those aren't the kind of prolific numbers posted by his predecessor, Kellen Moore, Southwick knows his role at this point in his career is to be smart and to be effective on third downs and in the red zone.

He and the rest of the offense have done just that in the last two games. The Broncos have converted on 19 of 28 third downs and put up points on nine of 10 trips inside the red zone.

``I think he's got a really good command of what we're trying to get done,'' Petersen said of Southwick's growth as a first-year starter. ``He's got a firm grasp of what defenses are doing and what ... certain players need to do on our side.''

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Braden Holtby saved his best performance of the season for when the Caps needed it most

Braden Holtby saved his best performance of the season for when the Caps needed it most

Braden Holtby has been largely overshadowed in the headlines of the Eastern Conference Final by Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

After two games, Vasilevskiy was one of the bigger storylines for how poorly he played in giving up 10 goals in just five periods. The next three games after that, the storyline changed to how well he was suddenly playing and how he had helped the Lightning steal two wins in Washington and take a 3-2 series lead after Game 5.

Holtby was not mentioned much. His play was not the reason the Caps went up 2-0 or the reason they went down 3-2.

But if the Caps hoped to force a Game 7, they needed him to at least be a reason why they won Game 6.

Holtby responded in a big way. With his team facing elimination, Holtby registered his first shutout of both the regular season and the playoffs.

"It's a perfect time," Devante Smith-Pelly said after the game. "He's been great all year. Obviously an up-and-down year for him personally, but the way he's bounced back, he's been amazing all throughout the playoffs."

Holtby is now just the seventh goalie in NHL history to record his first shutout of the season in a game in which his team faced elimination.

Holtby, however, was not concerned with the stats or the shutout.

"The only reason it’s good is we won," Holtby said of his shutout performance. "Aside from that, it’s just good for [the media], I guess you can write about it. But for us it’s just that W."

Vasilevskiy made a number of jaw-dropping saves, especially in the first period, but Holtby matched him save for save as both teams battled for the first goal. With the score knotted at zero, Holtby made a toe save on Anthony Cirelli on a 2-on-1 opportunity to keep the Lightning off the board. He really upped his game in the third period as Tampa Bay made a late push to tie it. He turned aside 10 shots that frame including a nifty snag on Nikita Kucherov and a glorious glove save on Ondrej Palat.

Holtby's performance ensured the Caps would live to fight another day...for now.

As the series shifts back to Tampa Bay, Washington will again be facing elimination. This time, however, so will their opponents.

Anything can happen in a Game 7. In a winner-take-all game, it may come down to who has the better goalie on Wednesday and Holtby seems to be picking a good time to up his game.

"Braden has been the backbone of our hockey club," Barry Trotz said. "You can’t go anywhere without goaltending and he’s been solid. ... Braden is a true pro, he works on his game, he finds ways to make a difference and he does."

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Need to Know: Redskins player one-liners, defense

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Need to Know: Redskins player one-liners, defense

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, May 22, 66 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins player one-liners, defense

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 defense; the offense was up yesterday

Defensive line

—Even though he played just 159 snaps last year before getting injured, the experience that Jonathan Allen gained in the offseason and training camp last year will help him get off to a strong start this season. 

—​Daron Payne will improve as the season goes on but he should be of some help stopping the run, the team’s most glaring weakness, right off the bat. 

—​Matt Ioannidis could play his way into an early contract extension a year from now, something nobody saw coming a year ago. 

—Last year Anthony Lanier played a little over half a season’s worth of snaps and got 5.0 sacks so I’ll put his over/under for this year at 7.5. 

—I think many fans see “Redskins veteran free agent D-lineman” and associate “bust” but Stacy McGee played pretty well last year. 

—Will Tim Settle be in at nose tackle for the first snap in Week 1?

—The coaches would like to be able to keep Ziggy Hood on the roster, but injuries and other issues could make him a victim of the roster numbers game. 

Inside linebackers

—​Zach Brown struggled a bit before injuries forced him out of the last three games, but he still finished in the top 10 in the NFL in tackles. 

—The team re-signing Mason Foster in late January was a low-key but potentially very impactful move. 

—After getting cut and then returning in November last year, Zach Vigil probably will be employed with the Redskins for all of the 2018 season. 

—It will be interesting to see how much the Redskins try to get out of converted safety Josh Harvey-Clemons as a nickel linebacker this year. 

—The Redskins moved up in the sixth round to draft Shaun Dion Hamilton, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he has a regular role on defense before the season is out. 

Outside linebackers

—All Preston Smith needs to do to hit it big in free agency is add a few sacks to his 2017 total and get a few more takeaways. 

—​Ryan Kerrigan already got paid, he’s a few more good years away from making the Redskins Ring of Fame. 

—I predict that Ryan Anderson gets his first NFL sack in Week 2 against the Colts. 

—You usually think of outside linebackers rotating in when it’s the nickel defense, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Pernell McPhee be a regular in short-yardage situations. 

Cornerbacks

—I think Josh Norman will the dancing in the end zone at some point this season; he is long overdue to get a pick six (or a pick of any sort for that matter).

—The first time I noticed Quinton Dunbar playing cornerback was when he lined up against Odell Beckham in 2015. 

—The success of the Redskins’ decisions to trade Kendall Fuller and to let Bashaud Breeland leave as a free agent will hinge mostly on how well Fabian Moreau plays in his second year in the NFL.

—Realistically, the Redskins can hope to get 10 or 12 good games out of Orlando Scandrick

—And because Scandrick is unlikely to be healthy for 16 games, the ability of Josh Holsey to step in when needed will be critical. 

—If the Redskins can get a few good punt returns and 75 snaps at nickel corner from Greg Stroman he will be worth the seventh-round pick they used to draft him. 

Safeties

—With a year in the defense under his belt, D.J. Swearinger is a candidate to make his first Pro Bowl. 

—After Jay Gruden compared him to Jordan Reed, there is a lot of pressure on Montae Nicholson to stay on the field and perform well when he is out there. 

—Even though he started eight games last year I think the coaches view Deshazor Everett as more of a special teams guy and situational defender than a safety they want playing 70 snaps a game. 

—​Troy Apke has a lot to learn and it remains to be seen if he can go from being a fast guy to being a fast NFL football player.

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

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 21
—Training camp starts (7/26) 66
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 80

The Redskins last played a game 142 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 110 days. 

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