Redskins

Scuffling West Virginia faces Iowa State

Scuffling West Virginia faces Iowa State

AMES, Iowa (AP) Iowa State never wanted to reach the point where it had to beat West Virginia on the day after Thanksgiving to become bowl eligible.

The Cyclones took care of that by winning their sixth game last weekend.

But it's not as if the Mountaineers are nearly as scary as they looked to be in early October, either.

West Virginia (5-5, 2-5 in the Big 12) has fallen from the top 10 to the Big 12 basement in five long weeks. Now it's the Mountaineers who need to beat Iowa State (6-5, 3-5) just to reach a bowl game - not the other way around.

``You get to a level where a bowl game is much more than a reward - we are not at that stage right now. We are at the stage where we are playing for the betterment of the program,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. ``If we win a couple of games and get to a good bowl game, we get to practice for another month. That will help us out for the program.''

The Cyclones have themselves yet another quarterback controversy. But coach Paul Rhoads might have an uprising in the stands at Jack Trice Stadium if he doesn't start redshirt freshman Sam Richardson.

Richardson became the third Iowa State quarterback responsible for a victory last week when he came off the bench to lead Iowa State to a 51-23 win at Kansas.

Richardson looked so good in his debut that he spurred hope that the Cyclones have found their quarterback of the future. He completed 23 of 27 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns after relieving senior Steele Jantz.

Rhoads wouldn't commit to starting Richardson against the Mountaineers, but he did say the freshman had the edge over Jantz after his dazzling performance in Lawrence.

``You have to always be ready for an opportunity, and when it comes you have to seize it,'' Richardson said. ``Still working practice with the same mentality that I'll have an opportunity to be out on the field.''

West Virginia's main problem isn't hard to spot. The Mountaineers' defense has yet to prove it can stop anyone in the Big 12.

West Virginia was ranked fifth in the nation and quarterback Geon Smith was the presumptive Heisman Trophy favorite when Texas Tech dropped 49 points on the Mountaineers on Oct. 13.

Sadly for West Virginia, it wasn't a fluke.

After giving up 63 and 48 points in wins over Baylor and Texas, the Mountaineers have allowed 49, 55, 39, 55 and 50 in consecutive defeats.

Last week, West Virginia suffered a gut-wrenching 50-49 loss to Oklahoma when Landry Jones threw his sixth TD pass of the evening with 24 seconds left.

Nationally, only Colorado has given up more than the 42.3 points West Virginia has allowed per game - and the Buffs are 1-10.

``We are strong willed around here. We have the right leadership in place, and we have the right amount of effort. We all want to win very badly. Guys are not going to hang their heads,'' Smith said. ``We understand that we are in a rough stretch, but we know the only way to pull out of it is to win games.''

Though Iowa State and West Virginia have never met, Rhoads is a familiar name in Morgantown.

Rhoads was the defensive coordinator for rival Pittsburgh in 2007 when the Panthers shut down star quarterback Pat Smith and stunned West Virginia 13-9, denying the Mountaineers a spot in the national title game.

But Rhoads said this week that he knows his offense - no matter if it's led by Richardson or Jantz - must put up points to keep up with a West Virginia team that is as prolific now as it was in October.

``They're not any less dangerous. What happened to them was the Big 12. This is a great, great football league and they're a very good football team,'' Rhoads said. ``They are a very dangerous football team.''

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Redskins Talk hosts "Redskins On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

Redskins Talk hosts "Redskins On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

It's the moment we've all been waiting for: finding out who the Redskins are going to take as their No. 15 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

After much anticipation and countless mock drafts, Redskins fans will finally find out what's to come for the Burgundy and Gold in the upcoming NFL season. 

And we couldn't let you handle this news alone: So we've got the Redskins Talk crew hosting a special "Redskins on the Clock" live stream to address, analyze and hopefully rejoice over the 'Skins decision. 

<<CHECK OUT NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON'S LATEST NFL MOCK DRAFT>>

On Thursday, Apr. 25th, JP Finlay, Peter Hailey and Mitchell Tischler from the Redskins Talk Podcast, along with guests Travis Thomas and Trevor Matich, will be offering a live look into their thoughts and concerns surrounding both the Redskins' pick and all of Round 1. The live stream will be available on the MyTeams by NBC Sports App from approximately 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. 

And if you haven't already downloaded the MyTeams App, you can do so right now, RIGHT HERE.

Redskins Talk Podcast "Redskins on the Clock" Special

CLICK HERE to watch the daily live stream of the Redskins Talk Podcast

When: 8 p.m. - (approximately) 11 p.m. ET, Thursday, Apr. 25th 

Live Stream: Click to stream Redskins Talk Podcast Live every day this week

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How the Capitals went from 'chokers' to 'closers' in Game 6s

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USA TODAY Sports

How the Capitals went from 'chokers' to 'closers' in Game 6s

RALEIGH — There was a time when a Stanley Cup Playoff series lead of any kind produced nothing but stress and anxiety for the Capitals and their tortured fan base.

This is an organization, after all, that has blown a 3-1 playoff series lead five times – often in horrifying, heartbreaking fashion. That has only happened 28 times in NHL history, and Washington owns 18 percent of those epic collapses. But the league’s biggest chokers have put those demons to rest. And that trend started well before winning the Stanley Cup last year. 

Tonight, the Capitals have a chance to close out the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 6 of a first-round playoff series at PNC Arena. They lead 3-2. They know they always have another chance, if necessary, on Wednesday for Game 7 at Capital One Arena back home. 

But if ending a series on the road once seemed like a daunting task, it hasn’t fazed the franchise for a while now. Washington has won four Game 6s in a row when up 3-2 in a series.  

“When we play to our identity and force other teams to make mistakes and they’re in an elimination situation, then those mistakes become magnified,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “That team is already feeling the pressure of that being their last game. And if we play to our identity then it really seems to match up nicely for those elimination games.”

The Capitals were ahead 3-2 with road Game 6s in Philadelphia (2016), Toronto (2017), Columbus (2018) and Pittsburgh (2018) and won them all. They also put Vegas away last June up 3-1 in the series with Game 5 on the road and won the Stanley Cup that night. If the recent version of the Capitals has a chance to put a team away, the team has done it.

The last time they blew a lead with a chance to eliminate the opposition was 2015 when they coughed up a 3-1 advantage in a second-round exit to the New York Rangers. 

There are theories why.

A big, physical team with elite skill, Washington has been able to wear teams out the later a series goes. In 2017, the Maple Leafs put up a great fight against the Presidents’ Trophy winners in the first round. They won two overtime games. They took a 2-1 series lead and had a chance to go up 3-1 on the Capitals with Game 4 at home in Toronto. 

Washington, instead, won Game 4 by a 5-4 score and allowed just two goals in Games 5 and 6 to end the series.

The offense went dry in 2016 against Philadelphia in the first round and a 3-0 series lead suddenly was cut to 3-2 with the Flyers hosting Game 6. They had life. The old Capitals might have panicked. But they won that game 1-0. Philadelphia managed just four goals over the final three games of the series and had nothing left in Game 6. 

There is a mentality that goes into playing a game where the other team’s season is on the line and yours is not.   

"To ourselves, I think, to show that when we play that way, we're going to be real tough to beat,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “I don't think we put much emphasis on [Carolina]. We know they're going to prepare and play as if it's an elimination game for them. We know they're going to come hard, we know they're a good young team and they never shy away from anything. It's on us to play like that and take everything else out of it."

Last year against Columbus in the first round, Washington overcame a 2-0 deficit to tie the series. Game 4 on the road was a clinic with the frustrated Blue Jackets hardly able to get the puck through the neutral zone in a 4-1 Capitals win. Washington broke Columbus’ will with its relentless, physical play. It scored 10 goals in Games 5 and 6 to end the series.  

The same thing played out the next round against Pittsburgh. A dominating 6-3 win in Game 5 at home – much like the 6-0 win over Carolina on Saturday – set the stage for a classic road Game 6. Washington scored first. The Penguins tied it. But the Capitals were the team with enough juice left in overtime to take the series on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s game-winning goal. 

The best example of how the Capitals have worn down one opponent after another actually came last season in the Eastern Conference Final when they were down 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Washington didn’t allow a goal in Games 6 and 7 and advanced. 

“Our team likes being on the road, plays well on the road, enjoys spending that time with each other,” Reirden said. “When you want to have success on the road you have to have contributions from everybody throughout your lineup. That makes you a very difficult team to match up as the home coach. So by us having the seven 20-goal scorers, we were a difficult match.

"And now, we started to see a little bit more of our depth scoring [Saturday]. … It certainly becomes an easier road assignment for the coach -- I can tell you. That’s an advantage for us.”

The Lightning last May looked like a boxer that had taken too many blows to the head after the Capitals blitzed them in Game 6.

If you looked closely on Saturday, you saw elements of that when Carolina defenseman Dougie Hamilton raced back for a puck, knew Alex Ovechkin was steaming right behind him, and gave up on the play. Hamilton didn’t appear to want to pay the price for winning that race and instead Ovechkin took the puck away and fed Brett Connolly in front for the goal that put Washington up 3-0. 

Maybe Carolina regroups tonight. The Hurricanes are a young team, but with grizzled veterans like Jordan Staal and Justin Williams who have won multiple Stanley Cups between them. They won’t play scared. The crowd at PNC Arena will be a factor. They do not want their season to end.

But these Capitals are a different breed. Time and again the past three years they have grinded their opponents into dust so by the time the series reaches this point there isn’t enough fight left to them.     

“We’ve just got to regroup here and move forward,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “That was just a 3-2 lead. Toughest one is the last one. We haven’t been happy with the way we’ve played in Carolina so far. Let’s change that.”

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