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SEC coaches adapt to league's speed, talent

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SEC coaches adapt to league's speed, talent

College football is college football, right?

Not in the Southeastern Conference, home to six straight national championships and the inside track to a seventh this season. The players seem faster, the talent level is higher, the scrutiny hotter than anywhere else.

Take it from the coaches and coordinators - especially the new arrivals who have to adjust quickly if they want to stick around for any length of time.

``It's like every week is murderer's row,'' Arkansas coach John L. Smith said. ``You've got to prepare for the real guys, the guys who look like they should be playing on Sundays.''

Smith has seen college football from just about every angle in his 40 years of coaching. His career began at his alma mater, Weber State, and his 19 years as a head coach has included stops at Louisville and Michigan State.

The 63-year-old Smith received his first full-time taste of the SEC in 2009 when he was hired at Arkansas by Bobby Petrino as an assistant. Smith coached against SEC teams at his previous stops, including an annual matchup with Kentucky while with the Cardinals, but nothing prepared him for the athleticism he saw in the SEC on a weekly basis - leading to fewer running lanes and even fewer open receivers.

``I'm not downgrading any of the other leagues, but you take a look at some of the other leagues and you say, `My goodness, that's slow football,''' Smith said. ``From the sideline sometimes, you're saying `OK, we've got a hole and we're going to get 7-10 (yards).' And you look back and you've got 2-3, just because it's a faster game.''

Coaches enter the league with reputations as an offensive whiz, only to find they must quickly change plans to counter the oncoming rush of the SEC's defensive linemen.

First-year Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who spent two seasons in the same position at Kentucky in 2001-02, said keeping the quarterback in one place in the pocket simply isn't an option. The undefeated Gators are last in the SEC in passing offense this season, averaging just 137.7 yards per game through the air, but their spread-option attack has kept defenses off balance and led to 212.7 yards rushing per game.

Florida coach Will Muschamp cut his coaching teeth as a graduate assistant at Auburn before later coaching at LSU and then back to Auburn. Muschamp left the SEC in 2008 for a three-year stint in the pass-happy Big 12 as Texas' defensive coordinator.

The second-year Florida coach said he believes in doing whatever it takes to win games, even in that means throwing the ball ``60 times a game.'' That said, he echoed Pease's thoughts about the difficulty of trying to do exactly that in the SEC - where four teams (Alabama, LSU, Florida and South Carolina) are in the top 10 nationally in total defense.

``The defensive lines, that's the difference in playing in this league and these other leagues you watch on TV,'' Muschamp said. ``I know y'all like all these points being scored, but the quarterback won't make it through the game and the season in our league.''

Former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, now in his first season as the head coach at Arkansas State, spent 15 years as a high school coach in Arkansas before earning his first chance as the Razorbacks offensive coordinator in 2006. During his last prep stop at Springdale High School, Malzahn would often times leave Saturday afternoon film sessions and make the 15-minute drive to go watch Arkansas play - likely preparing in his own mind for his future as a college coach.

``(The speed) was overwhelming, especially if you're not used to it,'' Malzahn said. ``It's just a different game as far as the speed factor is concerned.''

Malzahn spent two seasons at Tulsa's offensive coordinator before returning to the SEC and helping the Cam Newton-led Tigers to the national championship two seasons ago. He said the biggest adjustment as an offensive coach in the SEC was how the league's defenses play more man-to-man coverage than most - relying on the cornerbacks' sheer speed and skill to shut down opposing receivers.

Malzahn replaced current first-year Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze at Arkansas State. Both brought reputations of up-tempo, spread offenses with them, and Freeze has done his best to stay true to that with the Rebels.

Ole Miss is fourth in the league in total offense this season, showing flashes of Freeze's same offensive creativity that led to 10 wins last season at Arkansas State. Freeze said there was ``no question'' that his previous SEC experience - a two-year stint with the Rebels - has helped with his transition, as well as understanding the adjustments aren't just on the field.

``From speaking engagements to media requests, it's a much higher magnitude here,'' Freeze said. ``But as far as the day to day operations, the kids are the same, the headaches are the same, the challenges are the same.''

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, in his first year with the Aggies, has a team that leads the conference in total offense. Sumlin, who guided Houston to the top passing, total and scoring offense in the country last season, has had little trouble adapting his offensive philosophy to the SEC.

Sumlin said he used to get input from opposing coaches about other teams while at Houston, joking that ``people don't give me a lot of advice anymore'' with the Aggies in the ultra-competitive SEC.

He said the biggest change in the league has been adapting to its year-round nature.

``The coaches in this league are extremely aggressive on the football field and in recruiting,'' Sumlin said. ``Aggressive is probably not the right word, but competitive is. Because of that there's some very, very talented guys in this league and some really, really good coaching.''

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AP Sports Writers David Brandt, Mark Long, Steve Megargee, Kristie Rieken and John Zenor contributed to this report.

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Carlson's two goals lead Capitals to sloppy 5-3 win over Calgary

Carlson's two goals lead Capitals to sloppy 5-3 win over Calgary

The Capitals are a perfect 2-0 to start their five-game road trip after a 5-3 win over the Calgary Flames on Tuesday. It was a sleepy game for the Caps who were largely outplayed through the first two periods. A few short bursts of brilliance, however, were enough to ensure Washington never trailed.

Here is how the Caps won.

A gift for Carlson

John Carlson entered the game as the NHL’s leader in points. He is arguably the hottest player in the league. He doesn’t need gifts, but he was gifted a goal by Calgary goalie Cam Talbot early in the second.

After a sleepy first period, the Caps’ came out swinging in the second and Alex Ovechkin nearly connected with Nicklas Backstrom on a pretty passing play on the backdoor. The puck curled around the boards and Carlson stepped up and just fired a hopeful shot on net that seemed to catch Talbot by surprise as it hit the short-side for the goal.

That is a horrific goal that Talbot just should not have given up. If you watch, he actually shifts a little backward after the initial play missed. Perhaps Talbot misjudged where he was in net, but that is an angle he should have been able to easily cut off based on the position of the puck. Instead, he backed up, left the near-side open and Carlson hit it.

The goal extended Carlson’s point streak to a career-high eight games. He would add an empty-net goal to give him 20 points on the season.

Bank shot!

Just over two minutes after Carlson put the Caps on the board, Chandler Stephenson extended the lead to 2-0 with a great play behind the net to pickpocket Talbot.

Talbot went behind the net to corral a dump-in from Brendan Leipsic, but Stephenson never gave up on the play and zipped in behind the net after Talbot. He stole the puck away from Talbot. He was boxed in by the Flames’ netminder and two more Flames skaters so he attempted to center the puck, but it bounced off of defenseman Rasmus Andersson and into the net.

A 10-second response

Overall, this was not a great game for the Caps. They looked sleepy and out of sync, missing numerous easy passes in the offensive zone that ended their offensive opportunities. Two early goals in the second spotted them a 2-0 lead, but Calgary took control and Austin Czarnik tied the game at 2 late in the period. That briefly woke up the Caps and Ovechkin put Washington back on top just 10 seconds after the game was tied.

Calgary won the faceoff after the goal, but Radko Gudas forced a turnover that Backstrom picked up. Two forwards had gone past him in anticipation of entering the offensive zone, a third player was on the ice after getting hit by Gudas, one defenseman stepped to the boards to give T.J. Oshie a shove, but could not recover to stop Backstrom and suddenly Backstrom was in behind four players for a 2-on-1 with Ovechkin. He made the simple backhand pass on the rush and Ovechkin fired the one-timer into the net.

Jakub Vrana’s drive to the net

Michal Kempny fired a stretch pass to launch a breakout. It looked like Travis Hamonic could have grabbed the puck, but he couldn’t control it and left it out for Lars Eller to continue the attack. As Eller took the puck, Jakub Vrana drove hard to the net bringing Noah Hanifin with him and that left Tom Wilson wide open. Eller passed to Wilson who netted the knockout punch.

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Juan Soto blasts historic home run - just as his hitting coach guaranteed

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Juan Soto blasts historic home run - just as his hitting coach guaranteed

Juan Soto was the best teenage hitter in Major League Baseball history, and he might be the best 20-year old hitter in MLB history, too.

His exploits at the plate over the past two seasons have ranged from impressive to historic, and everything in between.

He grew his legend even more Tuesday evening, launching a jaw-dropping home run to the train tracks in Houston.

This is a flat-out bomb. Left-handed hitters just don’t hit home runs to this part of Minute Maid Park.

The prodigious young outfielder actually struck out on an essentially identical pitch in his first at-bat. But it only took him one look to adjust, and he took the same pitch yard in his second at-bat.

Soto continues to see his name mentioned among baseball’s greats.

That’s a mighty impressive list. Andruw Jones is the only one besides Soto to accomplish the feat in his first World Series game.

What was even more impressive about this home run? It was foreseen by his hitting coach, Kevin Long.

Yes, that’s reporter Tom Verducci telling the world that not only did Long predict a home run for his young star, but he literally predicted it would come off a Gerrit Cole high fastball.

It was, frankly, wild that he would even suggest such a thing, given how utterly dominant Cole has been with his fastball all season long.

But Long believes in Soto, rightfully so, and never wavered in that belief. Now, Soto’s historic bomb -- which tied the game, by the way -- has an incredible story to go with.

What will this guy do next?

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