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Stingy Florida defense likes Sugar Bowl challenge

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Stingy Florida defense likes Sugar Bowl challenge

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Rather than boast about Florida's lofty national defensive rankings, safety Josh Evans questions whether they are an accurate reflection of how good his unit really is.

Florida ranks fifth nationally in total defense and third in scoring defense.

Yet in Evans' eyes, the No. 4 Gators (11-1) are second to none defensively, something they will try to prove when they play 22nd-ranked Louisville (10-2) and dynamic quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night.

``Absolutely I feel we're the best,'' Evans said. ``With our front seven and our back end, I see it. If you just look at the games we've played and the schedule we have, to not give up a touchdown against LSU and to not give up any points in the second half against (Heisman Trophy winning Texas A&M quarterback) Johnny Manziel ... that was huge for us.''

Florida's defense fared better than Alabama, the NCAA leader in yards allowed, against the three best opponents both teams faced.

The Gators limited Manziel and the Texas A&M offense to 324 yards for the game and zero points in the second half in a 20-17 September victory at College Station, Texas. Two months later, Manziel and the Aggies rolled up 418 yards in a 29-24 upset of the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The Gators beat LSU 14-6 in Gainesville on Oct. 6, holding the Tigers to two field goals and 200 yards. A month later, LSU gained 435 yards on the Crimson Tide, which needed a last-minute touchdown to escape Tiger Stadium with a win.

In the Gators' lone loss, 17-9 to Georgia, they forced four turnovers and yielded only 273 yards. Alabama gave up 394 yards and 28 points to Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

The Gators also do have one ranking with which Evans won't quibble: First nationally in pass defense efficiency.

Florida has made a believer out of Louisville offensive coordinator Sean Watson.

``They've got excellent players in every level of the defense,'' he said. ``They can really rush four guys because they're so good up front. They have lockdown people in the back end. Their safeties are good coverage players. Their linebackers can cover. They have every piece defensively you could ever want.''

The Gators don't overwhelm anyone with individual statistics. Evans leads them in tackles with a modest 79. Their top sacker, Dominique Easley, has four.

``It's not about stats,'' defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. ``At the end of the day, it's, `What does our team need,' not a, `What do I need,' type of thing. It's a team effort.''

The Gators have not given up more than 363 yards in any game and have allowed only 29 fourth-quarter points.

If the defense has a signature player, it's junior safety Matt Elam, a first-team Associated Press All-America selection who had a team-high four interceptions. With the Gators protecting a 7-6 lead against LSU in the third quarter, Elam tracked down receiver Odell Beckham Jr. after a 56-yard gain and stripped the ball on the sideline. Florida recovered it and converted the turnover into a touchdown.

``That play defined our season because it showed we won't quit, and every game we showed it,'' said cornerback Jaylen Watkins, who has three interceptions. ``He could have gave up on the play or could have just made the tackle, but he went the extra mile to make the strip. It turned the whole game around.''

Florida's final test will come against Louisville's Bridgewater, who ranks eighth in the nation in pass efficiency and averages 287.7 yards passing. Bridgewater, who led the Cardinals to victories in their first nine games, knows his job won't be easy.

``They have a tough front seven,'' Bridgewater said. ``They push offensive linemen back. They're just physical.''

Having already shut down Manziel and intercepted Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray three times, the Gators welcome the challenge that Bridgewater presents.

``You always want to play against the best,'' senior linebacker Jon Bostic said. ``That's what you come to Florida for. This is another chance to go out and prove to everybody we have the top defense.''

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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

DALLAS—The Caps are “really close” to signing star defenseman John Carlson to a long-term extension, GM Brian MacLellan said Friday night.

“We’re getting closer,” MacLellan said following the first round of the NHL Draft. “Hopefully we can get it done here over the next few days. We’re really close.”

Earlier in the day, the Caps cleared significant space under the salary cap ceiling by trading Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to Colorado for a second round draft pick (47th overall). 

That space will now be used to lock up Carlson, who could become the best defenseman on the open market if he were to reach it.

MacLellan met with Carlson’s agent, Rick Curran, here on Thursday night.

MacLellan did not divulge any figures, but it’s expected that Carlson’s new contract could come in at eight years and $8 million per—or perhaps a bit more. 

He earned $4 million last season.

Carlson had a career year in 2017-18 and was critical during the Caps' run to the Stanley Cup. He led all defensemen in the regular season with 68 points (15 goals, 53 assists). The 28-year-old also skated a career-high 24:47 per game.

MacLellan has long said that re-signing Carlson was the Caps’ top priority this offseason. And now it looks like that could happen within days, assuming the talks do not hit any snags.

“We’re going to do our best to sign John,” MacLellan said. “We’ve said it all along. We waited until the end of the year. We’ve had discussions. We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

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Capitals go to the WHL again, select defenseman Alex Alexeyev with first-round pick

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Capitals go to the WHL again, select defenseman Alex Alexeyev with first-round pick

The last time the Washington Capitals had a first-round draft pick, they selected a WHL defenseman. They did not go off script on Friday.

With the last pick of the first round, selecting for the first time as defending Stanley Cup champions, the Capitals selected Alexander Alexeyev, a left-shooting, two-way defenseman from St. Petersburg.

Alexeyev, 18, certainly boasts NHL size at 6' 4", 196 pounds. He currently plays for Red Deer in the WHL, a junior league that has become a major pipeline for the Capitals. In his second season with Red Deer, he tallied 37 points in 45 games.

The NHL Central Scouting's rankings list Alexeyev as the 22nd best North American skater of the draft. TSN projects him to be a top-four, two-way defenseman.

Analyst Craig Button described Alexeyev as a "Smart, effective defenceman who moves the puck, plays with a calm and doesn't make things complicated for himself."

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