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Stoops: Kentucky is capable of winning SEC title

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Stoops: Kentucky is capable of winning SEC title

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Mark Stoops was introduced Sunday as Kentucky's new football coach and got everyone's attention, saying he believes the Wildcats are capable of winning the Southeastern Conference title.

He didn't say it would be easy, but it's not impossible.

``There are no magic wands,'' Stoops said at a news conference.

But Kentucky is confident Stoops can rebuild a program that just finished their third straight losing season and was 0-8 in the SEC.

Stoops, the former Florida State defensive coordinator, received a 5-year, $11 million deal. He'll begin his work at Kentucky immediately and will not accompany the Seminoles to their bowl game.

``There's too much work to do at Kentucky and it's hard to be in two places at once,'' Stoops said.

Kentucky had announced on Tuesday that the 45-year-old Stoops was going to be the man to replace Joker Phillips, who was fired on Nov. 4. Phillips was 2-10 this season and 13-24 overall.

Stoops arrived in Lexington less than 18 hours after helping the Seminoles beat Georgia Tech 21-15 for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship and a likely BCS berth in the Orange Bowl.

He led a Seminoles defense that ranked second in the nation this season and came up with a last-minute interception on Saturday night to preserve their victory over the Yellow Jackets.

Stoops is the third and youngest brother from the famed coaching family to lead his own program. Older brother Bob is Oklahoma's head coach and Mike Stoops, the former coach at Arizona, is the Sooners' defensive coordinator.

Kentucky has a storied basketball tradition and the school wanted to show Stoops just how strong its commitment was to putting together a winning football program. So in addition to his base salary, his deal includes a $900,000 bonus for winning six SEC games, the Eastern Division and the conference title.

``We wanted to make sure that Mark knew we wanted him here,'' athletic director Mitch Barnhart said. ``We wanted to make sure that he knew we were committed to football, that he has got the resources in terms of dollars to go out and get the staff necessary to get it done.''

Kentucky is Stoops' first head coaching job. He made his interest in the position known to Barnhart soon after Phillips was fired. Stoops and the AD met the following weekend and continued talks culminating in an agreement last Monday.

The Youngstown, Ohio, native drew a big cheer from the several thousand gathered in Nutter Field House when he said what drew him to Kentucky was ``Big Blue Nation. I feel very, very comfortable here. And we have everything we need to be successful.''

Stoops also noted that his successful record at Arizona and Florida State should quell any concerns about his never having been a head coach.

In three seasons as Florida State's defensive coordinator the team went from being ranked No. 108 to one of the nation's top defensive units. The Seminoles entered Saturday's ACC title game allowing 249.4 yards per game.

Before joining Jimbo Fisher's Florida State staff, Stoops rebuilt an Arizona defense with similar issues that Kentucky has experienced. Arizona was 109th in total defense before his arrival; the defense was ranked in the top 25 in his final two seasons and Arizona earned consecutive bowl bids.

Still, Stoops knows there will be questions about his lack of head coaching experience.

``It comes with the territory,'' he said. ``If you look at every place I've been we've been very successful.''

Turning Kentucky around will be one of his toughest challenges. The Wildcats allowed 391 yards per game this season and ranked 11th in the tough, 14-team SEC.

The new coach said he plans to use multiple defensive formations from a 4-3 alignment. Stoops would not name any candidates he would like to hire to complete his staff, but said he has several in mind.

One of his first priorities will be Kentucky's offense. The Wildcats ranked near the bottom of the conference in several offensive categories. Stoops pledged to the crowd that, ``You will have an offense that you guys can enjoy.''

But he knows success in the SEC starts on defense.

``I'm a defensive guy,'' Stoops said. ``This is the SEC. It's a physical conference. I realize that. I want to be tough and I want to be physical.

``We have to build this foundation with great defense. There's no way around it. If you don't play great defense, you're not going to win consistently.''

Despite the state's reputation for lacking the type of high-level football talent that can be found in neighboring Ohio or Tennessee, Stoops said there are players in Kentucky that can make the Wildcats be successful and he plans to recruit them. He also plans to follow up on his normal recruiting areas, including Florida.

Stoops was firm in his belief that the Wildcats can achieve a national profile for a sport other than basketball - a bold statement considering that Kentucky is coming off its eighth national title.

``Kentucky's had success,'' said Stoops, noting that he has talked with Wildcats basketball coach John Calipari. ``The key will be to build on that success and be consistent with it and take it to another level.''

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The Caps showed flashes of their mentality with shorthanded win in Colorado

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The Caps showed flashes of their mentality with shorthanded win in Colorado

On November 16, 2017, the Washington Capitals were handed a brutal 6-2 loss in Denver at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche. It was the second blowout loss the team had suffered in as many games and dropped the Caps’ record to 10-9-1. That moment would be the low point of the season.

A year to the day, the Caps returned to Denver. They were given every reason to quit Friday and repeat last year’s disastrous result and yet, the Caps rallied for a 3-2 overtime win to improve their record to 9-7-3.

Coming off a loss Wednesday in Winnipeg, Washington found out earlier on Friday that the team would be without both T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov who had both suffered injuries against the Jets. In net, Braden Holtby was out as well meaning the Caps would have to turn to backup goalie Pheonix Copley for his third start in as many games. Backing him up would be Ilya Samsonov, a highly touted prospect but a player without a single minute of NHL experience.

And, just in case that all did not seem daunting enough, the Caps also spotted the Avalanche a 1-0 lead just 68 seconds into the game.

One year ago, the Caps gave up the first goal of that game just 17 seconds in. When Colorado scored early again, it felt like Friday’s game was going to end up being just like that blowout loss from a year ago.

But it didn’t.

“We were shorthanded, everyone stepped up,” Tom Wilson said. “We talked about guys stepping up before the game and we got it done.”

The Capitals battled back and took control of the game in the first and second periods, tallying two goals to take a 2-1 lead. A late goal by Colorado would tie the game, but Todd Reirden reminded his players of what happened in Montreal – a game in which the Caps gave up three goals in the final four minutes of the game to lose 6-4 – and challenged them not to let that happen again. The team responded.

With all the momentum on the side of the Avalanche, Devante Smith-Pelly drew a holding penalty with less than two minutes remaining and Nicklas Backstrom would score on the resulting power play in overtime.

“When you have a lot of guys hurt, it was nice to see that we really got together, played a good defensive game, everyone was on the same page and blocking shots and doing all the little things right,” Backstrom said.

The game was reminiscent of the Game 6 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs last season. With one win separating them from advancing to the conference final, Washington had to somehow find a way to beat their biggest rival in Pittsburgh and they had to do it with no Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky or Tom Wilson. When their backs were against the wall, the Caps responded and managed to defeat the defending Stanley Cup champions 2-1 in overtime.

“It was important for guys to step up in different situations with obviously very key guys out, but we did it in the playoffs,” Smith-Pelly said. “We had key guys out at times. I guess this group is used to guys coming in and out and stepping up.”

The Caps returned most of their Stanley Cup winning roster for the 2018-19 season and fans have been waiting for this year’s team to start playing like last year’s again. A record of 8-7-3 heading into Friday’s game was hardly what people expected from this team early on.

But the win in Colorado was one of the team’s most impressive wins of the season, and perhaps the closest Washington has come since the 7-0 win in the opener to looking like that championship squad. Not because they looked dominant – they didn’t – but because when their backs were against the wall, you saw what this team was really made of mentally. Every time they were challenged in the playoffs – whether it was going down 2-0 to Columbus, playing the unbeatable Penguins, facing elimination against Tampa Bay or facing the red-hot Vegas Golden Knights – the Caps responded.

On Friday, Washington was challenged and again, and the Caps responded.

Last year’s game in Colorado proved to be a turning point. The team was at a cross-roads. They could check out and watch the inevitable coaching and roster shakeup happen, or they could rally to save the season. The Caps made a choice and the rest is history.

Maybe Friday’s game will mean nothing in the greater context of the 82-game season, or maybe this game will again prove to be a turning point. Maybe in the spring we will again circle Nov. 16 and remember it as the game in which the defending champs put the rest of the league on notice that they’re still here, they’re still the champs and they’re not going down without a fight.

“Every time we have injuries, it’s going to happen and it’s going to get other guys to get that opportunity,” Backstrom said. "I thought we played pretty good today, we didn’t give them a whole lot. That was a nice win, we needed that.”

UVA vs. Georgia Tech How to Watch: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

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UVA vs. Georgia Tech How to Watch: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

The Virginia Cavaliers football team is coming off a 21-pt victory last week and has won four of their last five games, yet is an underdog on the road against Georgia Tech.

UVA, at 4-2 (7-3 overall), is trying to stay alive in the ACC Coastal, led by the Pitt Panthers entering Saturday's action. Georgia Tech is also coming into the game on a hot streak, having won five of its last six matchups.

The Yellow Jackets are two games behind Pitt in the loss column, sitting at 4-3 in ACC play, and will finish up their regular season next week at 5th-ranked Georgia. UVA will wrap up on the road as well, facing in-state rival Virginia Tech.

Georgia Tech is favored over UVA by 4.5 points. Here's how to watch.

UVA CAVALIERS vs. GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS: HOW TO WATCH

What: University of Virginia Cavaliers vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Where: Bobby Dodd Stadium at Grant Field, located in Atlanta, GA.

When: Saturday, November 17 at 3:30 p.m. EST

TV Channel: The Virginia Cavaliers vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)