Capitals

Sun Devils rested and ready for rest of season

Sun Devils rested and ready for rest of season

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Arizona State coach Todd Graham pointed to his team's games against Utah and California as critical points of the season, measuring sticks to see how far it might able to go.

The Sun Devils got through both with victories and find themselves atop the Pac-12 South, the preseason goal of a Pac-12 championship within reach.

The next step will be to build off those successes.

Rested and rejuvenated after its bye week, Arizona State faces a crucial road game against Colorado on Thursday night before closing with five teams that are or were previously ranked.

Stay focused or the Sun Devils could end up with another disappointing stagger to the finish like they had last season.

``I said this early in the year: I think coming back from adversity is hard, but handling success is harder,'' Graham said Monday. ``You have to stay hungry, you have to stay focused on what you're doing, stay motivated on the opponent that's right in front of you.''

The Sun Devils have done a good job staying on task so far.

Playing with the discipline and pace Graham has preached since the day he arrived in the desert, Arizona State has been one of college football's mild surprises this season.

Former coach Dennis Erickson did a good job recruiting before he left, so the cupboard wasn't completely empty when Graham arrived, but few outside the program expected the Sun Devils to be this good under a new coach and a new system.

Arizona State enters the Colorado game at 4-1 and could have been undefeated if a comeback against Missouri hadn't come up just short. The Sun Devils also are 2-0 in the Pac-12 after knocking off Utah at home and California on the road, putting them a game ahead of No. 11 Southern California in the South Division.

They've done it by playing well on both sides of the ball.

Arizona State has been solid on offense, second in the Pac-12 with 38.4 points per game. Taylor Kelly, the somewhat-surprising winner of a three-way quarterback battle heading into the season, has been a dynamic force running Graham's up-tempo offense, leading the conference in passing efficiency at 166.34 while extending plays with his athleticism and poise under pressure.

Arizona State's defense has been superb despite a lack of depth in the secondary, leading the Pac-12 in numerous categories, including scoring (13.6 points), total defense (276.2 yards) and tackles for loss (9.8 per game).

It has, by almost all accounts, been a successful start to Graham's tenure at Arizona State.

``To this point, what we've talked to our guys about is that we've played five ball games,'' Graham said. ``We beat four teams we should have beat and we lost to a team we should have beat. So it's all about preparation and bottom line, you better go into every game and understand that.''

That resolve will be needed this week.

Colorado got its second season under coach Jon Embree off to a disappointing start, opening with three straight losses: to rival Colorado State, Sacramento State of the FCS and a 69-14 blowout by Fresno State. The Buffaloes pulled out a shootout victory over Washington State on Sept. 22, but were run over by UCLA the next week.

Well-rested and relatively healthy after its bye week, Arizona State is a heavy favorite to beat Colorado, opening as a more than a two-touchdown favorite.

The key will be to not look ahead.

After playing the Buffaloes, the Sun Devils get No. 2 Oregon in another Thursday night game at home. Then comes UCLA, which has been in and out of the polls, followed by road games against 10th-ranked Oregon State and USC. Arizona State gets a little break in the schedule against Washington State on Nov. 27, then closes the season against Arizona, a rivalry game where anything can and often does happen.

Considering the Sun Devils lost six of their final seven games last season after a 5-1 start, this week's game is one they can't afford to overlook.

``When we play together as a team, we've got a pretty good football team,'' Graham said. ``That's the hardest thing about my job, is keeping 18- to 22-year-olds focused on something.''

Keep doing it and the Sun Devils can keep rolling, maybe into the Pac-12 championship game or even the Rose Bowl.

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In a contract year, Andre Burakovsky is still trying to find offensive consistency

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In a contract year, Andre Burakovsky is still trying to find offensive consistency

Injuries and a suspension to Tom Wilson have kept things interesting for Todd Reirden in his first season as head coach of the Capitals.

At first, that meant figuring out an optimal lineup out of the players who were still available. But now there will be another challenge Reirden faces as the team continues to get healthy and that’s figuring out who to take out of the lineup.

On Tuesday, that player was Burakovsky.

“I just felt like going into [Tuesday’s] game that the other players had taken more advantage of the opportunity than he had recently,” Reirden said before Tuesday’s game. “For me, it's a rewards/earned ice time situation where there's a lot of competition. What happens is when players get opportunities and they play well, then it creates competition. Some have to win, some have to lose in that competition. Right now, that's what we've chosen to go with.”

Burakovsky’s career has been plagued by up-and-down play and scoring slumps. For the season, he has managed only eight points in 29 games. He did manage to score the game-winner against Arizona on Dec. 6, but that goal came after two very lackluster period of play by him.

“It's part of sports, I guess,” Burakovsky said Wednesday. “It is a tough sport. You're competing against the best players in the world. That's just how it is right now and I've just got to battle through it.”

Burakovsky has been cycled throughout the lineup this season, but has not gained any traction with any line or with any particular linemates so far. Thus, a player with top-six skill finds himself on the outside looking in at the lineup.

“I think guys on the team has been playing really well and deserve to play and have done a little bit more than maybe I have in the past now,” Burakovsky said. “We've been winning so that's most important thing and when I get the chance, I'm just going to go in and do my thing, play my game.”

Reirden said he was impressed by how Burakovsky has responded in practice. Given Reirden’s “rewards” system of coaching that should mean Burakovsky gets back into the lineup sooner rather than later. But if he continues to struggle to keep his production up, he will have a hard time staying in.

With both Oshie and Wilson now back from injury, the Caps have 14 forwards on the roster meaning two forwards will have to be scratched each game. There’s no one currently in the top six you would take out for Burakovsky and considering how well players like Brett Connolly are playing plus the chemistry the fourth line has found, there is not much room to plug in a struggling winger who still cannot find any consistent production.

This also calls into question what Burakovsky’s future on the team may be. Burakovsky is on the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. It will take a qualifying offer of $3.25 million from the Caps just to retain his rights as an RFA meaning general manager Brian MacLellan is going to have to determine if he is worth that much.

As dire as his contract situation may appear from the outside looking in – especially for a player who has had confidence issues in the past – he says his next contract is not something he is thinking too much about.

“I'm not worried about my future,” Burakovsky said. “I know what I can do out there. I think I've proved what I can do and sometimes you just have to battle a little bit harder than you wanted to and it's going to happen. Right now, I think it's kind of what I'm doing.”

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It's not just Alex Smith - Derrius Guice also dealt with post-surgery infection

It's not just Alex Smith - Derrius Guice also dealt with post-surgery infection

During the last month, the average Redskin fan learned more about post-surgery infections than most football fans ever considered. 

The news surrounding Alex Smith's recovery from a broken leg has been upsetting, particularly that Smith has dealt with a serious infection and had to undergo multiple procedures to clean up the wound. Smith's situation was unique, he broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg, and the fracture wasn't clean

Still, alarming news emerged this week that Smith was not the only Redskins player to deal with post-surgery infection. 

Rookie Derrius Guice injured his knee in the preseason, ending his season and ruining a full offseason of momentum. Before he ever played a game, Guice became a fan favorite with his engaging enthusiasm. Then, he injured his knee in the preseason and was lost for the year. 

For many players, surgery is tough, but then rehab begins. 

For Guice - like Smith - that wasn't the case.

After his knee surgery, Guice suffered an infection that lasted two months and required three additional procedures, The Washington Post reported. That required seven weeks of antibiotics which included significant use of IVs, swelling, flu-like symptoms and having his knee drained. 

The experience forced Guice to stay in Louisiana for months, closer to Dr. James Andrews office in Gulf Breeze, Florida, and away from his Redskins teammates in Ashburn. 

Now, finally, Guice is feeling better and expects to be all the way back for offseason work in 2019. That's great news for the Redskins.

Guice was considered to be the focal point of the Washington offense before the knee injury in the preseason, and he's a running back with immense potential. 

On some level, however, it's quite alarming that both Smith and Guice suffered infections after major injuries. 

Smith's injury was grotesque enough that there were immediate worries of infection. Even with the advanced concern, the infection still came. 

Guice's injury was severe, but not like Smith. And still, the infection came. 

It would take a forensic medical team to compare the situations and figure out if there is something the Redskins need to address. That won't happen on this page. 

At the same time, however, what were the odds back in training camp that the Redskins' then starting quarterback and running back would not only need surgery on their leg, but both would suffer from post-op infection? 

Like many things with the Redskins' 2018 season, there seem to be more questions than answers. The good news, Guice should be back for 2019. As of now, the same can't be said for Smith. 

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