Nationals

Syracuse plows through WVU and snow, 38-14

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Syracuse plows through WVU and snow, 38-14

NEW YORK (AP) Prince-Tyson Gulley ran for 217 yards and had three touchdowns, Syracuse scored twice on safeties and the Orange bid a snow-covered farewell to the Big East with a 38-14 victory over West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl on Saturday.

Syracuse (8-5) will enter the Atlantic Coast Conference on a roll after finishing this season with six wins in its last seven games, capped by its second postseason victory at Yankee Stadium in the last three years.

In a bowl game played in a baseball stadium with weather better suited for a playoff game in Green Bay, the team that plays in a dome ended up being better equipped to handle the elements.

The Orange leaned on their running game to plow through former Big East rival West Virginia (7-6) and the snow. Jerome Smith added 158 yards rushing.

Geno Smith connected with Stedman Bailey for two touchdown passes, but the Mountaineers' quarterback also was sacked in the end zone in the first half and called for intentional grounding in the end zone in the second half as he tried to avoid another sack.

Smith, who was an early Heisman Trophy front-runner as the Mountaineers got off to a 5-0 start this season, was 18 for 26 for 197 yards in the final game of his record-breaking career. The NFL awaits.

Same goes for Ryan Nassib, though Syracuse didn't ask much of its talented senior quarterback. He threw two touchdown passes and an interception. His most impressive feat on this day was surviving being driven into the frozen turf by Terence Garvin on a sack in the first half. Nassib missed only one play.

Snow fell just about all game, giving most of the field a white dusting. Fans were bundled and players not in the game tried to do the same. It took a while for those potent offenses - both ranked in the top 25 nationally in yards per game - to heat up, which seemed appropriate considering the conditions.

A goal-line stand by West Virginia in the second quarter kept Syracuse out of the end zone, but set up the Orange for a scoring run.

Left at their own 1, the Mountaineers tried to pass out of their end zone, but Smith was smothered by blitzing linebackers Cameron Lynch and Siriki Diabate for a safety to make it 5-0 - a baseball score, of course.

The Orange followed that up with a 33-yard touchdown run by Gulley to make it 12-0 with 6:07 left in the second.

The Mountaineers responded with their first sustained drive and Bailey took a quick pass, darted and broke tackles, and scooted 32 yards to the end zone to make it 12-7.

The Orange extended the lead to 12 points with a touchdown drive to start the second half when the Orange caught a break - and touchdown pass. Nassib's throw was tipped around the goal line, but floated safely into the waiting arms of intended receiver Beckett Wales for an 11-yard score.

West Virginia appeared to answer with a touchdown of its own, when Andrew Buie broke free for a TD run on fourth-and-2. Not so fast. A holding call on the Mountaineers wiped out the play and sent coach Dana Holgorsen on to the field screaming at the officials.

It didn't help. Instead of a touchdown, a punt.

Moments later another close call, this time on a fumble by Smith which was reviewed to determine if it was an incomplete pass, went Syracuse's way, and again the Orange capitalized.

On the next play, Gulley broke through the line bounced to the outside and went 67 yards for a touchdown to make it 26-7 with 6:52 left in the third.

West Virginia wouldn't let Syracuse pull away. Smith found Bailey deep down the sideline beating one-on-one coverage for a 29-yard score 1:11 later.

Right back came the Orange, nine plays, 70 yards, with Gulley taking a swing pass from Nassib 10 yards for his third touchdown of the day.

A minute and half later, Brandon Sharpe was taking down Smith in the end zone, when the quarterback made a futile attempt to dump the pass off. The officials dropped the flag and the second safety of the day made it 35-14 with 1:08 left in the third.

The 60th meeting between these teams, but first in a bowl, ended up being a romp in the snow for Syracuse.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap

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2018 MLB Wild Card Playoff Race: The Dodgers are back

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USA TODAY Sports

2018 MLB Wild Card Playoff Race: The Dodgers are back

The Los Angeles Dodgers have flipped the National League West, the Tampa Bay Rays are making a valiant run, and the Washington Nationals are hanging in there.

Races heading into the 2018 Major League Baseball Postseason still find a way to stay interesting after 150 games. 

The NL Central, NL West, AL and NL Wild Card battles are all going to be watched under a microscope with less than two week's worth of games remaining. Not too far away either is the NL East. 

Joining the Boston Red Sox, the Cleveland Indians are only the second team to clinch a postseason spot. They claimed the AL Central crown and will make the playoffs as the No. 3 team in the AL Bracket. No one though has clinched a position in the National League yet, and likely will not until the final week. 

Eight spots remain with the Astros and Yankees not being too far away from joining the list. At the rate the Dodgers are winning games (six of their last seven), they probably are not far off either. No matter what, Los Angeles is in a good spot after they once were at risk for missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012. 

One team that has fallen out of that conversation is the Atlanta Braves who were a game and a half from the top seed in the NL. Now they have lost four straight and leave the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals still holding out hope. 

National League Postseason Picture:

Central: Chicago Cubs 89-62

West: Los Angeles Dodgers 84-68 

East: Atlanta Braves 83-68 

National League Wild Card Standings (Games remaining against Wild Card teams): 

Milwaukee Brewers: 86-66         +3.5 (3)
Ramaining:
vs. Cincinnati (1)
@ Pittsburgh (3)
@ St. Louis (3)
vs. Detroit (3)
St. Louis Cardinals: 84-68         +1.5 (3)
Remaining:
@ Atlanta Braves (1)
vs. San Francisco (3)
vs. Milwaukee (3)
@ Chicago Cubs (3)
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Colorado Rockies: 82-69            -1.5 (10)
Remaining:
@ LA Dodgers (1)
@ Arizona (3)
vs. Philadelphia (4)
vs. Washington (3)
Philadelphia Phillies: 77-73        -6.0 (4)
Remaining:
vs. NY Mets (1)
@ Atlanta (4)
@ Colorado (4)
vs. Atlanta (3)
Arizona Diamondbacks: 78-74    -6.0 (3)
Remaining:
vs. Chicago Cubs (1)
vs. Colorado (3)
vs. LA Dodgers (3)
vs. San Diego (3)
Washington Nationals: 77-75      -7.0 (3)
Remaining:
vs. NY Mets (4)
vs. Miami (3)
@ Colorado (3)

Since the last update, the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals have not done much to add to their leads in the Wild Card. Milwaukee playing against lower teams at home in the division, only won two games in their past two series, with one being Christian Yelich's cycle. St. Louis lost three out of four to the Dodgers, but rebounded to take two against Atlanta.

Still, they hold the final two spots and have benefited with the Dodgers running through the NL West.

While the Dodgers jumped past the Rockies for the lead in the division, if Colorado can rebound it will make for an interesting finish in the National League as a whole.

However, the Rockies can't even beat the lower tier teams, shutout twice in the Bay. The Rockies will have a say in how the remainder of the season plays out, especially in the NL East, playing the Phillies and the Nats as both are grasping for straws with the Braves sinking. 

Once again the Nationals are on the way out, looking in. They remain in the update only because they have a slight chance in the division (6.5 games back), and a real favorable schedule. At the same time, write-off the Arizona Diamondbacks, they are 4-13 in their last 17.

American League:

East: Boston Red Sox: 103-48 -- clinched postseason spot

West: Houston Astros: 95-56 

Central: Cleveland Indians: 84-66 -- clinched division

American League Wild Card Standings (Games remaining against Wild Card teams):

New York Yankees: 92-58      +8.0 (4)
Remaining:
vs. Boston (2)
vs. Baltimore (3)
@ Tampa Bay (4)
@ Boston (3)
Oakland Athletics: 90-61        +5.5 (0)
Remaining:
vs. LA Angels (2)
vs. Minnesota (3)
@ Mariners (3)
@ LA Angels (3)
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Tampa Bay Rays: 84-66          -5.5 (4)
Remaining:
@ Texas (1)
vs. Toronto (4)
vs. NY Yankees (4)
vs. Toronto (3)

Just when it looked like the Yankees and the Oakland Athletics were going to be in a footrace for the top Wild Card spot, it evaporated. Losing once to the Baltimore Orioles, twice to the Tampa Bay Rays and another to the Los Angeles Angels, the Athletics faded. On the flip side New York got a huge win at home against the MLB-leading Red Sox.

The remaining schedule for each remain polar opposites as the calendar winds down. A race will still likely present itself.

Tampa Bay missed a golden chance to give themselves an outside shot. A sweep against Oakland, combined with the other results would have got them within 4.5 games. An extra-inning loss at home essentially ended their far hopes. Their record post All-Star break? 35-19.

MORE MLB NEWS: 

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Are the Redskins running the ball too much on first down?

Are the Redskins running the ball too much on first down?

After one loss, the play calling of Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is already under fire. After years of being criticized for abandoning the running game, some are saying that he is now running too often, at least on first down. 

The decision of what to do on first-and-10 is one of the basic quandaries of play calling. Running the ball is likely to get you ahead of the sticks but if the play gets stuffed you are facing second-and-8 or 9. Defenses often are geared to stop the run on first down so that affects the success rate. 

Passing on first down can be a more attractive option. Even a quick pass with a few yards after the catch can get you into second and short in a hurry. But passes are incomplete about a third of the time and that leaves the offense looking at second-and-10. The occasional sack or holding penalty can quickly kill a drive. 

This season, Gruden has leaned heavily towards taking the lower risk, lower reward route of running the ball on first down. The Redskins 39 first-down runs are the most in the NFL, one more than the Texans and considerably more than the NFL average of 27 first-down runs. (The numbers here are from Pro Football Reference and are complete through Sunday’s games.) 

Those are the raw numbers. When you break it down into first-down rush percentage, the Redskins are fifth in the league at 58.2 percent. Still, that leans heavily towards the run in a league that passes on first down (51.7%) more often than it runs (48.3%).

In looking at just 2018 we are dealing with a small sample size. The two Redskins games were very different. In their first game, they never trailed, and runs were called on 69 percent of first down plays (25 of 36). Against the Colts where they never led and ran on 45 percent of first downs (14 of 31). 

Looking at a larger set of data covering games from the start of the 2017 season through Sunday’s game, Gruden called runs on 58.5 percent of first-down plays. That was the fifth-highest percentage in the league. The league average seems to shift to more running as the year wears on as over the last full season plus two games teams ran on first down 52.4 percent of the time. 

Looking at the big picture, you might wonder why Gruden ran it so often on first down last year with such a poor (27thin NFL) rushing game. They averaged 3.16 yards per first down run. That was the worst average in the league.

We will track this occasionally as the year goes on. This year, again a small sample size, they are averaging a respectable 4.3 yards on first-down rushing attempts, 10th in the NFL. Let’s see if the strategy shifts, if the defense adjusts and keys to stop the run on first down, and/or if they are having trouble consistently moving the ball. 

Redskins analysis

-Running game struggles: No immediate answers
-Shuffling the receivers: Redskins acquire Floyd after signing Perriman

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler