Capitals

Texas Tech isn't distracted by coaching change

Texas Tech isn't distracted by coaching change

HOUSTON (AP) Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege has seen this before.

The Red Raiders head into Friday's Meineke Car Care Bowl against Minnesota after some serious upheaval with coach Tommy Tuberville abruptly leaving the team for the job in Cincinnati. Doege, a senior, remembers how the team came together for a win in the Alamo Bowl under an interim coach just days after coach Mike Leach was fired in the 2009 season.

The Red Raiders have hired Kliff Kingsbury to replace Tuberville, but interim coach Chris Thomsen will lead Texas Tech against the Golden Gophers.

``It's settled now, and the young guys are excited. I remember ... when I was younger how close we became as a football team,'' Doege said. ``Because with all the uncertainty, all the distractions, that's what gets you through it.''

Thomsen, who coached the offensive line before becoming the interim head coach, said he believes his team has dealt with the changes and is ready to move forward.

``It's really just business as usual for us,'' Thomsen said. ``The great thing about this team, the staple of this team, has been leadership all year, and we define leadership as guys who come out every single day focused and do it. If you can do that, you can lead as a freshman, sophomore, senior; it doesn't matter. And that's really the way they've approached it.''

Minnesota coach Jerry Kill doesn't expect any drop off for the Red Raiders with Tuberville's departure.

``I don't think a whole lot is going to change with them,'' Kill said. ``Their system, offensively all the way back to coach Leach, has stayed the same, pretty much ... they've got good football players, a good system, and I know they'll be prepared to play.''

Texas Tech returns to a bowl game after seeing an 18-year bowl streak snapped with last season's disappointing 5-7 finish. This is their fourth straight bowl game in Texas and their eighth since 2000. They've won their last two bowl games.

The Gophers are in a bowl for the first time since 2009 and looking for their first bowl win since 2004. They won six games this season, which is the same number of games they won in the previous two seasons combined.

``We're in the building blocks of a program right now,'' Kill said. ``There's no question that getting a bowl victory gives you great momentum going into the offseason. We won our last game of the year last year, and I feel like it took some momentum into the offseason. I think getting a bowl win would be certainly special for this group of kids, and certainly our seniors that have been through so much.''

A win on Friday would give Minnesota a winning record for the first time since going 7-6 in 2008.

To do that they'll have to figure out how to slow down Texas Tech's passing attack. Doege is fourth in the nation in yards passing with 3,934 and his 38 touchdown passes are second in the country. He needs just 66 yards to join Graham Harrell as the only players in school history to throw for 4,000 yards in consecutive seasons.

He'll face a Minnesota defense that is 11th in the nation against the pass, allowing 178.5 yards a game. The Gophers have allowed just one 300-yard passer this season. Doege has nine games with more than 300 yards passing this season, and two for more than 400, including a season-high of 499 against West Virginia.

``I don't think we have to do anything a lot different, and they're not going to do anything different,'' Kill said. ``And I think that the style gives us an opportunity to try to keep their offense off the field, but we have to stay on the field. We didn't do a real good job of that over the last two ball games.''

Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro, who was injured Oct. 13 and hasn't played since because of internal bleeding, returned to practice this week and expects to play Friday. He said he wants to help the seniors go out with a victory.

``We have a lot of personal emotion going into this game,'' he said. ``Even though a lot of people think we're distracted, I think this just made us a lot more focused on this game for these seniors.''

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Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Brought up to replace the injured Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek's first taste of NHL hockey will come inside the bubble in Toronto. Not exactly the best of circumstances. 

But Vanecek plays an important role on a Capitals team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Should Braden Holtby struggle or get hurt during the playoffs, Washington will need its young back-up goalie to keep their team afloat and let his talented skaters take it from there.

That's why NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May, during an appearance with The Sports Junkies Tuesday, looks forward to seeing Vanecek play a little bit in the round-robin portion of the NHL restart. Ideally, though, it stops there.

"[Vanecek] probably will get one of these games, [the Capitals] said that from the start," May said. "But I hope he doesn't play once they get to the playoff rounds. I think it would be wise to play him in [round robin] games, it's not the end of the world what the seeding is in this. He's a good size goaltender, I think he's about 6'2, and with the training that he's had, he's worked on the fundamentals of his game, he's gotten his conditioning up. He looks very similar to Holtby in net, He's gotten a lot of good reps in American Hockey [League] just like Holtby did around the same age."

And what's the reason why no Caps fan should want to see Vanecek in the postseason? It's simple really. Because this team's best chance at another title revolves around Holtby being a steady and stifling presence between the pipes throughout the playoffs. 

RELATED: PHYSICALITY THE KEY FOR CAPITALS IN PLAYOFFS

"I think the big thing with this is you really don't want to see [Vanecek] in the net after the round robin," he said. "If they're going to win this thing, it's gonna have to be Braden Holtby getting 16 wins. To me, the most important thing is that Holtby plays in the playoffs, the guy's dynamite, no leaky goals out of him."

This could be Holtby's last playoff run with the Capitals as he enters a contract year. The Caps already committed long term money to Nicklas Backstrom this season, they have an Alex Ovechkin extension to worry about and the flat salary cap certainly won't do them any favors either. Not to mention the presence of Samsonov after a stellar rookie season. 

So if this is it, if this is Holtby's last dance in Washington, he at least looks ready to play his best hockey when it matters most.  

"He looks focused and dialed in, and he wants to make sure if he's going out and won't be a Capital anymore he wants to go home with a victory in his last game."

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With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

Positive reports about Alex Smith's early training camp performance came out over the weekend, and on a Tuesday morning Zoom call with the media, Ron Rivera echoed those reviews.

"He's looked good, he really has," the head coach said. "I'll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along he is. It's been exciting to watch his progression."

According to Rivera, Smith has been working off to the side with Washington Football Team trainers at the Ashburn facility and is mirroring what Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen are doing, too. Coordinator Scott Turner and QBs coach Ken Zampese are apparently involving Smith as much as they can, and Smith is looking "very fluid" so far.

"It's a tribute to who he is, it's a tribute to his trainers and his doctors who have helped him get where he is today," Rivera said.

That all, of course, is wildly encouraging. The fact that the 36-year-old is in a place where he can check off those boxes and do those activities is astounding. That can't be pointed out enough, either.

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Yet it's also fair to note just how different mimicking a starting signal caller and actually serving as the starting signal caller are. So, is there any real chance of Smith transitioning from that first phase to the second before the season? 

With what he's seen from the veteran so far, Rivera certainly believes there is.

"I can envision it," he said. "The big thing is if he can do the things that we need him to do, that he needs to do to help himself on the football field, he'll be part of the conversation most definitely. He did some really good things last week. He went through all four workout days, had no residual effect the next morning, which is always important because the next day usually tells.

"We'll see how he is this week and we'll go from there."

As Smith continues to rehab and try to make his way off PUP, the challenges are solely physical. Rivera is not worried at all about the veteran having to adjust to a new scheme or dealing with any other mental task; instead, the primary concern is ensuring that Smith can handle the contact that'll come if he makes it back into live action.

"I believe he already knows probably 75-percent of our playbook," Rivera said. "So for him, it's really just a matter of can he do the movements he needs to do? Can he protect himself when he's on the field?"

It feels like every time Smith is brought up, he's taken another step. The next one, however — going from the PUP list to the huddle — is particularly daunting.

But at this point, it's gotten pretty difficult to imagine anything being particularly daunting for Alex Smith. So don't be that floored if he makes it happen. Rivera clearly won't be. 

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