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Thompson lifts SCarolina past Michigan in Outback

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Thompson lifts SCarolina past Michigan in Outback

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Despite all South Carolina has accomplished under Steve Spurrier, the winningest coach in school history couldn't recall a finish quite like the one the Gamecocks pulled off in the Outback Bowl.

Down a point with 3:29 to go, Connor Shaw launched a game-winning drive that Dylan Thompson finished with a touchdown pass in the closing seconds to beat Michigan 33-28 and give South Carolina another 11-win season and consecutive bowl victories for the first time in over a decade.

``We haven't won one like that since I've been here, in eight years, so hopefully that will sort of tell us: `Hey, we can do that.' It's possible. Just hang in there,'' Spurrier said Tuesday.

``I keep being reminded by a lot of my buddies, `We used to leave at halftime before when it was going south on us. We don't leave anymore,'' the coach added. ``So, that's encouraging.''

Spurrier, who is well-known for benching struggling QBs, called on both of his talented passers to improve to 3-4 in bowl games with the 11th-ranked Gamecocks. No coach has led them to more postseason victories.

Shaw opened with a 56-yard touchdown pass to Damiere Byrd on the third play of the game. Thompson closed with a 32-yard TD strike to Bruce Ellington with 11 seconds remaining.

``I don't know if I've ever given two quarterbacks a game ball, but today I said: `Hey, we've got to give them to both you guys,''' the Head Ball Coach said.

``Both those young men are just so super team-oriented. There's no jealousy, nothing. ... Those guys are just really, really good teammates. Wonderful team players,'' the coach added. ``We tried to tell Connor: `It's your game.' And it was his game, but Dylan was going to play. He understood that. It worked beautifully as it turned out.''

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was quiet for much of the day but shifted momentum in the fourth quarter with a big hit on Vincent Smith that sent the running back's helmet rolling several yards backward and caused a fumble that the SEC defensive player of the year recovered to set up Shaw's TD pass to Sanders for a 27-22 lead.

The TD capped a three-play sequence that began with Michigan running its second fake punt of the game, gaining 4 yards to the Wolverines 41 for what was ruled a first down, despite not appearing be one when the officials called for a measurement. South Carolina challenged the spot, but the ruling on the field was upheld.

Clowney then leveled Smith just as he was taking the handoff from quarterback Devin Gardner, jarring the ball loose.

``I asked one of those other refs there. I said, `You know the ball did not touch the first-down marker,''' Spurrier said. ``He said, `I know it didn't.' I said, `Well, why did he give it to them?' and he said, `I don't know.'''

``Clowney knocked the ball out the next play, so I'm glad they gave it to them. ... We gained about 10 or 15 yards.''

Thompson replaced Shaw during the winning drive, covering the final 43 yards after Shaw began the march from his own 30 and kept it alive with a 6-yard completion to Ace Sanders on a fourth-and-3 play. Gardner's third TD pass of the game had given Michigan a 28-27 lead.

``I wasn't nervous. I knew I had great guys around me, and I trusted them and just was confident,'' Thompson said, adding that South Carolina's two-quarterback setup functioned well because he and Shaw are unselfish players.

``I think it's honestly because we have a great team. We trust each other. We pull for each other, and it's no different with the quarterback situation,'' Thompson said. ``I want Connor Shaw, every time he steps on the field, to go 25-for-25 and 400 yards and five touchdowns. Every time. I think honestly, he wants the same thing for me.''

Shaw threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns after missing the Gamecocks' regular-season finale with a left foot sprain. Thompson led the Gamecocks (11-2) to a victory at archrival Clemson, and threw for 117 yards and two TDs in the bowl.

Gardner threw for 214 yards in his fifth start for Michigan (8-5) since Denard Robinson injured his right elbow late in the season. Robinson took some snaps at quarterback and even attempted his first passes in a game since Oct. 27, but lined up mostly at running back and rushed for 100 yards on 23 carries.

``Michigan probably outplayed us overall. Gosh, they had 82 plays to our 52,'' Spurrier said. ``We had a lot of big plays. We had more yards than them in just 30 less plays. ... It was a game that they probably played a little bit better overall, but we were about to score points, score five touchdowns.''

Sanders caught TD passes of 4 yards from Thompson and 31 yards from Shaw, who completed 18 of 26 passes before aggravating his foot injury and limping off during the final drive. The speedy receiver had nine catches for 92 yards and also scored on a 63-yard punt return - one of four plays over 50 yards yielded by Michigan.

Gardner was 18 of 36, including TD passes of 5 yards to Drew Dileo and 10 and 17 yards to Jeremy Gallon, who gave Michigan its late lead and finished with career bests of nine receptions and 145 yards. Robinson set the NCAA record for career yards rushing by a quarterback, hiking his four-year total to 4,495 - 15 more than West Virginia's Pat White ran for from 2005-08.

``I'd rather win the game,'' said Robinson, who attempted two passes in the third quarter, both incompletions, and also ran twice on plays in which he took the snap as the quarterback - a role he embraced after being injured during a loss to Nebraska.

``It was just what I thought it was going to be,'' Robinson said. ``I tried to make the most of it.''

South Carolina ended on a five-game winning streak that followed consecutive losses to LSU and Florida. The Gamecocks also won 11 games last season.

``It's the first Outback Bowl I've ever won. Sort of personally greedy, I wanted to win one,'' Spurrier said. ``I've been lucky to win most of these in Florida, but this is the first one of these Outback Bowls.''

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

On Saturday, the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals faced off against one of the hottest young teams in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was viewed as a marquee matchup and it certainly lived up to its billing with both teams battling in a tight, well-played game.

In the end, Toronto walked away as the 4-2 victors in one of their better wins of the young season, but not everyone left that game impressed.

A team that already boasted super-star talent Auston Matthews added John Tavares in the offseason as a free agent giving the Maple Leafs a formidable one, two punch at center. For most of the game, the Caps were able to shut down that center tandem.

Lars Eller was asked after the game how the Caps were able to keep the Leafs’ big stars in check and he indicated that perhaps Tavares and Matthews were not as formidable a pair as they had been made out to be.

“We’re used to playing against [Sidney Crosby] and [Evgeni Malkin],” Eller said. “Everything kind of drops from there so it’s not that special. It’s a good team like a lot of others. They’ll probably be a playoff team, I think.”

Not surprisingly, that quote caught Toronto’s attention, especially forward Nazem Kadri.

Per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, Kadri called Eller’s comments “bulletin board material.”

With 12 points in seven games, the Maple Leafs currently boast the top record in the league. Toronto is far from perfect, however, and their defense remains a major question mark in whether this team is a true Stanley Cup contender.

But as to whether or not they are a playoff team? That seems like a pretty safe bet.

The Caps and Maple Leafs will meet twice more this season on Jan. 23 and Feb. 21. Both games are in Toronto.  

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Need to Know: Tandler’s Take—Dramatic improvement to Redskins rushing defense

Need to Know: Tandler’s Take—Dramatic improvement to Redskins rushing defense

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, October 16, five days before the Washington Redskins host the Dallas Cowboys.

Talking Points

A better 3-2

For the third straight year, the Redskins are 3-2 after five games. As you know, they did not make the playoffs after either of the last two seasons. But they are in better shape in the standings now than they were in 2016 or 2017. Last year they were in second place in the division, a game and a half behind the 5-1 Eagles. They were worse off two years ago as they were in third place behind the 3-1 Eagles and the Cowboys, who were 4-1. 

It’s still very early, but it’s better to be in first place nearly a third of the way into the season than it is to be in second or third place and being in a position where you have to chase one or two teams. 

Take it away

The Redskins had three takeaways against the Panthers—the fumble recovery on the punt, Josh Norman’s interception, and the fumble forced by Norman and recovered by Mason Foster. They did not give the ball away. The last time they got at least three takeaways without giving the ball up was on Christmas Eve, 2016 in Chicago. Perhaps not coincidentally, that is the last game in which Norman had an interception until Sunday. 

After being either even or in the positive in takeaway ratio in four of their five games this year, the Redskins are now tied for fourth in the NFL with a plus-four turnover margin. If they can stay on the even or plus side from week to week they will have a very good chance at being successful. 

Rushing D much improved

After finishing 32nd in the NFL in rushing yards allowed in 2017, the Redskins are currently sixth, giving up an average of 90.2 yards per game. The improvement has come even though they have faced premiere running backs David Johnson, Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, and Christian McCaffrey. They have allowed no more than 104 yards on the ground in any of their five games. Last year's opponents ran for 127 yards or more 10 times. Their defense will be tested on Sunday against the Cowboys, who average 147 rushing yards per game on the ground, second in the NFL. 

Looking in the mirror

When the Redskins take a look at the Cowboys they might feel like they are watching themselves. Both teams run the ball well, although Ezekiel Elliott is more consistent than Adrian Peterson. Alex Smith has better passing stats than Dak Prescott but both teams are in the bottom third of the league in passing yards. The defenses on both teams are strong. Washington is sixth in yardage allowed per game and the Cowboys are fifth. 

And both teams have started off the season alternating wins and losses. Dallas started with a loss to the Panthers then beat the Giants, lost to the Seahawks, won over the Lions, suffered an OT loss to the Texans and then thumped the Jaguars. It will be an interesting match up on Sunday.

The agenda

Today: Off day, no media availability

Upcoming: Cowboys @ Redskins 5; Redskins @ Giants 12; Redskins @ Eagles 48

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