Nationals

Tide-Bulldogs set for clash of SEC West unbeatens

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Tide-Bulldogs set for clash of SEC West unbeatens

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) College football fans don't have to wait until Alabama-LSU for a showdown of highly ranked, unbeaten SEC West teams.

No. 13 Mississippi State's surprising rise means that matchup comes two weeks early. The Bulldogs visit the top-ranked Crimson Tide Saturday night in the first meeting of two ranked SEC West teams since the BCS championship game in January.

It might lack some of the national appeal of that Nov. 3 rematch in Baton Rouge, but the stakes are awfully high. The winner controls its own destiny in the division and takes a big step toward even bigger ambitions. In Alabama's case, that means staying ahead of the pack.

``At this time of the season, it's kind of like you're running the 100-yard race and now you're getting down to about 70 meters and you've got 30 meters to go,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday. ``And a lot of people are close, right on your heels and you've got to be able to finish the race.''

The perception is that Mississippi State (7-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) is at least a few steps behind the Tide (7-0, 4-0), which is favored by 23-1/2 points. This is a chance for the Bulldogs to show they've closed that gap.

They're off to their best start since the 1999 team won its first eight games and Mississippi State didn't even enter the rankings until a month into the season. Alabama has been No. 1 for eight weeks running and has easily dispatched SEC foes Missouri (42-10) and Tennessee (44-13) the past two weeks on the road.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen dismisses any suggestion that this game will be about gaining respect nationally.

``For our guys, to me, the respect issue comes down to our guys respect themselves, they respect each other,'' Mullen said. ``And that's really the only respect you need in a football team.

``What people outside our building say about us is their opinion. We have to worry about what we think about each other inside. And I think our guys have a lot of respect for the leaders on our team. And they respect how everybody on the team works, and they respect each other and they respect our program. So they give great effort in those regards because of those things, and that's really all that matters.''

Nevertheless, the respect is evident from the Alabama team for the Bulldogs improvement, even though the Tide has dominated the last four meetings by a collective 117-27 margin.

``They have improved a lot over the past three years,'' Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson said. ``We're not taking them lightly because they're a good team. I don't think they get the credit they deserve. We're going to come in with the mindset of they want to knock us off, so we're gonna try to get after them the best we can for a 60-minute game.''

It's a big one for the SEC West, which had three teams in the national title hunt - Alabama, LSU and Arkansas - going into the final weekend of the regular season last year. The decline of Arkansas and Auburn, plus the rise of several SEC East teams, has dimmed the spotlight on the division somewhat even with No. 22 Texas A&M entering the mix.

The SEC East has been part of all the marquee league games so far, such as Florida-Texas A&M, Florida-LSU, South Carolina-Georgia and LSU-South Carolina.

This game features two of the nation's top three teams in turnover margin and two of the league's most efficient quarterbacks.

Alabama's AJ McCarron has the nation's highest passing rating. He has thrown for 16 touchdowns and his interception-free streak has risen to 239 passes. Mississippi State's Tyler Russell has 15 touchdown passes against one interception.

``It's always been a great game because they are great at running the ball,'' Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley said. ``They have a great offense and a great defense. They have one of those defenses that gets a lot of turnovers, too, and we're right there with them on turnovers. It ought to be a great day.''

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Follow John Zenor on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jzenor .

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Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

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USA Today

Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

WASHINGTON -- Daniel Murphy's two-run single drove in the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth inning and the Washington Nationals rallied past the Philadelphia Phillies 8-6 on Sunday night to salvage the finale of the three-game series.

Anthony Rendon homered and doubled, Bryce Harper tied a career high with three doubles and Michael A. Taylor and Murphy each had three singles in a game that was delayed 38 minutes by rain in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams homered for the Phillies, who had won three straight.

Pinch hitter Brian Goodwin led off the eighth with a walk against Victor Arano. With one out, right-hander Seranthony Dominguez (1-2) came on to face Harper, who doubled to right, with Goodwin stopping at third.

After Rendon grounded out, Juan Soto was intentionally walked and Murphy lined a 1-2 pitch to shallow right. Taylor's single made it 8-6.

Ryan Madson (2-3) pitched the eighth inning, and Sean Doolittle finished it for his 21st save.

The Phillies took a 6-2 lead in the fifth on a two-run triple by Odubel Herrera and a two-run homer by Williams.

Washington pulled within a run at 6-5 in the sixth with four two-out hits, including an RBI triple by Trea Turner and RBI doubles by Harper and Rendon.

Nick Pivetta went five innings and allowed two runs on eight hits for the Phillies.

Washington starter Jefry Rodriguez was charged with four runs and five hits in four-plus innings.

The Phillies broke on top on Hoskins's two-run homer in the third.

Rendon made it 2-1 with a solo homer in the fourth. The next three hitters singled, tying the game, but with the rain intensifying, out came the tarp. When play resumed, Pivetta struck out three straight to end the inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Phillies: C Andrew Knapp left in the seventh with a right knee contusion. ... 3B Maikel Franco slipped on first base and fell hard in the eighth. He stayed in to run, but left after the half-inning. ... INF Jesmuel Valent?n was placed on the paternity leave list and OF Dylan Cozens (left quadriceps strain) was reinstated from the 10-day DL.

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (right hamstring strain) allowed 11 runs in 4 2/3 innings of a rehab start at Class A Potomac on Sunday. "I'm more concerned with the way he feels," manager Dave Martinez said, downplaying the results. "We'll go from there." ... RH reliever Brandon Kintzler (right forearm flexor strain) threw a scoreless inning at Potomac. ... RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) played catch on the field again. "We'll keep doing his throwing progression and figure out when he can actually throw from the mound," Martinez said.

UP NEXT

Phillies: RHP Vince Velasquez (5-7, 4.82) starts the opener of a series against the Yankees on Monday. He is 0-0 with a 3.24 ERA in two games vs. New York.

Nationals: RHP Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08) opens a series at Tampa Bay on Monday. He is 2-2 with a 5.54 ERA in six games against the Rays.

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Jay Gruden wants excellent play from Alex Smith, but he also expects personal responsibility

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USA TODAY Sports

Jay Gruden wants excellent play from Alex Smith, but he also expects personal responsibility

As June minicamp concluded, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden pulled no punches when asked about expectations for new quarterback Alex Smith. 

"He has got to get it down by the first game," Gruden said of Smith. 

While that might not sound overly demanding, remember this is Smith's first season in Washington. The QB will be playing with new teammates and implementing new terminology. 

Still, Smith is a veteran with a lot of experience, and frankly, it seems like Gruden isn't worried about a transition period. 

"We are not in here to build the team around him, the team is built and he has to lead it like right now," the coach said. "This isn’t a two- or three-year process. This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away."

Gruden made things quite clear. He expects the best from Smith, yesterday. 

Those comments created headlines, but there was something else the coach said about his passer that also stood out. Asked about Smith's veteran presence, Gruden talked about what the quarterback might mean for his teammates. 

"The whole job a quarterback has is obviously getting the most out of the people around you. That’s what I think he does as good as anybody," Gruden said. "He’ll get the most out of the tight ends. He’ll get the most out of the backs."

The coach continued, and things got a bit more interesting.

"He’ll get the most out of the receivers and offensive line because they’re going to want to play for him and they’re going to feel confident that he’s going to make something happen in a positive way or at least give it everything he’s got and take responsibility if something doesn’t work out."

Redskins fans are often a weirdly divided bunch. Many liked former QB Kirk Cousins but plenty did not think he was worth the type of money he was paid the last two seasons. Along the way, some fans will read Gruden's comments about making something happen and taking responsibility as a jab at Cousins. That's probably wrong. 

Remember, Trent Williams played through a serious knee injury last season. Asked why, Williams said he wanted to be out there to protect Cousins. Guys played for Cousins. 

The responsibility comment might mean something else, though. Their was a rather hostile back-and-forth last season between Gruden and Cousins last season, when the QB and coach disagreed about taking more risks with the football. A quick reminder of the scene: Cousins told a reporter that he would throw 20 interceptions if he played like Gruden wanted. The coach responded that while the interceptions might pile up, the QB would also throw 60 touchdowns. (Relive it here)

Throughout his career, Smith has thrown less interceptions than Cousins. But that doesn't mean Smith doesn't take risks or put his receivers in position to make plays. 

It's entirely possible Gruden simply expects Smith, a veteran, to be a responsible player and leader. And it's likely that comment had nothing to do with the Redskins previous quarterbacks. 

The bottom line is that Smith better be ready to go Week 1, and his coach made that clear. And if Smith isn't, Gruden expects his quarterback to take responsibility. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

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