Nationals

Trojans deflated after loss to Arizona

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Trojans deflated after loss to Arizona

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Southern California came into the season with a Heisman Trophy front-runner, some of the most dynamic offensive players anywhere and its two-year postseason ban over.

The Trojans were the preseason No. 1, their aspirations a first national title since 2004.

After a mistake-filled loss to Arizona on Saturday, those national-title hopes have quickly gone out of reach.

At this rate, if USC doesn't play well down the final stretch of the season, it might not even play for the Pac-12 title, much less the BCS championship.

``From here, we are just going to stick together,'' quarterback Matt Barkley said after the 39-36 loss to the Wildcats.

The Trojans went into Saturday's game in control of the Pac-12 South, their national-title chances slim, but at least still there.

USC put up some big offensive numbers against Arizona, none more eye-catching than receiver Marqise Lee's Pac-12-record 345 yards receiving on 16 catches, along with two touchdowns.

Barkley filled up the stat line, too, throwing for a school-record 493 yards and three touchdowns as the Trojans rolled up 618 yards.

USC spoiled it with common themes from this season: undisciplined penalties and Barkley's inconsistency.

The Trojans have been the most penalized team in the Football Bowl Subdivision (10.25 for 84.63 yards per game) and were at their flag-inducing worst against the Wildcats

Safety T.J. McDonald was called for a taunting foul on a third down to keep Arizona's opening drive alive, setting up Matt Scott's 8-yard touchdown pass to Johnny Jackson.

Defensive lineman Leonard Williams also got carried away on a tackle in the first half, ripping off Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey's helmet off for another personal foul.

The Trojans had 13 penalties in all, losing 117 yards and leaving their coach unsure of what to do about their lack of discipline.

``I'm open for any suggestions,'' USC coach Lane Kiffin said. ``I've tried it all.''

Barkley had some problems of his own.

He made a surprising return for his senior season, instantly becoming a Heisman Trophy front-runner.

Like USC's national-title chances, his shot at the Heisman appears to be gone.

Barkley has had some big games this season, but also some so-so ones, held to under 200 yards passing three times.

He opened Saturday's game by airmailing a pass well over Lee's head and had two interceptions in the first half.

Barkley also missed a chance to extend USC's lead in the third quarter, overthrowing Robert Woods on what would have been an 87-yard touchdown after the defensive back trying to cover him fell.

``I'll be thinking about that play all night,'' Barkley after completing 31 of 49 passes. ``I got a little too excited seeing how wide open he was and just didn't put enough air under the ball.''

It wasn't just Barkley.

Running backs Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan both lost fumbles, and safety Jawanza Starling gave the ball right back after an interception, fumbling it away on the return.

USC's defense allowed Arizona to pile up 588 yards and chew up precious time on its final drive, giving up a pair of first downs even though they knew the Wildcats would be running.

USC got the ball a final time with 55 seconds left, but two passes over the middle kept the clock running, leaving no option but to heave the ball into the end zone from Arizona's 48-yard line. Barkley's pass sailed into a crowd of players, but fell harmlessly to the turf, sending the Wildcats jubilantly running across the field and tears streaming down Lee's face.

``We didn't win and that's why I was upset,'' Lee said.

The loss knocked USC (6-2, 4-2) out of the national-title picture and eight spots in the AP Top 25 to No. 18.

The Trojans still lead the Pac-12 South after Arizona State's loss UCLA at home, but lost a chance to get some separation.

The Arizona loss also knocked some of the luster off of next week's game against No. 2 Oregon at the Coliseum.

Instead of a showdown with potential national-title implications, the Trojans will be in the spoiler role for the Ducks' BCS chances while trying keep their Pac-12 title-game hopes alive.

In a season that started with much higher expectations, this isn't what they had in mind.

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Bryce Harper's 2018 Home Run Derby win by the numbers

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USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper's 2018 Home Run Derby win by the numbers

Bryce Harper is the 2018 Home Run Derby champion.

In his home ballpark, Harper put on a show Washington won't soon forget.

He ran through a division foe in the first round in Freddie Freeman, took out a strong, hefty lefty in the semifinals in Max Muncy and then hit nine home runs in 47 seconds in the final minute of the final round when it seemed like he had no chance. On the second swing of his 30 seconds of extra time, Harper launched a bomb to deep center field to win.

And while winning the Home Run Derby in his own ballpark is an impressive feat on its own, the numbers behind his victory make it all the more impressive.

3.

He is just the third hometown winner of the Home Run Derby in the history of the event. Todd Frazier did it most recently in 2016 in Cincinnati, and Ryne Sandberg won at Wrigley Field in Chicago in 1990.

13.

Harper won each of the first two rounds with 13 homers. He didn't need his full time in either of the first two rounds.

446 & 441.

Harper's first two home runs of his first-round matchup against Freeman traveled farther than any of the Braves' superstar's dingers.


10.

In the semifinals, Harper only hit three homers in the first minute, but then blasted 10 in his next 11 swings. That's called efficiency.


5.

In the first round, Harper hit five of the 10 longest home runs of anybody in the field.


45.

Harper hit 45 bombs en route to claiming the title. Here's a visual representation of all of them.

That's also how many dollars cheaper Nats tickets will be... oops!


2.

That's John Wall's number and this is him celebrating his fellow D.C. sports superstar's victory.


19,058.

Bryce Harper hit an absurd 19,058 feet of home runs during the 2018 Home Run Derby. That's more than the 5k you ran last year.

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With All-Star Game in Washington, Bryce Harper looks back on baseball life, ahead to uncertain future

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USA Today Sports Images

With All-Star Game in Washington, Bryce Harper looks back on baseball life, ahead to uncertain future

It's quite possible that, despite nearly a decade of being in the spotlight, gracing the cover of magazines and operating as a transcendent star in the sport of baseball, Bryce Harper's attention-drawing powers reached their apex this week in Washington as the 2018 All-Star Game took center stage at Nationals Park.

Harper has played in plenty showcase games before, he's participated in the Home Run Derby, he was the first overall pick in 2010. But this time the Midsummer Classic is in his professional baseball hometown and he is the primary ambassador for both the team and league. 

Oh, and this is also a pretty big year for his future. The 25-year-old is just months away from being one of the most sought after free agents in the history of the sport and perhaps soon the highest paid.

Harper took it all in stride on Monday as he held court in a club level ballroom at Nationals Park on South Capitol St. He knew the questions about his future were coming and he had answers for every single one of them.

Some of those questions included:

Do you ever have guys on other teams try to recruit you?

Has it ever crossed your mind how odd it would be to play somewhere else?

Do you have a relationship with [Yankees star] Aaron Judge?

One reporter didn't even finish his question before Harper sniffed it out.

When you shaved your beard [on June 19]... 

Harper: ..."it was because the Yankees were in town, right. You got it," he said sarcastically. "My beard was getting too long. My wife wanted me to trim it and it was a good idea."

Harper has by most accounts become closed off in recent years. His personality has been withdrawn. He famously began his first spring training press conference earlier this year with a written statement and a warning that any questions about his free agent future would result in him walking out of the room.

At least for a day, Harper was his old and congenial self. Though, he did explain why his personality has changed with the media in recent years.

"I think I've gotten older. I'm not going to say the same things at 16 that I do at 25," he said. "There were things that people did in college that they don't want people to know about. There are things that I've said in the media at 16 or 17 that I guess I was real about. I can't take them back and I don't want to."

Harper has been able to operate throughout the first half of the season while saying very little of substance to the media. The fact his batting average has dipped to just .214 has given him extra reason to put up walls.

As Harper addressed the media, he didn't offer any trademark one-liners, but he did get introspective about his life as a baseball player and his role as the face of the Washington Nationals.

He spoke glowingly about the franchise and the city, about how much he enjoys seeing the same faces every day, from his teammates to those in the front office to stadium employees and security guards. He shared his appreciation for the fans and area kids who look up to him.

The All-Star Game taking place in D.C. offered Harper a chance to reminisce. As Harper looked ahead to the Home Run Derby, he rattled off the most memorable homers he has seen at Nationals Park. 

He mentioned Jayson Werth's walkoff homer in Game 4 of the 2012 NL Division Series. He brought up the time Michael Morse hit one to the top of the Red Porch in left-center and the many times Adam Dunn cleared the third deck in right field.

Harper was asked about his the pressure of playing host and the duress of struggling in a contract year. He told a story from his days at the College of Southern Nevada that put it all into perspective.

"I got absolutely dominated for two weeks prior to our season opening before fall ball. I'm sitting there at 16 years old, I just got back from Team USA," he recalled.

"I got punched out like nine or 10 times in probably a matter of about 12 at-bats against my own team... I sat down and was like 'you know what, I don't want to do this. I want to go back to high school. I want to enjoy those moments and do that.' But I knew that I couldn't do that. I sat down and they said 'you can't come back, you tested out.' I said 'okay, you've gotta cowboy up.' I needed to do what I needed to do. A week later, we started our fall ball season and I went deep in my first at-bat at Cashman Field. The rest is history, I guess you could say."

If Harper had indeed been able to go back to high school, his draft status would have changed. He never would have been drafted first overall by the Nationals in 2010.

Harper feels the pressure of playing in junior college ball with his draft status on the line, playing against guys who were four or five years older than him, was the toughest thing he has done in baseball. It prepared him for all of these moments, just like the media scrutiny did over the years.

"It was only what, [eight] years ago? It's those moments that make you who you are," he said. "I'm 25 years and old and I play this game of baseball every day. What pressure do I have to feel?... It's the game that I love to play. I'm getting chills [right now]. There's nothing greater than running out there wearing No. 34 and being Bryce Harper and loving the game that I play."

Harper remained patient and upbeat for the over 30 minutes that he addressed the media. He was soaking it all in and trying to embrace the attention he was receiving.

But it was one of those questions from above that provided a dose of reality to set in. When asked if it would be strange to play for another team, he reminded the reporters present of what could very well happen this winter.

"It's always a possibility [I leave]. I think that everybody knew that at the beginning of the year, that this could possibly be my last year in D.C. Everybody knows that. There's no elephant in the room. Everybody knows that it's a possibility, but I'm not really focused on that," he said.

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