Capitals

Utah State routs Toledo 41-15 in Idaho Potato Bowl

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Utah State routs Toledo 41-15 in Idaho Potato Bowl

BOISE, Idaho (AP) Utah State running back Kerwynn Williams was having a quiet day when things took a turn for the worse in the fourth quarter when he fumbled deep in his own territory.

As it has all season, the Aggies' defense did its job, holding Toledo to a field goal that cut the lead to 13-9 with 7:28 to go. Then Williams atoned for his mistake - in a big way.

On the next possession, Williams broke through the defense and raced 63 yards for a touchdown. On the next two possessions, the senior was unstoppable, ripping off a 56-yard run and scoring TDs on runs of 5 and 25 yards, all within a span of less than 4 minutes to lift No. 18 Utah State to a 41-15 victory over Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Saturday.

``When stuff like that happens you have to have a short memory,'' Williams said about the fumble. ``You can't change it. I just knew the next opportunity for me, I needed to make a big play.''

Williams' fourth-quarter spree fueled a 28-point Aggies scoring burst that turned a close game into a blowout. Williams finished with a career-best 235 yards rushing on 18 carries, with 182 of those yards coming on six carries in the fourth quarter, and was voted MVP.

Williams' heroics also capped the most successful season in the history of Utah State football. The Aggies finished 11-2, won the Western Athletic Conference title outright and won a bowl game for the first time since 1993. Utah State also will likely finish ranked for the first time since 1961.

``You play in bowls to win championships, and they did that today,'' said Aggies coach Gary Andersen, who in four years has turned a Western Athletic Conference doormat into the top team of a conference soon to be obsolete. ``They (team) reached every single goal they set last January. That doesn't happen often in life or often in football. I'm very, very proud of them.''

The Aggies, bolstered all year by one of the best defenses in FBS, rolled up 582 yards total yards on offense.

Quarterback Chuckie Keeton was 21-of-31 passing for 229 yards and 92 yards rushing, including a 62-yard dash that put Utah State up 7-3 in the first quarter.

The defense also turned in another impressive performance. Toledo (9-4) was able to move the ball at times and made five trips inside the red zone. But penalties, miscues and an inability to execute on critical plays forced the Rockets to settle for three Jeremiah Detmer field goals. Detmer hit a pair from 37 yards out and another from 29, closing his season by making 17 straight.

Toledo's only touchdown came when Bernard Reedy returned a fourth-quarter kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown. Reedy was the only big producer on a Toledo offense held to 315 total yards. Reedy had 51 yards rushing and caught six passes for 62 yards.

``When they got down in the red zone, they scored touchdowns. When we got down into the red zone we kicked field goals,'' first-year Toledo coach Matt Campbell said. ``In big football games you have to win details.''

Toledo quarterback Austin Dantin, who started in place of the injured Terrence Owens, was 12 of 21 passing for 132 yards. Dantin threw an interception in the third quarter to end a promising scoring drive and was replaced by Owens in the fourth quarter.

Owens moved the Rockets on his first possession, but another red-zone opportunity was squelched when the Aggies snuffed Owens for no gain on a fourth-and-1 play from the 9.

Toledo also was forced to adjust early without two of its best players. Linebacker Dan Molls, the nation's leading tackler, had a concussion on the opening kickoff and didn't return. Minutes later, running back David Fluellen, the nation's eighth-leading rusher, went down with an ankle injury. He finished with 38 yards on seven carries.

Campbell refused to use the injuries to Moll and Fluellen as an excuse and pointed out the game was close until the final 7 1/2 minutes.

``Injuries happen, they occur, you have to have the ability to adapt and you have to have the ability to move on,'' he said. ``We were still in the game in the fourth quarter. I'm really proud of our football team from that standpoint.''

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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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