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Va. Tech ends tough season with Russell Bowl win

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Va. Tech ends tough season with Russell Bowl win

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer was candid this week in acknowledging that a lackluster 6-6 regular season was not the standard that the Hokies had grown accustomed to.

It took one of their best finishes of the season, but no matter what people remember about this year's team, they will be recalled as winners.

Cody Journell kicked a 22-yard field goal on the first possession of overtime to help the Hokies beat Rutgers 13-10 in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Friday night.

The victory helped the Hokies avoid their first losing season since 1992 - an accomplishment that will definitely give them a boost going into an offseason that could include some changes in the coaching staff.

``It's kind of like nothing comes easy for us,'' Beamer said. ``It is work, but we got a bunch of guys that will hang out, and we're not always ready, but we kind of hang on and keep working at it. ... We could have shut it down, and these guys never did.''

He avoided any questions about possible staff shake-ups that may be coming in the coming weeks.

``We are going to enjoy this win,'' he said. ``These guys worked hard for this win tonight. It wasn't easy. We are going to enjoy this win and talk about our game with Rutgers.''

Rutgers (9-4) had a chance to tie it in overtime, but Nick Borgese missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt to the right.

The loss ended a run of five straight bowl victories for the Scarlet Knights and kept them from recording their first double-digit win season since 2006.

The win also was the Hokies' 12th straight victory over their former Big East Conference rival.

Virginia Tech trailed 10-0 at the half, then rallied in the final 30 minutes thanks to some timely turnovers and offense. Quarterback Logan Thomas struggled in the first half and finished with a pair of interceptions, but also had 192 yards passing and the game's only passing touchdown.

``I can't commend the defense more,'' Thomas said. ``The entire season that's kind of how it's been. I have to give a shout out to (linebacker) Bruce Taylor because he played his tail off the entire game. It felt like he was in the backfield making a tackle on every play.''

Taylor finished the night with a team-high 11 tackles to lead a defense that held Rutgers to 67 yards in the second half.

Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum, selected the most valuable player of the game, picked off Gary Nova's pass early in the fourth quarter to set up the tying score.

He said though the offense took its lumps early, he was never down on their effort.

``That's just the way the game panned out,'' Exum said. ``We never lose hope with the guys on the other side of the ball. Our job, honestly, is just to go out there and get as many three-and-outs as possible and give the most opportunities as we can to put points on the board.

``We did a good job of that tonight.''

Rutgers seemed to be in command until the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, when turnovers and a sudden surge from the Hokies' offense quickly turned the momentum.

Down 10-0, Virginia Tech took over after Rutgers missed a field goal and moved into Scarlet Knights' territory for the first time in the game on a 32-yard pass from Thomas to Dyrell Roberts.

Thomas then found Corey Fuller for a 25-yard strike on the next play, before the drive stalled on the 8. It forced the Hokies to settle for Journell's 25-yard field goal.

Exum intercepted Nova's pass on the ensuing drive, giving the Hokies a first down on the Rutgers 21.

The Hokies found the end zone three plays later on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to Fuller with 10:56 left as steady rain began to fall.

``We finally caught them off balance,'' Thomas said. ``We finally got them uncomfortable. ... I just had to put the ball out there for him.''

Virginia Tech defensive end Tyrel Wilson then came up with the defense's second turnover of the night, recovering a fumble inside the Scarlet Knights 40 after Nova dropped a snap while lined up in the shotgun.

An intentional grounding penalty on Thomas forced a punt, though, with less than 7 minutes to play.

They got another chance a few series later, only to see Journell's 51-yard field goal come up short with 2:20 showing on the clock.

Rutgers punted, but got it back just a play later when Thomas' pass was intercepted by Brandon Jones.

``Two tremendous defensive performances, and one of the better defensive performances I've seen from Rutgers players this season,'' Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. ``It's unfortunate that we came out on the wrong side of the game, and squander that kind of performance as a result.''

It was defense on both sides that controlled the action in the first half as Rutgers took a 10-0 halftime lead.

The Scarlet Knights were the most effective offensively, managing a modest seven first downs and a field goal. But the Scarlet Knights came up empty on their best drive of the half, failing to convert on a fourth-down pass play inside the Hokies 35.

Virginia Tech struggled throughout, though, tallying only 73 yards total in the first two quarters. Thomas was also sacked twice and intercepted late in the half, which severely hampered an offense that never made it into Rutgers' territory.

Penalties also bent in Rutgers' favor. Virginia Tech was penalized eight times for 60 yards. The Scarlet Knights weren't whistled for any penalties in the half.

A miscue by Virginia Tech on the opening drive of the game produced the game's first score.

Hokies center Caleb Farris sent his second snap of the night sailing past Thomas and into the end zone.

Thomas scrambled back to pick it up, and tried to run it out, but he was instantly swarmed and lost the ball as he was tackled. It was eventually recovered by Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene for the touchdown.

Beamer said the challenge now is to not let any shortcomings from this season cloud the offseason.

``I couldn't be more proud of this team,'' he said. ``We've won some more games in other years, but I think this group is special.

He said he won't have any negative feelings when he looks back on this season.

``Not everything in life is real smooth,'' Beamer said. ``These players worked hard and how they reacted to adversity and to disappointment and when all of them wanted to do better - they kept together.''

NOTES: The game was the lowest scoring the bowl's history. It surpassed Stanford's 24-3 win over Penn State in 1993. ...The game also set a bowl record with 20 punts, passing the previous record of 19 in the 1991 matchup between Alabama and Colorado.

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Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter athttp://www.twitter.com/khightower

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Why sleep is so important in the NHL and how the Caps make sure they get enough of it

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Why sleep is so important in the NHL and how the Caps make sure they get enough of it

Life is busy. Between work, family and the other responsibilities that adulthood brings, sometimes there just are not enough hours in the day to get everything done.

We’ve all been there. When things get busy, if you’re like many Americans, sleep often becomes the casualty.

According to the CDC, more than a third of American adults are not getting at least seven hours of sleep a night on a regular basis. It’s an unfortunate cycle where we feel too tired to get everything done, but then sacrifice sleep to finish everything we need to.

Lack of sleep effects everyone in their jobs, but what about when maintaining physical health is a part of your job?

That’s the challenge the Washington Capitals and all professional hockey players face.

“You've got to get your sleep,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “Otherwise, it's going to be hard perform at the highest level.”

“It's the most important thing,” Travis Boyd said. “I put it as more important than nutrition.”

Sleep is important for a person’s overall health, reflexes and focus, all of which are important for a professional athlete. One of the most important aspects of sleep is how it helps the body recover.

Your body needs to recover after grueling workouts. The NHL season lasts from mid-September through the beginning of April with training camp, the preseason and 82 regular season games. A long playoff run can extend the season into June and add a maximum of 28 games.

Seven months of games and practices is a long, grueling season and the players need to consistently get enough sleep in order to play at their best throughout.

“It's very important recovery wise,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think there's times where you can get away with it like a day after and some guys think it doesn't affect them, it might not be the next day but it definitely catches up to you especially with the kind of schedule that we play.”

“Personally, for me, the difference between getting six hours of sleep and playing a game vs. getting eight vs. taking a nap or not, I can tell right away,” Boyd said. “I think it just goes into playing at 100-percent and if you want to play at 100-percent of what you're capable of playing at, you need to get a good amount of sleep.”

But even with the importance the players place on sleep, sometimes they just cannot get all that they need.

A regular 7 p.m. game will end around 9:30 p.m. That’s not too late if you assume the players simply shower, go home and go to bed.

Coming down from the physical high of a game, however, is easier said than done.

“It's just hard in general to wind down after games as it is for how jacked up and how your senses are,” Boyd said. “You've got every sense going. I'd be surprised if there's a guy in here that was sleeping before one in the morning after a game and then that might be three or four hours after the game, but that's how wired your body is, that's how alert it is. It takes some time to come down.”

When you have practice the next morning, not getting to bed until late will affect your performance the next day. Travel obviously makes things worse.

The amount of traveling required of players, especially when it comes to back-to-back games, makes it extremely difficult for players to get the amount of rest they know they need.

“The travel is probably at least as much of a reason for what wears your body down, sometimes even more than the games I find,” Lars Eller said. “It's really the travel that wears your body out during the course of a season.”

None of the players expect any sympathy when it comes to travel. It is not as if they are waiting in a security line with the general public at the airport and staying in a cheap motel on the side of the road. The players fly on chartered planes and stay in nice hotels.

Traveling in style, however, does not make up for a lack of sleep. When a team plays in a game, goes from the arena to the airport and arrives in a different city in the early morning hours, there is no way for the players to get the seven or more hours of sleep they need to play at the top of their game.

“If you had your perfect routine, you're going home, you're going to bed at 10 and then sometimes you travel on those back-to-backs and you're getting into your hotel at two so you're thrown off a little bit,” Orpik said. “I think being consistent with your wake ups, then all of a sudden you kind of have that internal alarm clock where even if you set your alarm for 9:30, you're getting up at seven. I know that's something I struggle with a lot of times.”

And then of course there is the ultimate enemy of sleep that plagues many of the Capitals’ players: Kids.

“When you go through having young kids, you just adapt to having less sleep so it's kind of weird for me to get an eight-hour sleep now,” Braden Holtby said.

Having kids is simultaneously rewarding and exhausting. A teething baby doesn’t care if you have a game that night and a crying toddler doesn’t care if you are late to practice.

There is no denying that professional athletes do not live normal lives, but no amount of fame or money matters to a young child. When it comes to being a parent, players feel about as helpless as the rest of us.

“It's not even if your kid's getting up in the middle of the night,” Boyd said, “It's you spend the whole day watching your kid and finally you get them to sleep, it's 9 o’clock and that's the first time all day where you can actually sit down and get what you need to get done whether that just be I got to go email these two people and I was going to look this up or buy something online, whatever it is, your only time to do that is later that night. So it becomes a little bit of a challenge to make sure that you're getting enough sleep along with just doing the things that you would like to do in your day-to-day life.”

Perhaps no one knows how much of a challenge kids can be more than defenseman John Carlson.

Carlson has two sons, Lucca and Rudy. Rudy was born during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, right before Game 5 of the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, to be specific.

Newborn babies are a lot of hard work. For the first two months, babies need to eat about every three hours, day and night.

Carlson, however, did not miss a single game and scored in Game 5. In the 14 games after his son’s birth, Carlson scored three goals and ten total points.

What was Carlson’s secret to making sure he was well rested for each game? His wife, of course.

“My wife did it all, pretty much,” he said.

“She wanted me to feel my best and sleep is paramount. So she took the brunt of the pain and misery of those sleepless nights on her own until we obviously finished.”

Carlson is not alone. An understanding wife is something many players rely on when it comes to kids.

“A lot of athletes probably has a good better half to take care of that,” Backstrom said. “Every time it's game day, they're being very helpful for us. They know we have an important job to do.”

No one is able to get the right amount of sleep every single day, however. To combat that and the fatigue of a grueling season, there is also the treasured hockey tradition of the pregame nap.

“You do it more for to try and make up for it at night because you know you're not going to get the right amount after a game or after a travel game,” Holtby said. “Won't get to bed until 2, 2:30, something like that. So you try and make up for it that way.”

There is a danger to all this focus on sleep, however, and that is getting too much.

Is there really such a thing as too much sleep? As ridiculous as this may sound to many, getting too much sleep is something the more experienced players learned and now warn against.

“You've got to manage your rest, but as you get older you don't need as much sleep or anything,” Holtby said. “I find oversleeping actually makes me worse than getting less.”

“I think when I was younger there's probably times when I got too much sleep,” Orpik said. “Trying to explain that to some of the younger guys now, they look at you kind of confused. I think it's all about kind of finding a routine that works for you and same thing with sleep. I think you've got to find kind of that sweet spot where how many hours you get where you get recovered enough, but not too many where you feel sluggish all day.”

Managing sleep is all about figuring out what works for you and your body as every person’s body reacts differently. Some players need only seven hours while others need eight or nine plus a pregame name. When you find that sweet spot, that perfect amount of sleep you need to recover from a long day and rest for the next, making sure you can get that amount each and every night is something athletes emphasize. Their jobs depend on it.

For a lot of people, when life gets busy, sleep is often the casualty. We have all had that feeling at times when we are just too busy to sleep. For a professional hockey player, however, when taking care of yourself physically is part of the job, sleep is vitally important and players cannot afford to lose sleep even when life gets in the way.

“Whenever you have a chance to get sleep, everyone in here is told to sleep no matter if it's a nap or whenever it is,” Boyd said. “If you have a chance to sleep, sleep. It's going to be beneficial at some point down the line.”

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Greg Roman rebuilding Ravens offense with Lamar Jackson in mind

Greg Roman rebuilding Ravens offense with Lamar Jackson in mind

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Greg Roman is off to a running start in his new role as offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, working long hours to construct a unit that can fully utilize the talents of quarterback Lamar Jackson.

The Ravens closed the regular season with a 6-1 run behind Jackson, who keyed an effective ground game with frequent forays out of the pocket and downfield. Baltimore ended a three-year hiatus from the playoffs, winning the AFC North before losing to the Chargers.

The goal this offseason is to make an effective attack even better. Promoted last month from assistant coach/tight ends coach, Roman is rewriting a playbook that was originally devised for a pass-oriented offense led by Joe Flacco.

"We're trying, soup to nuts, from the ground up ... to hit the sweet spot with how we put this offense together," Roman said Tuesday.

The focal point is Jackson, the 32nd overall pick in the 2018 draft. After Flacco injured his right hip in November, Jackson took over and displayed the slick moves and elusiveness that earned him a Heisman Trophy at Louisville.

The rookie finished as the team's second-leading rusher with 719 yards. He spearheaded a ground game that finished second in the NFL with 152.6 yards per game -- including an league-high 1,607 yards rushing over the final seven games.

"You're going to see a lot of elements of that this year," Roman said.

The result, he hopes, is something on a much grander scale.

"We have run an offense here that has kind of morphed over the years, and we really want to start fresh, start new," Roman said. "Everything from our language, our formations, how we do everything. Rebuild the thing. That's one angle.

"The other angle is really, how do we want to move forward with Lamar Jackson? He's a unique player with a unique skill set, so let's build an offense that really accommodates that, as opposed to try to fit him into something that other people had once done."

Roman took over for Marty Mornhinweg in part because of his work as an offensive coordinator in San Francisco and Buffalo, where he helped construct effective attacks with running quarterbacks in Colin Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor.

At the time of Roman's hiring, coach John Harbaugh said, "Increasing Greg's responsibilities will help us get where we're going on offense."

Constructing a new playbook is not an easy process.

"It's a real grind. We're really looking at this as a completely new beginning, as if we were a new staff," Roman said. "I've kind of compared it to putting your kid's furniture together from IKEA or something. If you make one wrong move, you've got to take the whole thing apart and start over again."

For the offense to work, the Ravens must fortify the offensive line, get a rugged receiver capable of blocking downfield and hope Gus Edwards can continue to develop after a rookie season in which he was activated from the practice squad in October before running for a team-high 718 yards.

Most of all, however, they need Jackson to be better. His running prowess and determination are fine, but he had only one 200-yard passing game and fumbled 12 times.

"Moving forward, consistent fundamentals are what's really going to take him to the next level," Roman said, "because he's got all the ability in the world."

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