NCAA

Vitt praises Saints' resolve, aims for .500 finish

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Vitt praises Saints' resolve, aims for .500 finish

METAIRIE, La. (AP) Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt is urging his players to keep thinking about the Lombardi Trophy as they prepare for what otherwise is an anticlimactic season finale between two non-playoff teams.

``There's two types of Super Bowl winners: Those that win and those that win one. And our goal is to win two and we're working toward that goal right now,'' Vitt said Monday as he recalled a recent pep talk to the team.

``Now we can't play for it this year, but that doesn't mean you can't come to practice every day and you can't get better,'' Vitt added. ``Our players have really taken it to heart and it's been fun to be around.''

After New Orleans (7-8) hosts Carolina (6-9) on Sunday, it will close the book on what Vitt said will go down as one of his favorite teams in more than three decades of coaching.

Although the Saints have followed up the offseason bounty scandal by missing the playoffs for the first time in four years, Vitt said he will remember how the team refused to quit.

After starting 0-4, the Saints rallied to even their record at 5-5. When a three-game skid from late November to early December erased any realistic postseason hopes, the Saints responded with a 41-0 rout of Tampa Bay on Dec. 16, followed by a 34-31 overtime triumph at Dallas on Sunday, when New Orleans also was officially eliminated from playoff contention because of other results.

New Orleans now has a chance to close the season on a three-game winning streak and even its record at 8-8. And Vitt, who has been filling in for suspended head coach Sean Payton since serving a six-game bounty suspension of his own, bristles at the notion that he would tinker with substitution patterns to shield veteran stars from potential injury or give younger players more experience.

``The best players are going to play and we're going to play the game to win,'' Vitt said. ``We're not a farm team.''

As far as Vitt was concerned, not even Christmas was going to distract him from trying to close the season with a victory that could make the Saints 8-4 over their final 12 games.

``I'm not waiting for anyone with a white beard to come down the chimney and hand us the divisional championship,'' Vitt said. ``We'll try to get our coaches out of here tonight a bit early to have some dinner with their family and then spend tomorrow morning (off). But listen, we're getting ready for a game.

``When you get into this business, you say to yourself, `You're not going to enjoy Thanksgiving. You're not going to enjoy Christmas. You're working through those things.' So I'll look forward to Easter in the springtime and, I guess, Arbor Day. That's the nature of our business,'' Vitt added. ``We certainly don't want to let our fans down and we want to play very, very well this week.''

If the Saints don't play exceedingly well on defense, they could set an unflattering record for the most yards allowed in a single season. New Orleans heads into the game having given up 6,512 yards, 281 yards short of the record 6,793 allowed by the 1981 Baltimore Colts, a team for which Vitt served as a third-year assistant.

Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said he can't worry about avoiding that record now.

``I don't really care. The main thing for me is we want to get a win. So if we give up however many yards and we get a win, I'll take the W any day,'' Lofton said. ``This year has been very different for me and a lot of the guys, you know, giving up all the yards and all that stuff. The first four games was tough, but when you look at us the last seven games, we played great defense.''

The Saints even held Dallas and quarterback Tony Romo largely in check until giving up a pair of touchdowns when the Cowboys went to a no-huddle offense in the closing minutes. Those scores allowed Dallas to force overtime, but when the Cowboys won the coin toss and took the ball first, the Saints' gave up only one first down before forcing a punt and setting the stage for Drew Brees to drive into winning field-goal range for kicker Garrett Hartley.

Saints first-year defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said it pains him and his players to have yielded such enormous yardage totals this season and wishes he had an explanation.

Spagnuolo added, however, that he can only be proud of how well his unit improved during the second half of the season, which included the first shutout by a Saints defense in 17 years.

In some ways, he said, the defense's performance from late in regulation at Dallas through its successful overtime stand was symbolic of the season.

``It's not that easy to be the team that just got tied to go into overtime to then have them win the coin toss and have to go right back out there and play,'' Spagnuolo said. ``It's a reflection of the character and resolve of those guys.''

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The 9 craziest things that happened in Week 8 of the college football season

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USA TODAY Sports

The 9 craziest things that happened in Week 8 of the college football season

Illinois ruined next week's undefeated matchup between Wisconsin and Ohio State with the biggest upset of the year, a football game turned into a dance-off, Virginia Tech won a six-overtime thriller and Louisville is still insane.

Here are the six craziest things that happened in Week 8 of the college football season.

31-point underdog Illinois upsets Wisconsin

Were you looking ahead to a game of unbeatens between Ohio State and Wisconsin? Well, I've got some bad news....

Wisconsin entered Saturday's game in Champaign 6-0. Four of those six wins were shutouts. The defense had only allowed 29 combined for the season. Illinois entered the game as a 31-point underdog and yet, the Fightin' Illini pulled off the biggest upset of the season with a field goal as time expired for the 24-23 win.

What the heck happened on that Tennessee goal-line play?

The fact that Tennessee lost to Alabama isn't crazy. The Crimson Tide have now won 13 straight so it would have been crazy had Alabama not won. What was lost in the win and all the injury news on Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was a goal-line play by Tennessee that went horrifically wrong in what was still a close game.

Trailing 28-13 in the fourth quarter, Tennesse lined up for a 4th and goal from Alabama's 1-yard line. Then this happened.

Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano fumbled the ball and Trevon Diggs returned it all the way down the field to turn what could have been a one-possession game into a three-possession game.

Unfortunate play? No, it goes beyond that.

There's a lot going on with that offensive line. It looks like the guard pulls which would never happen on a quarterback sneak. Guarantano doesn't come close to getting into the end zone and he gets smacked backward. We will never know exactly what happened on that play, whether he called the wrong play or there was a different run called and he decided to try to sneak it in himself. Head coach Jeremy Pruitt, however, was pissed and met his quarterback on the field so he could yell at him and grab his face mask. He said after the game he was mad because Guarantano tried to go over the top instead of trying to push his way through the middle, but again...the guard pulls so...?

Seven players ejected after a dance-off

Things got pretty heated in Saturday's game between Coastal Carolina and Georgia Southern. How heated you ask? Well between the third and fourth quarters both teams had to be separated because...a dance-off broke out!

No, this is not the script for a Footloose sequel, this actually happened.

In the most intense dance-off since West Side Story, both teams began dancing on the field when the song "Mo Bamba" played over the loudspeakers. 

Unfortunately, the referees apparently have no love for the art of dance so they gave every single player a penalty which resulted in seven players getting ejected.

Kansas almost beat Texas because a Tom Herman quote was taken out of context

Texas needed a field goal as time expired to beat Kansas on Saturday which would probably be weird enough to warrant landing on this list on its own. What really made things weird was why this game was so close.

After the game, several quotes came out of Kansas players saying they were motivated by disrespectful comments Texas head coach Tom Herman made at his Monday weekly press conference. When asked about Kansas, Herman said, "We actually play a game this week?"

OK, you can see why Kansas players would be upset...until you hear the context of the quote.

Herman was not asked a single question about Kansas during his press conference until it was almost 17 minutes in. His remark seemed aimed at the writers for not bringing up that week's game sooner, but I guess Les Miles and his coaches decided the Kansas players did not need to know that part.

The Sooner Schooner crashed

This is one of those stories that is only funny because everyone was OK.

The Sooner Schooner comes out onto the field at Oklahoma to celebrate Sooner touchdowns. In the second quarter, however, things went awry as the Schooner tipped over when making too sharp a turn.

As mentioned above, the school sent out a Twitter update saying no one was injured.

This is actually not the first time this has happened as the Schooner toppled over 26 years ago in a game against Colorado as well.

Louisville needs to chill, part 2

Last week we were all introduced to Louisville defensive line coach Mark Ivey who got bloodied during some intense warmups.

Evidently, he is not the only insane intense coach on the staff. This is just a thing at Louisville.

Here you can see the Cardinals getting pumped up by several coaches including the quality control coach. Because how could you not get pumped up by a rousing speech from the quality control coach?

Louisville lost by 35.

The worst fake punt ever?

When you're looking at the possibility of losing your 15th straight conference game, you get desperate. Arkansas certainly must have been desperate when it dialed up perhaps the worst fake punt in the history of college football.

A six overtime game

Virginia Tech and North Carolina fought through six overtimes before the Hokies finally emerged victorious and that's fine because six overtimes are still better than a tie. This marathon game gave us our first look at the new overtime rules in which each team gets a two-point conversion try starting in the fifth overtime instead of going series after series after series. The best part about this is that it mercifully took special teams out of the equation which is good because both teams had already missed two field goals in overtime.

Air Force gets a bizarre pick-6

Late in the fourth quarter, Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald dropped back to pass. Air Force safety Grant Theil read the play perfectly and jumped a route to get his hands on the football. He could not come up with the catch and the ball bounced out of his hands when he hit the ground. It bounced off his hip, rolled to his knee and his leg kicked it up in the air and right into the hands of teammate Milton Bugg. The ball never touched the ground and Bugg proceeded to run it 92 yards for the touchdown.

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Caps come out on top after crazy third period in Chicago

Caps come out on top after crazy third period in Chicago

The Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks exchanged five goals in the third period, but it was the Caps who came out on top on Sunday in a 5-3 win. The game is the first of a five-game road swing for Washington who have now won three straight.

Here is how the Caps beat the Blackhawks.

Special teams

Washington held a 2-1 lead at the end of two periods with one power play goal and one shorthanded goal. Chicago was firing pucks at the net from everywhere with 84 total shot attempts for the game at 5-on-5. The Caps did not appear to be getting outplayed, but clearly Chicago was getting more pressure at even strength. The special teams definitely gave the Caps the edge with one power play goal while yielding none to the Blackhawks.

Both units the power play and shorthanded were perfect on the night, the power play converting on its lone opportunity and the penalty kill fending off all four of Chicago’s power plays.

Great work on the power play

This is how you draw it up.

Alex Ovechkin came charging in on Jonathan Toews to force a turnover off the faceoff. Nicklas Backstrom chipped the puck into the corner away from the penalty killers. Evgeny Kuznetsov won a puck battle with Duncan Keith to take possession of the puck. T.J. Oshie then came charging into the slot for the pass from Kuznetsov and fired the shot high glove side for the goal.

That was a beautiful all-around play by the top unit.

Two quick responses

Drake Caggiula tied the game at 1 in the second period and suddenly the momentum was all on Chicago’s side. Just one minute later, Chandler Stephenson was given a double-minor for high-sticking Kirby Dach. This was Chicago’s moment to take control of the game. Instead, it proved to be the turning point for Washington. Patrick Kane turned the puck over on the power play and Carl Hagelin picked it up and was off to the races, sparking a 2-on-1 with Nic Dowd. Hagelin made the pass to Dowd who fired a shot. Crawford was beaten glove-side for the second time for what was Dowd’s second goal in as many games.

Chicago was given the double-minor power play exactly one minute after tying the game. Just 28 seconds after that, the Caps retook momentum with the shorthanded goal. The Blackhawks’ power play, which had looked dangerous to that point, completely fizzled through the rest of the double-minor.

Washington dominated most of the game, but a Patrick Kane goal in the third period tied the game at 3 and once again, momentum seemed to be entirely in Chicago's favor. Once again, the Caps responded.

Lars Eller took the puck in the offensive zone, wheeled around behind the net and fired a puck on the sharp angle at Crawford. He made the save, but it went right to Hagelin. He centered the puck to Wilson who roofed it into the net for the game-winning tally.

Wilson's goal came less than two minutes after Kane had tied it at 3.
 
John Carlson’s brilliant pass

A slap shot from Michal Kempny went wide of the net and curled around the wall back towards the blue line. Carlson collected it and immediately fired it on the first touch cross-ice to Ovechkin for the one-timer. The assist gave Carlson his 18th point of the season which makes him the NHL’s sole leader in points.

Braden Holtby

Chicago was throwing a lot of rubber around in this one. They finished with 84 total shot attempts. Only 44 of those attempts made it on net, but Holtby was brilliant and turned aside 41 of those shots.

Until the shorthanded marker that took the wind out of the power play’s sails, Holtby was Washington’s best penalty killer with nine saves on the man advantage. Again he tracked the puck well in a game in which the Blackhawks were showing off their puck-moving skills with great passing plays and a lot of shots.

Holtby looks much improved after his brief reset and now has strung together two strong starts in a row.

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