Haskins’ profile on the rise with another big game on tap
By MITCH STACY
AP Sports Writer
Monday, September 24
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Dwayne Haskins Jr. got a phone call from coach Urban Meyer on Saturday night, hours after the quarterback bullied Tulane in a performance that turned up the volume of talk about his potential Heisman Trophy candidacy.
Meyer wanted to make sure Haskins was keeping his feet on the ground as the hype around him intensifies.
“I called him driving home with that message, just stay focused,” Meyer said Monday. “We’ve had some pretty high-profile guys around here, and I’ve seen it go both ways. One thing about Columbus, Ohio, is this is the show, and they become bigger than life. But he’s a really humble guy, he’s a very conscientious guy, comes from a great family. So he’s been great so far.”
The spotlight on the third-year junior will only get brighter if he can go into a hostile “white out” at Beaver Stadium and lead No. 4 Ohio State past No. 9 Penn State in a nationally televised game Saturday night.
His eye-popping passing numbers are even better than they seem, considering he didn’t play for big chunks of the second half after Ohio State was comfortably ahead in three of its four wins this year. On Saturday, he threw for 304 yards and five touchdowns in the first half before taking a seat.
Haskins is second among Division I quarterbacks in touchdowns (16) and completion percentage (75.7), third in quarterback rating (207) and is in the top 10 in passing yards and yards per attempt. He has been sacked only three times and picked off just once. The only player who has more touchdown passes is Hawaii’s Cole McDonald with 20, but he has played in one more game.
“I just want to show how dangerous the offense is, and with me at the helm, a lot of plays can be made,” said Haskins, whose default setting is to heap praise on the offensive line and receivers before saying much, if anything, about himself.
He is turning heads with his ability to throw into tight spots and launch perfectly placed long balls.
“Dwayne for Heisman,” Ohio State receiver Austin Mack said after the 49-6 rout of Tulane that earned Haskins his second Big Ten co-player of the week designation this season. “He’s being a pro, making a lot of tough reads and throwing the ball incredible. We all knew what Dwayne could do. It was just a matter of if he could be the guy on Saturdays.”
Meyer credits Haskins’ development with the relationship the player has with quarterbacks coach Ryan Day and being able to work on his skills over the past two years while J.T. Barrett held down the starting job.
“He wasn’t ready as a true freshman,” Meyer said. “Last year he was getting closer and closer, but he didn’t see it. You saw him throw the ball nice, but that’s one-third of playing quarterback. It’s toughness and leadership. I just think it’s the maturation of a gifted player.”
NOTES: Meyer said All-American defensive end Nick Bosa will be out at least “several more weeks” while healing from surgery on a lower abdominal muscle. … Running back Mike Weber, who suffered a slight foot injury in Saturday’s game, will be ready to go against Penn State. … Defensive tackle Robert Landers, who sat out last week with an injury, also will play. … Backup running back Brian Snead was held out of the Tulane game for violating unspecified team rules.
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New redshirt policy makes it more tempting to transfer
By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer
Monday, September 24
A new NCAA policy that makes it easier to redshirt football players comes with an unintended consequence: Players can now choose to save their eligibility by leaving teams after participating in four games, with plans to transfer and use the saved year at a new school.
Several upperclassmen who would have been out of eligibility had they kept playing this season have already taken this route, including Oklahoma State receiver Jalen McCleskey, a senior with 167 career catches.
The new rule took effect this year and was universally praised by coaches. In the past, playing just one game could cost a player a full year of eligibility. Football players have five years to play four seasons and take one redshirt year.
Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck called the change the “greatest rule the NCAA has ever put in in the last 20 years.”
It is proving popular with players, who get more opportunities to play — and, as it turns out, a little more autonomy.
“I just hadn’t really thought (about) that being a possibility until it happened,” Baylor coach Matt Rhule said of the midseason departures.
McCleskey is the most prominent player to take advantage of the newly created opportunity. He had 15 catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns through Oklahoma State’s first four games after having 73 receptions in 2016 and 50 in 2017.
“You lose a good player. But we live in a world where things like that happen now,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “Transfer’s becoming very popular, and what would keep a young man from doing that across the country at any given time? But if they come to you and say, ‘I’m not getting the ball enough and I feel like I need to be somewhere that allows that to happen,’ then you have to give them that opportunity.”
If McCleskey graduates before next season, he would be immediately eligible at his new school.
McCleskey’s situation isn’t unique.
Auburn already has had five players transfer since the start of the season. The list includes wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers, a junior who will still have two years of eligibility left, and tight end Jalen Harris, another junior who could be in position to graduate transfer.
“There’s a new day in college football with the rule and all that,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said on his radio show.
More transfers could be coming in the coming days as just about every team in the country will have played four games by next week.
Arkansas wide receiver Jonathan Nance, a former junior college transfer who led the Razorbacks in catches last season, tweeted Monday he will transfer and use this as a redshirt season. Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said Ducks running back Taj Griffin, who is in his fourth season, left the team and plans to transfer.
There has been speculation Alabama backup quarterback Jalen Hurts might choose this path, putting himself in position to be a graduate transfer next year with two years of eligibility left.
The NCAA also has some new rules regarding transfers that take effect this year. Starting on Oct. 15, the NCAA will have a database that keeps track of players who notify their coaches of their intent to transfer. Schools will no longer be able to block a transfer nor dictate where a player can go, unless their conferences have specific rules permitting that.
Todd Berry, the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, downplayed the impact this new redshirt policy has on the transfer market. Berry noted players leaving teams midseason is not new.
“There’s no question that there might be a few seniors that have all of sudden said that this was going to be my last year based off eligibility, because I didn’t redshirt at another point in time, and so I’m wanting to save that,” said Berry, the former head coach at Army and Louisiana-Monroe. “I don’t think that that’s something we weren’t aware of. We just thought that the numbers were going to be so slight in this happening that the total benefit far outweighs a few incidents like this.”
Berry said the main benefit will be felt later this season, when injuries mount and coaches can fill those holes by playing underclassmen without worrying about burning redshirts.
Already coaches say they’re noticing redshirt candidates feeling more invested because they’re getting a chance to play rather than spending the entire season on the sidelines.
“It means the world to them,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “You see them come back to practice with a different type of swagger, a different air of confidence, which will be huge moving into spring football and the rest of their careers, and still being able to keep that redshirt. So it’s been real positive for our program.”
AP College Football Writer Ralph Russo and AP sports writers Mark Long, Stephen Hawkins and John Zenor and AP freelance writer John Tranchina in Stillwater, Oklahoma, contributed to this report.
LSU turn high-turnover margin into wins, rise in rankings
By BRYAN LAZARE
Monday, September 24
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU coach Ed Orgeron likes to say that the football program under his direction is “all about the ball.”
For him, that means protecting the ball by minimizing risk on offense and aggressively trying to take it away on defense.
So far, so good.
Fifth-ranked LSU was the last Football Bowl Subdivision team in the nation to commit its first turnover of the season last weekend and is plus-8 in turnover margin thanks to six interceptions and three fumble recoveries. That has allowed an LSU squad with some relatively unimpressive numbers in other areas to nonetheless win its first four games and climb 20 spots in the AP Poll heading into Saturday night’s home game against Mississippi.
“We do things all the time with the ball,” Orgeron said on Monday. “We start practice every day with ball drills. Our defensive guys try to strip the ball from our offensive guys. In camp, rookies protected the ball while the varsity guys tried to get it out.”
Florida is the lone SEC team with a better turnover margin at plus-10, but unlike LSU has turned the ball over more than once. Kansas is the only other team nationally to lose only one turnover. LSU’s turnover margin is tied for fourth in the nation.
“All of the coaches stress about us not turning the ball over,” said senior running back Nick Brossette, who had a costly fumble on the first play of last season’s upset loss to Troy. “So far, we are doing a good job not turning the ball over.”
Brossette said protecting the ball has become almost second nature.
“I don’t think about not fumbling when I am in the game,” Brossette said. “Ball security is one of the biggest things, but I have to worry about my assignments and not about fumbling.”
The Tigers are averaging 31 points per game, which ranks better than only three other Southeastern Conference teams.
But the Tigers’ only turnover this season season in last week’s 38-21 victory against Louisiana Tech when quarterback Joe Burrow lost a fumble after he was sacked.
Ball security has been one of LSU’s strengths since Orgeron took over for Les Miles four games into the 2016 season.
In Orgeron’s 25 games as LSU head coach, the Tigers have played an entire game without a turnover 13 times.
The Tigers committed an LSU-record low eight turnovers in 2017 — and two of those were the result of interceptions by backup quarterback Myles Brennan. Starting quarterback Danny Etling threw just two interceptions last season. Burrow has thrown 106 passes without an interception this season.
Meanwhile, the Tigers defense forced 18 turnovers last year — 12 interceptions and six fumble recoveries. LSU is on a pace for 27 takeaways this regular season.
“Coach ‘O’ says all the time that it’s all about the ball,” said safety Todd Harris, who made nine tackles in his first career start against Louisiana Tech. “We go out there trying to get turnovers every day in practice. We’ve got to get the ball back.”
Takeaways set up two of LSU’s five touchdowns against Louisiana Tech. Cornerback Kristian Fulton forced a fumble which was recovered by linebacker Devin White, who returned the ball 29 yards to the Bulldogs’ 3. That set up one of Brossette’s touchdowns.
Later in the first half, safety Ed Paris intercepted a deflected pass at Louisiana Tech’s 28. On the next play, Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran for a touchdown. Linebacker Jacob Phillips returned an interception 45 yards for a TD in the season-opening victory against Miami.
Phillips, like a number of teammates who’ve apparently gotten the message, is quick to echo Orgeron’s refrain that it’s “All about the ball.”
“Coach ‘O’ says it all the time,” Phillips said. “The offense wants to keep the ball and it’s our job as a defense to get the ball.”
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A’s clinch playoff berth, then beat Mariners 7-3
Tuesday, September 25
SEATTLE (AP) — Champagne flowed in the clubhouse as players bopped around and screamed in a wild celebration after the Oakland Athletics clinched their first playoff berth in four years.
“It’s a lot of fun,” a soaked Khris Davis said. “We’re just trying to enjoy the moment. It’s a blast. We’ve been waiting for this day for a while. I feel so much excitement. It’s just a dream come true.”
The surprising Athletics were assured no worse than an American League wild card Monday night when Tampa Bay lost to the New York Yankees. A few hours later, Oakland finished off a 7-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners behind Davis’ major league-leading 46th home run.
Jonathan Lucroy, Jed Lowrie and Matt Chapman also went deep for the A’s.
And then, it was time to party.
Oakland was one out into the game when Tampa Bay was eliminated with a 4-1 loss to the Yankees. The A’s went on to win after Chapman broke a 3-all tie with a two-run drive in the seventh off Shawn Armstrong (0-1).
Coming off three straight last-place finishes in the AL West, the A’s (95-62) are 4½ games behind AL West-leading Houston. They trail the Yankees by 1½ games for home-field advantage should they meet in a wild-card matchup.
“No matter who we play or where it is, we’ll be ready,” Chapman said during the celebration. “I can’t really put it into words, but this team is special.”
Few predicted the A’s could make the playoffs this season, a young team with few proven stars after going 75-87 a year ago. Oakland won only 68 games in 2015 and 69 in 2016. The A’s have the third-lowest payroll among the 30 major league clubs at $78 million for their 40-man roster, ahead of only the White Sox and Rays.
“This happened for us quicker than most people thought it would,” manager Bob Melvin said. “This is the best group I’ve had in all my years of managing. It’s everybody playing for the guy next to him. We really wanted to win this game. Even though we knew we had clinched, we wanted to celebrate right after a win.”
Oakland was 34-36 and 11 games behind Seattle in the wild-card race on June 15. The A’s have gone 61-26 since.
“We’ve had some younger players mature and become, for me, stars,” Melvin said before the game. “We’ve gone from last year being one of the worst defenses in the league to now one of the best. Our bullpen has been a strength for us all year. We don’t just rely on one facet. We seem to be able to win in different ways.”
One big contributor is Davis, the team’s designated hitter, with 120 RBIs. Davis has hit at least 40 homers and driven in more than 100 runs in each of this three seasons with the Athletics.
Blake Treinen, who pitched a perfect ninth inning, is 9-2 and one of the top closers in baseball this season with 37 saves and a 0.80 ERA, the lowest of all major league relievers with at least 75 innings pitched. Opponents have a .091 batting average against him with runners in scoring position.
“It’s amazing,” Melvin said. “Not only is he doing it closing games, he’s doing it in games when we’re tied and he’s pitching two innings at times. The numbers are absolutely fantastic. I don’t know that I’ve seen numbers like that from any closer in quite some time. He’s meant a lot to this team.”
The A’s are the only team in the majors with an undefeated record this season when leading after seven innings (68-0). They have the best record in one-run games at 31-13.
“Oakland is a different team than early in spring, quite a bit different,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “Certainly they had a number of players step up. That happens throughout baseball as the season goes. Guys get better, and they build confidence.”
Oakland made key moves to bolster the pitching staff via trades over the summer by adding veteran relievers Jeurys Familia and Fernando Rodney and starter Mike Fiers, who is 5-1 with a 2.90 ERA since joining the Athletics. Fiers could be the starter in the wild-card game.
“I would love to pitch that game, but whatever this team needs me to do I’m happy to do it,” Fiers said. “Anything to get us to the next round. It’s been fun to help a winning team like this. They had a plan for me to come in and help this team win and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
The A’s overcame losing key starters from their rotation down the stretch. That included left-hander Sean Manaea, who pitched a no-hitter on April 21 against Boston and is done for the year recovering from arthroscopic shoulder surgery that took place this past week.
The Athletics will be making their fourth playoff appearance in the last seven seasons, all under Melvin, and their 27th overall. The A’s lost at Kansas City 9-8 in 12 innings in the 2014 wild-card game, the last time Oakland reached the postseason.
The last time the A’s reached the World Series was 1990, losing in four games to Cincinnati. Oakland won the 1989 World Series after the Bay Area earthquake, sweeping San Francisco.
The Mariners (85-71) have gone 40-46 since June 15, when they were 11 games ahead of the A’s.
“Of course it hurts, especially because it was looking so good in the first half,” pitcher James Paxton said. “They surged, and we stumbled. It was a heartbreaking way to go for us. None of us are happy about those guys celebrating on our field right now. Hopefully we can get some payback next year.”
Robinson Cano and Dee Gordon homered for the Mariners.
Athletics: Starting pitcher Daniel Mengden was on the ground writhing in pain after he took a liner off his right foot that was hit by Denard Span. Mengden was on the ground for about five minutes, but got up and surprisingly stayed in the game. LHP Ryan Buchter (5-0) got two outs, and three more relievers completed a six-hitter.
Mariners: Paxton, making his first start since Sept. 7 after a bout with pneumonia, allowed two runs — both on homers— and three hits. He left after four innings and 71 pitches because he was on a pitch count.
Athletics: LHP Brett Anderson (4-5, 3.96 ERA) will make his third start Tuesday since coming off the 10-day disabled list on Sept. 13. He is 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA since returning from a strained left forearm.
Mariners: RHP Mike Leake (10-10, 4.10 ERA) will make his 31st start Tuesday. Leake gave up five runs over 6 1/3 innings last time out at Houston, but allowed only one run over 13 innings in his two previous starts.
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Wentz back, Eagles aim for return of other top skill players
By ROB MAADDI
AP Pro Football Writer
Monday, September 24
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Even with Carson Wentz back, the Philadelphia Eagles are far from complete.
Three of the team’s top skill position players weren’t on the field for Sunday’s 20-16 win over Indianapolis but could be nearing a return.
Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and running backs Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles are getting closer to rejoining the offense after missing a combined six games.
It’s still too early to know their status for this week’s game at Tennessee (2-1).
“Sometimes it feels like you don’t know the identity maybe of your offense (without) those guys,” coach Doug Pederson said.
“You kind of have hopes and you kind of say, ‘OK, this is what we think we have.’ Individually we kind of know these guys, but collectively as a unit, I think you’re still working through the month of September trying to figure out your identity a little bit offensively.”
Jeffery hasn’t played since offseason shoulder surgery. He had 57 catches for 789 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns last season.
“We’ll get him in the mix a little more this week and see where he’s at health-wise,” Pederson said Monday.
Sproles missed the past two games because of a hamstring injury and Ajayi sat out one game with a back issue.
“They’re both day to day right now,” Pederson said. “I would expect, barring any setbacks, that they would both be available (for practice).”
The Eagles (2-1) still had their best rushing game without Ajayi and Sproles. Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement and rookie Josh Adams had a total of 142 yards on 32 carries against the Colts.
“Got to have guys like that,” Pederson said. “Might be role players, but their role is pretty big in games when your two top guys are down in the backfield.”
Missing Jeffery has hurt the team’s passing attack. Mike Wallace also went down in Week 2 and Mack Hollins began the season on IR. Pederson used two and three tight ends in more offensive sets and Wentz completed only six passes to receivers in his first game back since last December.
Nelson Agholor had four catches for 24 yards and Jordan Matthews had two receptions for 21 yards in his return to the Eagles.
“Defense and special teams kind of carry the load early in the season and offense kind of plays catch-up a little bit,” Pederson said.
“When the offense catches its stride, then you got a good thing going. The other thing is it’s a long season. We find ways to win these games early, makes a big difference down the stretch when you start getting the guys back.”
Notes: Safety Rodney McLeod is still being evaluated after injuring his knee. Pederson expects to update his status on Thursday.
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Full of surprises, Dolphins are undefeated with Pats next
By STEVEN WINE
AP Sports Writer
Monday, September 24
DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Ryan Tannehill says when he calls a trick play, even his offensive linemen get excited.
And why not? Razzle dazzle is a big reason the surprising Miami Dolphins are undefeated.
“I’m all for anytime everybody gets excited about a play call,” play-caller and coach Adam Gase said with a chuckle Monday. “The worst is when the quarterback says he doesn’t believe it’s going to work. That’s when you get a little nervous.
“If I feel like guys really like something, we’ll get to it.”
They’re likely cueing up something exotic for the New England Patriots, where the Dolphins play Sunday with a chance to end their streak of nine consecutive losses in Foxborough.
The Dolphins used a receiver-to-receiver pass and two wideout sweeps to score three touchdowns Sunday and rally past Oakland 28-20. With the win, Miami improved to 3-0 for only the third time since the Dan Marino era and took a two-game lead over the other three teams in the AFC East, including perennial power New England.
How much is left in Gase’s bag of play-calling tricks?
“A lot,” he said.
Sunday’s surprises allowed the Dolphins to spring their speed — NASCAR on grass, as receiver Jakeem Grant called it. He and receiver Albert Wilson each scored on a jet sweep, and Wilson threw his first NFL pass for a 52-yard touchdown to Grant .
“When you win,” Gase said, “it’s fun.”
The Dolphins had practiced the three plays for weeks and chose the right time to call them. The scores helped erase a 17-7 second-half deficit.
“The play comes into the huddle, and everyone kind of gets excited,” Tannehill said. “Anytime there’s a big-shot call or a trick play, you can feel the offensive line kind of get excited.”
The defensive line, too.
“It’s a lot of fun watching guys run down the sideline untouched,” defensive end Cameron Wake said.
Wilson did just that, sprinting into the clear on his 74-yard jet sweep catch and run. The Raiders’ reaction?
“They got behind me so quick, I didn’t really see their faces,” Wilson said.
He did see Grant, exchanging a high five with his teammate as they ran strike for stride into the end zone.
The 5-foot-9 Wilson and 5-foot-7 Grant are part of the fastest receiving corps in team history. Kenny Stills can fly too, as he has showed while averaging 20.4 yards on nine catches this season, three for touchdowns. Running back Kenyan Drake is also swift, giving Miami yet another quick-strike option.
“Coach always tells us just go out there and run — a lot of defenders are going to be terrified by speed, so just take off and run,” Grant said.
It’s not really that simple. The trick plays require perfect timing, and talent.
The receiver-to-receiver pass involved a fake pitch by Tannehill, a handoff to Frank Gore and a lateral to Wilson. The former high school quarterback then rolled to his right as he threw a pass right on the money, as had been the case daily in practice.
“I know how hard that is to be running full speed laterally and make that throw,” Tannehill said. “During the week, he was consistent on making a perfect throw. It wasn’t ever a question. He never stretched Jakeem out or made him adjust really. After I saw him run it the first time I thought, ‘He’s got this. He doesn’t need any tips.’”
After the game Wilson tweeted: “& he can pass !!”
Grant made the catch at the 35-yard line and broke two tackles en route to the end zone, motivated by an earlier conversation with Wilson.
“All he told me was, ‘Make sure you score. And if you get tackled by one man in the open field, you owe me $100,’” Grant recalled. “Now he owes me $100.”
The Dolphins know trickery will take them only so far. The early schedule has been soft, injuries are mounting, and keeping Tannehill healthy is a must. Vegas is so unimpressed by the Dolphins that they’re a touchdown underdog at struggling New England.
But Gase, who came to Miami in 2016 with a reputation as an offensive wiz, finally seems to have the right personnel for his playbook. That includes the versatile Wilson, acquired last offseason from the Kansas City Chiefs.
“We have so much stuff,” Wilson said. “I’m ready for everything he calls — every run play, every pass play. Whatever he has for me, I’m ready for it.”
The Dolphins hope the defense won’t be.
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