Hoosiers hoping to cash in on next chance to make statement
By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer
Monday, October 1
Tom Allen expected the Indiana Hoosiers to take advantage of a prime opportunity two weeks ago against Michigan State.
They’ll get a second chance at No. 3 Ohio State this weekend.
And, as usual, the second-year coach expects his Hoosiers to be prepared and competitive.
“They’ve got to be more consistent. To me they did some good things in the first half, but it’s got to continue,” Allen said Monday when asked about Indiana’s offensive line. “We play for 60 minutes.”
It’s a lesson the Hoosiers (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) should have learned last season when their inability to close out games cost them a bowl bid.
This year, they’ve been better — but far from perfect.
They hung on for wins at Florida International and against Virginia before pulling away from Ball State. Then, against the Spartans, they fell behind early, charged back late and the defense couldn’t get one last stop to give the ball back to the offense with a chance to force overtime or win the game.
On Saturday at Rutgers, it nearly happened again. Indiana pulled away early and finally put the game away when quarterback Peyton Ramsey took advantage of a free play to throw for the game-sealing first down.
The Buckeyes (5-0, 2-0) lead the East Division after last weekend’s comeback at Penn State. With the win, and coach Urban Meyer back on the sideline, Ohio State appears to have one of the inside tracks to a playoff spot.
The Hoosiers hope to end a 25-game winless streak in the series, including a tie in 1990. Indiana won back-to-back games in 1987 and 1988 — their only victories over the Buckeyes since 1951, when the late Woody Hayes was in his first season at Ohio State.
“It’s the most talented Ohio State team I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” said Allen, who spent his first season in Bloomington as the Hoosiers’ defensive coordinator. “A very, very good football team on both sides and special teams, just a lot of playmakers and speed and athleticism and size and very accurate quarterback. And a very, very athletic defensive unit.”
The Hoosiers haven’t been 5-1 since 2007, something that has only occurred three times in the past quarter-century.
Ramsey returns to his home state and is expected to be flanked in the backfield by true freshmen Stevie Scott and Ronnie Walker Jr. The question is who will be catching Ramsey’s passes. Receivers Luke Timian and Whop Philyor, two of Ramsey’s top targets, missed last week’s game because of undisclosed injuries and it remains uncertain if they’ll play this week.
“Hopefully we will be able to get a couple guys back that didn’t play Saturday. I really don’t know any of those yet,” Allen said.
The biggest strides this season have come on defense.
After losing seven of last season’s starters, Indiana ranks in the top half of the Big Ten in five categories — pass defense, third-down percentage defense, fourth-down percentage defense, turnover margin and pass efficiency defense.
But will it be enough to slow down the speedy and dangerous Buckeyes as they begin a four-game stretch against unranked opponents?
“The run is where it stops and starts offensively and defensively so it’s a group that we have a lot of confidence in and they need to progress together and play better and better each and every week,” Allen said. “Going against one of the best front lines in the country in Ohio State, and we need to create creases and allow them to play the football.”
Wednesday, September 26
No. 9 Penn State’s offensive line now powering Nittany Lions
By TRAVIS JOHNSON
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Miles Sanders has always heaped praise on the big men blocking for him, and the Penn State running back has found himself doing so more and more lately.
As No. 9 Penn State’s offensive linemen have piled up pancake blocks, Sanders has racked up yards and touchdowns. Together, they’re powering one of the country’s most consistently explosive rushing attacks.
Tackles Ryan Bates and Will Fries, guards Connor McGovern and Steven Gonzalez and center Michael Menet have generated 200-plus rushing yards in seven straight games and are averaging 275 yards per game this year, and Penn State leads the country with 20 rushing touchdowns entering Saturday’s (Sept. 29) showdown with No. 4 Ohio State.
“There has to be trust between us and the O-line,” Sanders said. “We trust the big guys to do their jobs and they trust us to run the ball effectively. That’s been one of our main things to do this season is to run the ball way more effectively.”
That has required a complete turnaround, with coach James Franklin inheriting a roster in 2014 that was still feeling the effects of scholarship reductions imposed for the university’s role in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The team lacked experienced and scholarship linemen — just one upperclassmen tackle was on scholarship when Franklin took over — and the former coaching staff was using defensive tackles to plug holes up front.
The results weren’t good.
Offensive coordinator John Donovan was fired and offensive line coach Herb Hand left the program after Penn State ranked 120th and 106th in rushing offense and allowed 83 sacks in Franklin’s first two years.
But behind the scenes, the rebuilding effort was in full swing.
Sanders was being recruited. So were all five of the big men now paving the way for him, and all five were big gets for Franklin. Each current starter was either widely considered a four-star recruit or was among the top 10 available players in his state by major recruiting services when he committed.
“Seeing them recruiting all these top linemen, it just made me more comfortable,” Sanders said. “Obviously now, they’re growing. They’re getting better every game. They’re proving it every week.”
But even as recently as 2016, there was still apprehension about depth, considering nearly all of the program’s top offensive line recruits were being pressed into action early.
Bates started every game that year as a redshirt freshman while Gonzalez, also in his second year in the program, played in 11 games with three starts. McGovern, a true freshman, played in 13 games with nine starts.
“We’ve gained a lot of experience over the last couple of years,” Franklin said. “Besides Michael Menet, those guys have all played a lot of football for us.”
Returning linemen showed up to camp this summer with a combined 83 starts under their belts. They looked the part, passing Franklin’s eye test, each one carrying a chiseled 300-plus-pound frame. Sanders said they didn’t take long to pass a physical test, calling them a “nasty” group overall.
“I think we’re the best we’ve been in years, obviously since I’ve been here,” Bates said. “Our chemistry hasn’t been like this. Chemistry is awesome. We’re all friends. We all hang out outside of football. I think that’s what makes us connect.”
They’ve come together with a new crop of youngsters, too.
Early in camp, offensive line coach Matt Limegrover was excited that the team’s newfound depth allowed him to give vaunted recruits Juice Scruggs, Bryce Effner and Rasheed Walker more meaningful reps. He said he hopes Penn State will never be where it was in 2016 — possibly starting three freshmen in the Big Ten title game — but would feel better now if it had to.
“This is a great place to recruit to for offensive linemen,” Limegrover said. “Coach made it a priority and I’m the one that’s reaping those benefits of a lot of young guys who are really going to be pushing for time here if they aren’t already pretty quickly.”
Michigan RB Higdon packed on muscle to give, take pounding
By LARRY LAGE
AP Sports Writer
Monday, October 1
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Michigan running back Karan Higdon packed on about 15 pounds on muscle during the offseason, hoping the extra weight would help him give and take a pounding.
Higdon had a career-high 30 carries, ran for 115 yards and scored two touchdowns to help the Wolverines rally from a 17-point deficit to beat Northwestern 20-17.
Two days later, the 5-foot-10, 205-pound senior insisted his body felt fine. He credited the team’s strength and conditioning staff for getting him ready for the performance and the recovery.
“More muscle mass and more weight prepared my body to take a lot more hits,” Higdon said Monday. “Last year, I ran the same way — hard, angry. I’m doing the same thing this year. I’m just a little heavier.”
No. 15 Michigan (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) will likely lean on Higdon to carry a heavy load against Maryland (3-1, 1-0) on Saturday at home. Higdon is averaging 119.8 yards rushing per game, ranking second in the Big Ten and ninth in the nation.
He has been slowed down just twice this season. Notre Dame limited him to 72 yards and a score on 21 carries in its season-opening win. Higdon missed the SMU game two weeks later with an undisclosed injury.
In his past three games against the Wildcats, Nebraska and Western Michigan, he has averaged 136 yards rushing.
“The biggest improvement I’ve seen from Karan is the extra yards, the yards after contract that he’s gaining,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “If a play is blocked for 2 yards, he’s getting 4 and 5. The thing he’s continuing to build on is his ability to catch the ball. He’s done that and been able to turn a 4-yard gain into a 7- 8- or 9-yard gain, making the first defender miss.”
Higdon has caught just two passes this year, gaining 9 yards on one catch and 7 on the other.
Running the ball, though, is what he does best and he no longer is getting the ball exclusively on plays set up between offensive tackles.
“He’s really got the ability to run all the assortment of runs,” Harbaugh said. “He’s not in a category where he can only run outside runs or only run inside. He can do both and he can also pass protect. High level of trust with Karan with every phase, including ball security It allows us to do as much as the offense has.”
While Michigan’s offense is much improved because of quarterback Shea Patterson, it has been able to move the ball and score because of the balance provided by a Higdon-led running game.
“There’s a variety of different threats,” he said. “You got the receivers who are showing up, quarterback showing up, running backs showing up. When you have all three phases working together, it’s a great thing.”
It also helps that the offensive line is creating larger holes than it did last season and is giving Patterson plenty of time to throw.
The offensive line, in turn, loves blocking for Higdon because it enjoys watching him punish players who try to tackle him.
“Karan is one of the hardest runners I’ve ever seen for his size,” offensive tackle Jon Runyan said. “Running over people. Breaking tackles. Never going down. That’s something that kind of fires you up as an offensive lineman. Makes you want to block a little harder because you never know when he’ll be able to spring one out for a long run like he has in the past.”
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Earl Thomas injury could have ripple effects in Pittsburgh
By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Pro Football Writer
Tuesday, October 2
Any hope of recalcitrant running back Le’Veon Bell returning to the football field in the black and gold — or any other team’s colors — any time soon took a major hit when Seattle star safety Earl Thomas broke his lower left leg, illustrating the dangers of playing without the security of a long-term deal.
Thomas and Bell each held out this summer, but while Bell continued to work out on his own, Thomas returned to the Seahawks in time for the season opener without a trade or a new contract in hand.
That move didn’t pay off financially or otherwise.
He got hurt in a game at Arizona, and when he was carted off the field at State Farm Stadium, he raised his middle finger toward the Seahawks’ sideline.
“Earl wanted an extension and at the end of the day he didn’t get that,” Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark said. “It sucks to see a guy who puts his heart into something, put his all into his team and he doesn’t get what he deserves.”
Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said in an Instagram post, “If he doesn’t come then he’s not a team player. If he does come and gets hurt, then it’s ‘he shouldn’t have came.’ If I was him, I’d be (ticked) off.”
ESPN posted the quote and a photo of Thomas’ obscene gesture, and that’s when Bell chimed in, suggesting he wouldn’t be back on the field anytime soon.
“Smh, exactly …” wrote Bell. “Get right bro bro (Earl Thomas)! I’ll continue to be the ‘bad guy’ for ALL of us.”
Bell has refused to sign his $14.54 million one-year tender, concerned that he’d get overused in a contract year, either subjecting him to the risk of injury or to a devaluation of his talents.
NFL Network reported earlier Sunday that the Steelers were shopping Bell.
Trading him is a tricky proposition because Bell would have to first sign his tender. Because he can’t negotiate a long-term deal until after this season, he’d still be taking on the injury risk with a new team.
Bell can return in Week 10 and still accrue a full season to become a free agent in March.
Other takeaways from Week 4 include a fourth-down gamble that backfired on Colts coach Frank Reich, the “Big Four” rookie QBs going 0-4 Sunday after the hype meter cranked up to high last week and the Ravens tricking the Steelers and the officials on a trick play in their 26-14 win over Pittsburgh.
FIT TO BE TIED
Reich earned kudos from both his players and the Texans for his decision to go for it on fourth-and-4 from his 43 with 27 seconds left in overtime rather than punt, bury Houston deep and settle for the NFL’s third tie game.
“We’re not playing to tie,” Reich insisted after his decision led to a 37-34 overtime loss instead. “We’re going for that 10 times out of 10. That (play) has just got to work.”
With his favorite target, T.Y. Hilton, on the sideline with a hamstring injury and a short week ahead with the New England Patriots on tap Thursday night, Andrew Luck bounced his pass to Chester Rogers.
The Texans took over and Ka’imi Fairbairn missed a 37-yard field goal as overtime expired. But wait! In yet another call that backfired, Reich had called timeout.
Fairbairn nailed the do-over to end the league’s longest losing streak at nine.
Reich’s only regret was calling timeout before the fourth-and-4 play after the Texans didn’t jump offside, he said.
Luck’s only lament was misfiring the pass, but he loved the bold call.
“It had my stamp of approval,” Luck said. “We did not execute well enough.”
COOL YOUR JETS
After a dominant debut against Detroit in the Jets’ opener, Sam Darnold has cooled off in three straight defeats, including a listless loss at Jacksonville on Sunday.
A week after being hailed as a hero for leading Cleveland to its first win since 2016 by rallying the Browns over the Jets in relief of an injured Tyrod Taylor, Baker Mayfield had four turnovers in his first NFL start, a 45-42 overtime loss to the Raiders.
Mayfield threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns but suffered a pick-6, got strip sacked, fumbled a snap and threw an interception in the final seconds of regulation.
“You don’t want to rein him in,” coach Hue Jackson said, “because I like the things he’s doing.”
Josh Rosen had a strong debut in his first start for Arizona but it wasn’t enough to keep the Cardinals from falling to 0-4 for the first time since 1986.
Josh Allen accounted for three turnovers in the Bills’ 22-0 loss at Green Bay a week after a stunning win at heavily favored Minnesota in his starting debut.
“I take this one on my shoulders,” Allen said. “We can only go as far as the quarterback goes.”
TRICK OR TREAT
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh was furious when the Patriots fooled the Ravens in the playoffs a few years ago with a trick play to an eligible receiver who looked like he was lined up as an offensive lineman.
The Ravens stole that idea from New England eight months later and unwrapped it again Sunday to fool the Steelers.
Tight end Maxx Williams lined up next to the center as the left guard but just far enough off the line of scrimmage to make himself an eligible receiver. He was wide open for a 22-yard gain that set up a field goal for a 23-14 lead.
Retired referee Terry McAulay, now an NBC Sports rules analyst, said Williams probably shouldn’t have been an eligible receiver on the play, but no flag was thrown.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
With contributions from AP Pro Football Writer Dennis Waszak Jr. and AP Sports Writer Michael Marot.
Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton
Golden Knights continue healing process for Las Vegas
By W.G. RAMIREZ
Sunday, September 30
LAS VEGAS (AP) — With the city reeling from the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland delivered an emotional 58-second speech last October that continues to echo through Las Vegas today.
Engelland’s address came days after the Oct. 1 massacre during a pregame ceremony honoring victims and first responders. It ended with the reassurances: “We’ll do everything we can to help you and our city heal. We are Vegas strong.”
As the one-year anniversary of the massacre on the Las Vegas Strip that left 58 dead approaches, Vegas’ beloved NHL team remains very much a part of the healing process, true to Engelland’s words.
“Anything like that happens, you definitely want to keep helping the process of the healing,” Engelland said following a recent preseason game as the Knights prepared for their second season. “I think last year was a good stepping stone and I think we can still do more this year.”
The Golden Knights, who became a rallying point for many residents after the shooting, will make their way around town Monday, with several players and team personnel visiting command and dispatch centers for police and other first responders and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority for a blood drive.
“Being from here, you want to do as much as you can for the community you call home,” Engelland said. “I think every guy in this room wants to do what they can for Las Vegas. A lot of guys are going to be calling this home for a long time. We got a lot of great leaders in here that step up and do a lot of good things. We just try to help each other out and do whatever we can for the community.”
Lifelong Vegas resident Tina Cartwright, who was at the outdoor concert when the gunman opened fire from a room in the Mandalay Bay casino-resort, said it took a long time for her to attend a crowded event after the shooting, during which she remembers running her life. It was a Golden Knights game that brought her back to enjoying her social life.
“They gave me hope, because I didn’t want to go out in crowds and put myself in that position where I wasn’t close to an exit,” said Cartwright, 47. “I didn’t want to go out right away, so they were an immediate part of the healing process. I have friends who still won’t go to concerts or big gatherings, and I think the longer you wait it can be detrimental. They just gave us something to look forward to in times that were dark.”
Knights newcomer Max Pacioretty was with the Montreal Canadiens last season but said he remembers the shooting vividly. He said it was tough to watch on television. But he said watching the Knights from afar as they helped with the recovery process helped him see how special the team had become to the community.
They had become much more than the town’s first major sports franchise, and much more than a team embarking on an inaugural campaign that would end in the Stanley Cup Final.
“It’s something I feel that this community will never forget, and it’s a big reason why there’s such good chemistry between the fans and the city and this team,” Pacioretty said. “I feel as if people didn’t really know what to expect, what type of people and human beings hockey players are in a general spectrum. But I think they learned real quick. As soon as they knew that they were going to have to help this community overcome what they were going through, you saw them step up to the occasion right away.”
During each home game last season, the Golden Knights recognized the Vegas Strong Hero of the Game, a first responder or citizen who risked his or her own life during the shooting to aid others. Engelland would talk to those heroes after the games.
In September, Engelland and his family announced the Vegas Born Heroes Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to publicly recognize and reward charities and community members who consistently and selflessly help others to benefit the city.
“It’s been an honor to honor those people who sacrificed their lives or made it out of there,” Engelland said. “We still talk to a lot of them here and there. We wanted to start our foundation and kind of branch a little bit away from that but not completely. Those first responders, we wanted to grow it and make it the heroes around Las Vegas that do the little things that might go unnoticed.”
Unnoticed, until now.
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Prospective Seattle owners make expansion pitch to NHL
By STEPHEN WHYNO
AP Hockey Writer
Tuesday, October 2
NEW YORK (AP) — The final sales pitch for an NHL expansion team in Seattle is on.
Members of Seattle’s potential ownership group and Mayor Jenny Durkan are presenting their case to the Board of Governors’ executive committee at the league office. If the executive committee moves the process forward, the board could vote as soon as December to award the NHL’s 32nd franchise to Seattle.
Durkan says she wants to show, “Seattle’s a place you want to have hockey, and if you have hockey in Seattle, everybody’s going to do better.” Maple Leafs chairman Larry Tanenbaum says he feels good about the group the Seattle Hockey Partners put together and he’s looking forward to hearing what they have to say.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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