Sports Today: At least Reds have some better problems to face this winter

Published: Tuesday, October 03, 2017 @ 10:02 AM

The Reds' Adam Duvall, left, celebrates a home run with Scooter Gennett, center, and Eugenio Suarez in teh first inning against the Brewers on Tuesday, June 27, 2017, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff
HANDOUT/David Jablonski/Staff
The Reds' Adam Duvall, left, celebrates a home run with Scooter Gennett, center, and Eugenio Suarez in teh first inning against the Brewers on Tuesday, June 27, 2017, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff(HANDOUT/David Jablonski/Staff)

Major League Baseball’s postseason starts Tuesday night. 

The Cincinnati Reds will not be part of it, as you’re probably aware. 

After three consecutive 90-plus-loss seasons, what do the Reds have to do to earn some October baseball in the future? 

The Hall of Farmer Hal McCoy laid out the offseason tasks for the Reds pretty well, and we’ve got all winter to debate what they should do. 

The good news is they have more knowns than they did this time a year ago, and many of their questions that remain have potentially exciting answers. 

Case in point: The outfield. 

I like Scott Schebler, but I’d trade him to make room for Jesse Winker to play every day along with Billy Hamilton and Adam Duvall. That would also make more room for a utility guy who can play the infield or outfield and will need at-bats (more on this later). 

RELATED: 7 ways Joey Votto’s season really was a work of art

I haven’t looked at the potential market, but I’d try to re-sign Zack Cozart if I can do it without breaking the bank. Will be interesting to see what he gets offered from elsewhere. 

Bringing him back would of course create other questions, like where to play Jose Peraza. After he took a step back this season and with the emergence of Scooter Gennett, I would tell Peraza the team still thinks he has a bright future but he should be happy as a utility player until he proves he is more than that. 

That worked out for Gennett in 2017 — at Peraza’s expense — and it made the team better in the long run. 

The presence of Gennett and Peraza makes moving an outfielder much more sensible, but that’s just the beginning. 

We’ll have time to dive deeper into this as the hot stove cranks up. 

Got suggestions for how what the Reds should do to move the team closer to contention? I want to hear ‘em! Email me at marcus.hartman@coxinc.com or find me on Twitter or Facebook… 

How about the Bengals? 

That whipping of Cleveland was nice, but now that the season is back on, there is more to worry about. 

First up: The Buffalo Bills. 

They present a chance for a promising defense to continue to build on a great start to the season. 

Jay Morrison notes coordinator Paul Guenther made a habit of heavily rotating in the first month of the season, good news for the plethora of talented but unproven young players on the roster. 

READ MORE: Bengals find success with deep rotation

One thing this team has done a great job of for a long time now is keep an eye on the future. 

The advantage of continuity is being able to groom players, though it doesn’t always work out like you want it. 

Take the offensive line for example… 

No, take them please! 

So, yeah, keeping an eye on the future has not always worked out in present, but overall it’s been an effective strategy… 

College basketball season is one day closer to starting than it was yesterday, but recruiting never stops. 

David Jablonski reports Flyers coach Anthony Grant and his staff a sophomore point guard from Northwest Ohio named Zeb Jackson. 

Grant has already signed point guard Jaylen Crutcher from the 2017 class while getting a verbal commitment from four-star lead guard Dwayne Cohill for 2018. 

Think this is a position the guy who used to coach Russell Westbrook values? 

MORE: 2019 class could be big one for UD

Also of note: The Flyers reportedly are trying to get in the mix for Anfernee Simons, a 2018 recruit who decommitted from soon-to-be-NCAA-sanctions-ravaged Louisville. Simmons, of Orlando, Fla., is the 12th-ranked recruit in the nation… 

Lastly we check in on Ohio State. 

Today’s print story on the Buckeye offense made me realize the offense has gotten better even as the competition has arguably improved (to some extent at least).

Rutgers, a 56-point loser at home to the Buckeyes, certainly has the most talented defense out of the trio of Army, UNLV and the Scarlet Knights. 

SPORTS TODAY: Hartman on Bengals, Browns, Buckeyes

Anyway, it also occurred to me we’ve been asking the wrong question when it comes to some of the new stuff Ohio State has done with screen passes and RPOs and whatnot: Will they work against better defenses? 

That’s not really the point of running those plays. 

The goal is not to dink and dunk Penn State to death with horizontal passes. 

It is to discourage the Nittany Lions from utilizing some of the defensive tactics that have given the Buckeyes problems over the past couple of years — strategies first proven effective by the Nittany Lions back in 2014, as a matter of fact. 

MORE COVERAGE: Four takeaways from college football on Saturday

Maryland is better overall than any of the teams Ohio State played the last three weeks, but not on defense. 

Despite hiring a defensive-minded coach in D.J. Durkin, the Terrapins are 113th in defensive S&P-plus and 53rd on the offensive side despite having to use three different quarterbacks already. 

But hey, like I said yesterday: Maybe it’s time for someone to push the OSU defense a little anyway. 

Oregon falls to Boise State in Las Vegas Bowl; 3 things we learned

Published: Saturday, December 16, 2017 @ 7:17 PM

Oregon was the first of 9 Pac-12 teams to play its bowl game, and the Ducks are the first of those teams to fall after losing 38-28 to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday. The loss spoiled the debut of new Ducks coach Mario Cristobal, hired to replace Willie Taggart after Taggart left to take the Florida State job earlier this month.

It wasn’t a great day for Oregon, which finishes the season at 7-6 and lost its third consecutive bowl game dating back to the national championship against Ohio State in 2015. Here are some things we learned about the Ducks on Saturday:

 

Oregon’s other rushers don’t scare teams like Royce Freeman does

It wasn’t a surprise that not having Royce Freeman in the backfield would impact Oregon’s offense, but there was no way anyone could have expected things to go this bad.

The Ducks ran for 47 yards, their fewest since gaining 31 in a loss at Boise State in 2009. Oregon came in averaging 268 rushing yards per games, second-best in the Pac-12.

The poor run production wasn’t just the fault of those doing the running, though. Oregon’s offensive line was downright atrocious and unable to create holes.

Without a run game to compliment him, quarterback Justin Herbert was lost for most of the game. He was 10-of-15 in the first half but for only 43 yards, turning it over 3 times including a pair of interceptions (one getting returned for a touchdown). In the second half he settled in, finishing with 233 yards and 2 TDs on 26-of-36 passing and he was also Oregon’s leading rusher with 17 yards.

New offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo, promoted after Mario Cristobal got the head coaching gig, has his work cut out for him this offseason. Herbert could be a Heisman Trophy contender in 2018 but that will either require having him be more capable of carrying the offense or getting more help from his rushers.

 

Ducks’ defense deserves credit for not quitting

How much worse would this game have turned out if not for Oregon’s defense stepping up, time after time?

Sure, the Ducks allowed 481 yards, third-most this season, but it could have been much worse with how little help they got from the offense. Four first-half turnovers put the defense on its heels quite often, with Boise State getting the ball inside Oregon’s 35-yard line twice in the first half, but the Broncos only managed 10 points off those takeaways with 7 coming on a pick-six in the second quarter

The defense was on the field for 90 plays, 50 in the first half, yet in the second half it forced 4 consecutive punts after Boise went up 31-14. That enabled Oregon’s offense to finally build some momentum, getting into the end zone for the first time with 10:07 left in the fourth quarter.

Before that Oregon’s scoring was entirely the result of its defense, scoring twice in a 30-second span just before halftime. Linebacker Troy Dye scooped up a fumble and ran 86 yards for the touchdown and a few plays later Tyree Robinson had a 100-yard interception return.

It was the first time the Ducks had fumble- and interception-return TDs in the same game since 2015 against Georgia State.

 

The Taggart turmoil took a toll on this team

Far too much has happened to Oregon since it last played a game, blowing out rival Oregon State in the Civil War on Nov. 25. It’s gone through a coaching change, with Willie Taggart bolting for Florida State less than a year after being hired—and while deflecting any interest in leaving in the weeks leading up to that departure—and then players successfully lobbied for Mario Cristobal to get the job.

That’s not the kind of distractions you want when preparing for a bowl game, and with Oregon one of the first teams to play there wasn’t much time to get things in order. And it showed against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl, with arguably the Ducks’ worst performance of the season.

Were the Ducks not motivated to play? That seems unlikely, particularly since they fought so hard to get Cristobal hired. But was all the noise related to Taggart’s will-he-won’t-he-oh-look-he-did saga make it difficult to properly focus?

Former Patriots LB Mike Vrabel works for Texans, but someone he discovered is playing well in New England

Published: Saturday, December 16, 2017 @ 7:17 PM

Former New England Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel now works halfway across the country as the Houston Texans defensive coordinator, but some good scouting has helped his former team.

Patriots defensive lineman Eric Lee was originally signed by the Texans as an undrafted free agent in 2016. He spent the season on their practice squad, but learned a lot and is applying those lessons on the field for the Patriots.

Lee played college football at South Florida, and a game that Vrabel saw is what got the young man’s NFL career in motion.

“I thought he was active against Florida State,” Vrabel said, via the Providence Journal’s Mark Daniel. “[I] watched him against good competition. He was productive in that game. I thought he had good length. I thought there was some strength, some power there. I knew there was going to be some transition from playing on the ball, but I did see him drop a few times where I thought maybe we could make the transition.”

The Texans’ roster was full of pass rushers prior to the start of the 2017 season so that is likely why they waived Lee, and the Patriots acquired him. He has 2.5 sacks this season, and has started in their last two games.

Against the Bills in Week 13, Lee tallied 1.5 sacks and an interception. It appears that Vrabel taught him well.

Oregon-Boise State: Recap, score, analysis for Las Vegas Bowl (December 16, 2017)

Published: Saturday, December 16, 2017 @ 10:01 AM

The Mario Cristobal era at Oregon didn’t begin so well, with the Ducks falling behind 24-0 on the way to a 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday. Oregon committed 4 first-half turnovers and didn’t score on offense until the fourth quarter. Follow along for our recap and live updates from Sin City.

Oregon-Boise State live updates, score, analysis

1:12 4 th Q (38-28, Boise): Jaylon Redd catches an 8-yard touchdown pass from Justin Herbert. The score was set up by a 67-yard reception from Dillon Mitchell.

2:22 4 th Q (38-21, Boise): Ryan Wolpin scores his second touchdown of the game, a 1-yard run. Boise went 11 plays and 86 yards and ate up 5:19 of clock to kill any chance for Oregon to mount a comeback.

10:07 4 th Q (31-21, Boise): Brenden Schooler catches a 24-yard touchdown pass from Justin Herbert, 1 play after Herbert scrambled for a conversion on 4th-and-1. The Ducks gained 78 yards on that drive after gaining 115 on their previous 13 possessions.

9:41 3 rd Q (31-14, Boise): Alec Dhaenens catches a 13-yard touchdown pass from Brett Rypien. Dhaenens bounced off a poor tackle attempt by Oregon’s Arrion Springs and cut upfield for the score, completing a 12-play, 75-yard drive.

0:07 2 nd Q (24-14, Boise): Tyree Robinson picks off a Brett Rypien pass and returns it 100 yards for a touchdown. This came right after Boise State got 67 yards on a pass from Rypien to Cedrick Wilson.

0:37 2 nd Q (24-7, Boise): Troy Dye scores on an 81-yard fumble return touchdown after Boise State tries to run the Statue of Liberty play. The behind-the-back handoff was too high for Broncos RB Alex Mattison and the ball bounced right to Dye who stayed on his feet and was gone.

5:11 2 nd Q (24-0, Boise): Kekaula Kaniho intercepts Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert and returns it 53 yards for a touchdown. Herbert was pressured and looked like he was trying to throw it away but instead he turned it over for the third time as the Ducks have four turnovers.

8:59 2 nd Q (17-0, Boise): Haden Hoggarth connects on a 39-yard field goal to complete a 12-play, 62-yard drive. The Broncos were aided by a holding penalty on Oregon on 3rd-and-8 at the Boise 18-yard line.

14:55 2 nd (14-0 Boise): Haden Hoggarth is wide left on a 42-yard field goal attempt. The Broncos had started at Oregon’s 21-yard line after quarterback Justin Herbert was strip-sacked.

1:21 1 st Q (14-0 Boise): Cedrick Wilson catches a 26-yard touchdown pass from Brett Rypien. Boise’s drive started at the Oregon 32-yard line after Jabril Frazier recovered a fumble by Tony Brooks-James.

8:17 1 st Q (7-0, Boise): Ryan Wolpin’s 1-yard touchdown run on a backward pass caps a 13-play, 67-yard drive after Oregon went 3-and-out. The Broncos converted a 4th-and-2 from the Ducks’ 5-yard line to keep the possession going.


Oregon-Boise State game time, details

Game time: 12:30 p.m. Pacific Time

Location: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas

Odds: Oregon opened as a five-point favorite.

Which TV channel is Oregon-Boise State on?

Oregon and Boise State will play the Las Vegas Bowl on ABC.

How can I watch Oregon-Boise State online?

You can watch Oregon play Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl on ABC live. 

How can I listen to Oregon-Boise State on the radio?

You can listen to Oregon play Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl on Oregon IMG Sports Network.

Oregon-Boise State preview, keys to the game

Even if Willie Taggart were still coaching the Ducks, this game would be full of intrigue. It would have been Oregon’s first bowl game under the new coach, against the Mountain West Champs. But since Taggart bolted to Florida State, the interest in the game has risen exponentially.

How will Mario Cristobal do in his debut?

How will Oregon’s recruits, who have decommitted in waves, respond to how the Ducks play?

Will Oregon sustain its torrid pace under now-healthy Justin Herbert?

That, more than anything, will likely decide the fate of the game. Herbert has been the fulcrum of Oregon’s success this season, leading the Ducks to a 6-1 record as a starter, watching in a sling or street clothes as they tumbled 1-4 without him. With Herbert, Oregon is averaging 52 points per game, compiling more than 550 yards in each.

What remains unknown, and will be a huge factor in Oregon’s success on Saturday, is whether or not Royce Freeman decides to play in his final game as a Duck. A senior, Freeman has set a slew of records this season, becoming the Pac-12’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns, among others. The last time Freeman addressed the subject, after a rout of Oregon State in the Civil War, Freeman said “I don’t know. I haven’t really gotten a chance to think about that yet. Reflecting after this game, I’ll watch the film, and rely on people close to me to help me make a decision, but I haven’t thought that far yet.”

Saturday will be mark the first time since 2009 Oregon and Boise State have met. In their previous two meetings, in 2008 and 2009, the Mustangs prevailed, winning 37-32 and 19-8, respectively. Their last meeting remains infamous, when Oregon running back Legarrette Blount punched a Boise State player.

“It’s been awhile,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin, who was the offensive coordinator for those games. “Obviously excited coming off the (Mountain West) championship game, knowing we have another opportunity, another part of our goal to achieve, and to do it against an opponent like Oregon is something our guys are going to be looking forward to.”

Iowa flexes its muscles and finally smiles in dominant win against Drake

Published: Saturday, December 16, 2017 @ 7:10 PM

DES MOINES, Iowa — Tyler Cook couldn’t keep a straight face and neither could Jordan Bohannon.

The Iowa sophomores sat together on a stage in the moments that followed the Hawkeyes’ 90-64 win against Drake at the Hy-Vee Classic. A reporter asked Bohannon about a flex pose he showed the world when he sank a bucket midway through a dominant Iowa run. Cook couldn’t contain himself.

Cook turned to his right and hid his face. He laughed with tears running down his cheeks. Bohannon answered the question through his own laughter. They both smiled.

Smiles and laughter. What a combination. Basketball can be — and should be — fun. Yet, fun is something of which we’ve seen far too less from the Iowa basketball team this fall.

Expectations at Iowa (6-6) were high entering the season and rightly so. The Hawkeyes lost just one player, albeit the Big Ten’s leading scorer in Peter Jok, but returned the nucleus of a team that narrowly missed an NCAA Tournament bid last year.

A 3-0 start against NCAA bottom-feeders rapidly turned into a mirage. Before this week, the Hawkeyes had lost six of seven games, including four against Power 5 competition. There were a pair of Big Ten defeats and the never-palatable loss to instate rival Iowa State. This week, there was a quick exhale in a win against Southern but to assess progress, Drake (5-6) provided a more measurable opponent.

The game Saturday provided a crossroads for the Hawkeyes’ season. A win and Iowa players could think positive thoughts as they finish 2017. A loss and the criticism intensifies.

That’s why when Cook and Bohannon sat in front of reporters and laughed, it was therapeutic for the duo. So was Bohannon’s flex move.

“That’s something I’ve been working on lately because I haven’t really been having fun out there,” Bohannon said through laughter. “I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself. Sometimes you just need to flex your muscles to get back having fun with it.”

Certainly there was no laughter over how or why Bohannon flexed. The play was more pivotal in what it represented than what it meant to the final outcome. With the Hawkeyes leading by 17 midway through the second half, Iowa forward Nicholas Baer missed a 3-point attempt and the ball caromed to the right of the Iowa basket. Iowa forward Cordell Pemsl tapped it back to Baer, and the ball moved around the perimeter.

Bohannon, who stands 6 feet, finally got the ball in the corner and drove to the hoop. He was fouled hard by Drake’s Kory Kuenstling and fell backward. The ball bounced off the backboard and through the net. Bohannon moved his fists to his shoulders while on the floor. His teammates went crazy.

“I’ve known Jordan for over two years now and I’ve never seen him flex,” said Cook, who led all scorers with 23 points. “Period. Like in the weight room, practice, in the locker room. Never. He’s strong, but he’s not the strongest guy necessarily.”

“You may not think of him like that because he’s short or whatever; he’s only 6 feet but he plays with a lot of heart,” Pemsl said. “He does everything to help us win. Sometimes I like to see his energy like that and show his emotions.”

“For someone who’s 5-8, who knows?” Baer said when asked if Bohannon should have flexed. “I’m really happy for him and how’s able to finish. I think we need a little bit more fun and when we’re winning, we have more fun.”

The fun part seems to match the performance and outcome. Baer was a terror, scoring 11 points, grabbing a personal-high 14 rebounds, dishing 5 assists and pulling 5 steals. No player at Iowa has posted those numbers since Reggie Evans in 2000.

Bohannon, who scored 15 points and dished 7 assists, in particular felt more pressure because the team’s offense has performed inconsistently this year. He finished last season with three consecutive double-doubles in points and assists, the first Iowa point guard since B.J. Armstrong to do so. Bohannon endured some unfortunate recent criticism on social media, and its effects took an obvious toll.

That’s why Bohannon’s flex was so important for himself and his teammates. Maybe this performance gives the team more confidence, or perhaps it’s just a respite in a long season. Either way, it’s essential for the team to enjoy the moment.

“I think Jordan Bohannon smiled a little bit today, he had that and-1,” Baer said. “When you’re up 20, you’re going to see a few more smiles. I think the best way for us to have fun is to continue to compete at this level that we’re playing at right now and continue to win.”