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Oregon in College Football Playoff mix after Washington victory on road

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The last time most college football fans paid serious attention to Oregon, the Ducks were blowing a nice lead against Auburn. After that season-opening loss, it was easy to cast Oregon into the outer darkness – at least, if the focus is on the College Football Playoff (and let’s be honest: These days, the focus is always on the playoff).

Soon enough, the entire Pac-12 was consigned to the same place. But it’s time we all start watching again – and maybe talking about Oregon again as a playoff contender.

A 35-31 win at Washington showcased a rugged bunch that does not much resemble those Oregon teams of the past, but which might be elite like they were.

Justin Herbert got most of the preseason attention, and the senior quarterback’s talent is undeniable. But he (and his receivers, too) have been inconsistent. Oregon’s offense is most effective when a veteran offensive line paves the way for its rushing attack. It’s part of the total program makeover by Mario Cristobal, and it’s been an uneven road.

But the Ducks’ defense is – well, it’s mean and fast and, well, it’s like nothing we’ve seen from Oregon in a very long time, and the strength of a very good team.

SCARY SCENE: Oklahoma’s Sooner Schooner crashes on field 

DESERVED LOSS: No. 6 Wisconsin didn’t play well and Illinois beat the Badgers

BAD MOVE: Clemson player ejected after throwing punch at Louisville player

In the five games after Auburn’s last-minute touchdown sent Oregon to a 27-21 loss, the Ducks had allowed 25 total points. Jacob Eason and the Huskies outscored all of those opponents combined, and gave the Ducks fits for much of the game. But when it mattered, Oregon slowed and stopped Washington – including on fourth-and-3 with a little more than a minute left, sealing victory.

Now, back to the bigger picture. After surviving in Seattle, the schedule looks manageable: Washington State, at USC, Arizona, at No. 17 Arizona State and then home again for the Civil War tilt with Oregon State before a Pac-12 championship game.

Even if the Ducks win out, they’ll need some help to get into the playoff. It might take an upset of Clemson, Ohio State or Oklahoma and maybe Notre Dame, too — and perhaps a little chaos in the SEC, as well. But none of that is impossible. And after what we saw Saturday, neither is the idea that the Ducks might keep winning.

Each time they do, that season-opening loss to Auburn becomes more regrettable. With what we’ve seen since then, their return to the playoff conversation seems more doable.



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Penn State holds off Indiana to set up Ohio State showdown in Big Ten

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When everything hung in the balance at the end of this sloppy, mistake-prone afternoon, No. 11 Penn State showed an impressive dose of toughness and resolve.

With all of the their problems before, who would have expected the Nittany Lions to drive 75 yards when absolutely needed, chewing nine minutes of clock in the process?

Without their best playmaker and rugged runner.

With everything to lose coming off a debilitating defeat.

Sean Clifford and his running backs did most of the heavy lifting on the fourth-quarter drive that sealed what became a desperate defeat of No. 25 Indiana on Saturday in Beaver Stadium.

The 34-27 decision was not the finely tuned recovery act desired before heading to Columbus with the Big Ten East title on the line.

Not when next week’s Ohio State Buckeyes look like the most dominating team in the nation on offense and defense.

But this will certainly do for now.

BLAME GAME: It’s not Nick Saban’s fault Tua Tagovailoa got injured

TOUGH LOSS: Alabama’s Tagovailoa carted off field with hip injury

BIG DAY: Wisconsin’s Taylor makes NCAA history against Nebraska

It was the roughest of days, though, to get to that impressive final offensive drive.

The Lions didn’t seem to play with coach James Franklin’s hopeful “urgency” with the ball for much of the day.

Their vaunted defense displayed multiple holes and weak spots yet again. Pass defense and open-field tackling was a misadventure from the beginning.

So maybe it was a good thing they were playing Indiana, after all?

More than anything, the pass-happy Hoosiers were more giving than expected. And the Lions were more than pleased to take advantage. 

After an abysmal opening series on offense, the Lions punted away the ball — only to have Indiana’s top player, Whop Philyor, inexplicably let the bouncing ball hit him before backing away.

The Lions recovered and scored five plays later.

Even worse, the Hoosiers badly bungled and fourth-and-1 situation in the third quarter. They called a timeout, then attempted a fake punt run that was doomed from the start.

The Lions scored two plays after that.

Even more painful? When Indiana got the ball back again it drove deep, only to have receiver Donavan Hale drop the ball in the end zone. The Hoosiers settled for a field goal.

Certainly, Penn State ran the ball more effectively for a second straight week behind Journey Brown and Clifford (combined 155 yards).

But the thin pass game took a huge hit when star receiver and returner KJ Hamler was lost for the game in the first quarter after landing awkwardly on a kickoff return, possibly suffering a concussion.

Meanwhile, promising tailback Noah Cain did not play yet again with an apparent ankle injury, even though Franklin had said he was “90 percent” last week.

It got to the point where Clifford and the offense were trying to hold on in the fourth quarter with runs from Brown and hopeful passes … to someone. Even heralded tight end Pat Freiermuth could not find space or any type of groove (one catch).

Clifford was not prolific by any means but, once again, played smart and gutsy, running when the opportunity arose, eluding pass rushers to find receivers downfield and throwing the ball away when necessary. 

He took some hard hits and got up each time.

The defense played to hold on at the end, too.

Indiana came into the game known as possibly the most improved passing team in the Big Ten and beyond. Penn State planned for this and still struggled to stop it.

Peyton Ramsey completed 31-of-41 passes for 371 yards, spreading the ball among nine receivers. He produced all three touchdowns (one passing, two running) and kept the Lions scrambling and lunging all afternoon.

The Lions answered last, though. Clifford took the final snap on fourth down of that drive and barreled in for the clinching score with less than two minutes to play.



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Yu Darvish, Christian Yelich Spar on Social Media as Controversy Swirls Over Sign Stealing

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Major League Baseball may be in its offseason, but Chicago Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish and Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich took to social media to discuss one of the league’s hot button issues.

In a recent report, The Athletic alleged that the Houston Astros were using technology to steal signs during the 2017 season, during which the team won the World Series.

The story has generated shockwaves throughout the sport and has sparked an investigation by the league, and one of the players most affected by the alleged sign-stealing happens to be Darvish.

At the time of the incident, Darvish was pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and was shelled during two World Series starts against the Astros, giving up eight earned runs in just three innings of work in the series.

Darvish, in a video posted to his YouTube page earlier this week, didn’t blame the alleged “sign-stealing” for his struggles, but said he was never satisfied with the Astros’ explanation that he was tipping his pitches.

“I feel that if I absolve myself and say it was the Astros’ fault I was bad in Game 7, in the World Series, I can’t develop as a person,” he said in the video. “Because I had that experience, I was able to work hard these last two years and become the person I am now.”

After the Astros’ story broke, the spotlight turned toward other potential instances of sign stealing. The popular Cubs blog Bleacher Nation published a tweet showing Darvish step off of the mound while Yelich was batting during a game at Milwaukee’s Miller Park, and while some alleged that it was evidence that Darvish suspected that the Brewers’ slugger was stealing signs, Darvish wasn’t as sure:

“I’m not sure what he is trying to do,” he said. “But to be clear his eyes move first. That’s why I stepped off.”

As some fans pointed out in replies to the tweet, the bullpen at Miller Park is in left-center field, the same direction that Yelich appeared to look in the video. In a follow-up tweet, Darvish said that he did not mean to say that the Brewers were conclusively stealing signs, but Yelich did not take too kindly to the inference, saying that “nobody needs help facing you” and calling on Darvish to “be better:”

Darvish replied to Yelich’s tweet:

“Easy man,” he said. “I’m not saying you are stealing signs.”

The sign-stealing discussion will likely last through the remainder of the offseason and into the regular season, but Atlanta Braves slugger Josh Donaldson tried to inject some levity into the situation by replying to Yelich’s tweet:

After Donaldson asked Yelich for help in facing Darvish, the Cubs pitcher responded, saying that he didn’t think Donaldson “needed help” in the batter’s box.

With the sign-stealing story seemingly generating new headlines every day, this likely won’t be the last time that a team has to face questions about its practices, but the Brewers have not been formally scrutinized. 





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Saturday’s Sports Transactions – The San Diego Union-Tribune

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Claimed RHP Eric Yardley off waivers from San Diego.

COLLEGE PARK SKYHAWKS — Waived G Ronshad Shabazz. Claimed F Nick Ward off waivers.

FOOTBALL
National Football League

ARIZONA CARDINALS — Signed TE Maxx Williams to a two-year contract extension.

CINCINNATI BENGALS — Placed CB Dre Kirkpatrick on the IR. Signed LB Hardy Nickerson and WR Damion Willis from the practice squad.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS — Released OT Gerhard de Beer from the practice squad. Signed OT Cedrick Lang to the practice squad.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS — Placed DT Cortez Broughton on the non-football illness list. Signed LS Matt Overton.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES — Placed RB Darren Sproles on IR. Signed RB Jay Ajayi.

HOCKEY
National Hockey League

WASHINGTON CAPITALS — Assigned G Ilya Samsonov and D Tyler Lewington to Hershey (AHL). Recalled F Travis Boyd and G Vitek Vanecek from Hershey.





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