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Alabama’s Nick Saban adamant Cincinnati belonged in College Football Playoff: ‘No doubt in my mind’

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ARLINGTON, Texas — No. 4 Cincinnati carried the title of David into the College Football Playoff semifinal against top-ranked Alabama. While Goliath was not slayed in the Cotton Bowl on Friday, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban was convinced that the Bearcats belonged in the same arena despite the somewhat predictable 27-6 outcome

“There’s no doubt in my mind that they belong in the playoff,” Saban said in the win that would send his team to its sixth College Football Playoff National Championship appearance. “I think they gave us all we could handle in this game tonight. If we don’t stop them on fourth down a couple times in the red zone, this game could have been a lot closer.” 

While the score ended up lopsided, Cincinnati’s pass defense had the best day of any unit going up against Heisman winner Bryce Young on the season. Young completed just 17 of his 28 pass attempts for 181 yards. He had three touchdowns, each to different receivers, but only one — a 44-yard dime to Ja’Corey Brooks in the second quarter — went longer than 10 yards. It was Young’s first game posting fewer than 200 yards passing this season in an offensive effort that placed more emphasis on the ground attack

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If nothing else, Cincinnati’s loss can’t be pinned on the defense. The Bearcats entered the red zone three times, but only came away with a pair of field goals. Until Young hit his 44-yard touchdown, Cincinnati was well within striking distance of the most fearsome dynasty in college football. Only in the fourth quarter when the Tide put up 10 more points was the game truly over.

“[Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell] has done a fantastic job,” said Saban. “Anybody that looks and watched their team play – even playing us tonight – their team plays with a lot of toughness. They play hard. They’re very well coached. They play together as a group. They’re sound and solid in what they do in every phase of the game.” 

Ultimately, an overmatched offensive line sunk the Bearcats’ chances, and quarterback Desmond Ridder’s performance reflected that. Ridder completed 17-of-32 passes for 144 yards, but went 4 of 8 for four yards on third downs. The Bearcats struggled to block Alabama’s vaunted defensive front and Nagurski Award winner Will Anderson posted two sacks. 

“We weren’t carrying the fight for anyone but ourselves,” Ridder said. “And to be able to be in the position we’re at – we wanted it to end differently. I’m hoping that there are other so-called Group of Five teams, or teams from any conference, that can make it in the playoffs and show they can compete with the best of the best.” 

No Group of Five team had ever finished higher than No. 7 in the final playoff rankings before the Bearcats made the dance. However, players hope their performance can just be the beginning for non-power squads. 

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“The path is there,” said Cincinnati linebacker Joel Dublanko. “You’ve just got to go out and handle your business.” 



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Padres GM Preller says they need to get to a point of trust with Tatis

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Just a week and a half ago, the Padres had to be feeling pretty good about themselves. They were in playoff position and had just had a huge trade deadline, landing multiple big-name players, including 23-year-old superstar Juan Soto. Friday, though, the team suffered a bit of a gut punch. Fellow young star Fernando Tatis, Jr. has been suspended for 80 games for violating the league’s drug policy, as he failed a PED test. 

Keep in mind that Tatis suffered a fractured wrist in a motorcycle accident during the offseason. When asked the date of his accident, Tatis replied with a question: “Which one?” 

Which motorcycle accident? In the same offseason? 

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And now on top of that, Tatis has been suspended into next May. He’ll miss all of the 2022 season, essentially due to poor decision-making. There’s a phrase I learned from a coach long ago that has stuck with me for years. “Control what you can control.” You can’t control the umpires, you can’t control the weather, you can’t control how the opposing team plays. You can control your decision-making, though, among other things. 

Tatis got in a motorcycle accident last offseason and apparently decided to keep riding the bike. His wrist was injured and he didn’t tell anyone about it until reporting to camp in March. These are bad decisions that kept Tatis out of the Padres’ lineup into August. And now, on top of that, we learned that more issues with his decision-making have resulted in him being out another 80 games. 

Padres general manager A.J. Preller had some words that were much more stern than we’re used to seeing from from office execs when addressing one of their stars. 

“I think we’re hoping that from the offseason to now, that there would be some maturity,” said Preller, via The Athletic. “And obviously with the news today, it’s more of a pattern and something we’ve got to dig a little bit more into. I’m sure he’s very disappointed, but at the end of the day, it’s one thing to say it. You have to start by showing it with your actions.” 

“I think what we need to get to is a point in time where we trust,” Preller said, via San Diego Union-Tribune. “Over the course of the last six or seven months, I think that’s been something that we haven’t really been able to have.” 

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Harsh? Probably, but it’s pretty spot on. 

Tatis is only 23 years old, but his father played in parts of 11 seasons in the majors. The concept of being a responsible big-league player shouldn’t be new. 

As one of the most talented players in baseball, Tatis should be responsible to his teammates. Remember, they were in playoff position last year and collapsed down the stretch. They have played well in his absence and were gearing up to add a major talent in pursuit of a deep playoff run and maybe the Padres’ first World Series title. Instead, they’ll have to do without him. 

He’s also on the second year of a 14-year, $340 million contract, which means he needs to be responsible to management and ownership. As Preller alluded to, Tatis hasn’t come through on this one so far. 

The best bet here is the PED suspension scared Tatis straight and he’ll grow a lot between now and when his suspension has been served, moving into the future with better decision-making. Then again, shouldn’t the first motorcycle accident have been the wake-up call? 

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Raquel Rodriguez & Aliyah face Xia Li & Shotzi in the Women's Tag Team Tournament | WWE on FOX

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Raquel Rodriguez and Aliyah went head-to-head with Xia Li and Shotzi in the Women’s Tag Team Tournament on Friday Night SmackDown.



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Fernando Tatis Jr. suspension: Can Ha-Seong Kim continue breakout season in place of Padres’ star shortstop?

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The San Diego Padres will be without star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. for the remainder of the year, including the playoffs, after he was suspended on Friday for 80 games following a failed performance-enhancing drug test. Tatis’ suspension, in combination with the offseason wrist surgery he required, means he’ll go the entire 2022 season without taking a single swing at the big-league level.

While losing Tatis for the year is an unfortunate development for the Padres, it’s one they’ve been able to weather to date thanks to the emergence of Ha-Seong Kim. Of course, Tatis’ suspension ensures that the pressure will remain on Kim, now one of the Padres’ most crucial players based on who he’s standing in for and the lack of alternatives. What, exactly, does he bring to the table, and does he have what it takes to keep his head above water over the course of the next two-plus months?

Before we attempt to answer those questions, let’s start with some background. 

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Kim, 26, originally joined the Padres prior to the 2021 season on a four-year contract worth $28 million. Despite being one of the top players in the Korea Baseball Organization, he struggled to find his footing in his first season in the majors. Indeed, Kim batted just .202/.270/.352 (72 OPS+) with eight home runs and six stolen bases. It’s unclear if the Padres believed he would perform much better heading into this year; when the season opened, they leaned on a timeshare that saw him split duties at shortstop with rookie C.J. Abrams, who was since traded away in the Juan Soto deal.

Regardless of how the Padres felt about Kim, CBS Sports named him San Diego’s breakout player on account of his sure-handed defense up the middle and the possibility that another year in America and in the majors would help him find his groove. That confidence has since been rewarded: Kim entered Friday hitting .247/.324/.371 (101 OPS+) with six home runs and seven steals in 104 games.

Predictably, given the top-line gains, Kim has made improvements in underlying areas, too. He’s walked more often this season while striking out (and swinging and missing) less often. His ball-tracking data has remained largely the same. He’s not someone who stings the ball frequently; he has, however, upped his share of batted balls hit within the 10-to-30 degree window. Among players with at least 100 plate appearances, he ranked in the 14th percentile in average exit velocity, yet in the 61st percentile in “sweetspot” percentage; that’s a workable combination based on what we’ve observed from a macro perspective, albeit a combination that will leave him dependent on hitting singles and walking.

It’s not like Kim has to hit like Tatis to provide value for the Padres, either. His glove gives him a wide berth, and it’s fair to call him one of the top individual defenders in the majors. His nine Outs Above Average places him 12th in the majors regardless of position according to Statcast. That number also ranks fifth among shortstops, behind Dansby Swanson, Nico Hoerner, Tommy Edman, and Willy Adams.  That kind of defensive value should make Kim a second-division starter, or thereabout, even if his offensive production slips below the league-average mark over the coming weeks.

Again, that’s not the kind of outlook Tatis provides when he’s healthy and eligible to suit up, but it’s unrealistic to expect anyone else to match his star-level output. The Padres’ World Series odds took a hit on Friday, there’s no question about it. If they fall short on their October dreams, it won’t be because Kim is wholly incapable; it’ll be because of the simple truth that there’s no replacing a player as good as Tatis, no matter the circumstances behind his absence.

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