Stoppage Time Is Often HomeCooked Especially in Major League Soccer

I wrote last week about the vagaries of stoppage time at the World Cup. The referee decides how many minutes to add at the end of each half of play — ostensibly based on how much of each 45-minute half was lost to injury, bookings, goal celebrations and other major delays. The referee doesn’t have to explain the decision, and it can sometimes puzzle fans and rankle teams. Trailing sides think they’re due more time, and leading sides want to get things over with quickly.Researchers have found that more than just time delays influence the amount of stoppage-time allotted. Refs in Spanish club football “systematically favor home teams by shortening close games where the home team is ahead, and lengthening close games where the home team is behind,” Luis Garicano, Ignacio Palacios-Huerta and Canice Prendergast reported in 2005.At the World Cup, only the host — Brazil, this year — truly has a home-field advantage. But in club soccer, home advantage is more relevant, and current data shows it’s not just Spanish club refs who favor the home side. Many of the clubs that enjoy the biggest home advantage in stoppage time play in Major League Soccer, the top U.S. and Canadian professional league. Although some U.S. fans objected to the amount of stoppage time awarded at the end of the U.S.-Portugal match, their domestic league is the club king of home-cooked stoppage time.To estimate home advantage in club soccer, I asked soccer stats providers TruMedia Networks for data from the major European club competitions, plus MLS. Using Opta data, TruMedia compiled the average amount of stoppage time awarded for clubs when playing at home, when entering second-half stoppage time in two different game states: ahead by a goal or trailing by a goal. That’s when the amount of stoppage time matters most: The leading team wants less time awarded, to hang on to the lead, and the trailing team wants more time to seek an equalizer. Teams’ motivations in tied games are harder to detect, and teams leading by two or more goals usually can rest easy entering stoppage time. (The data for the European clubs covers matches in the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A, Germany’s Bundesliga, France’s Ligue 1 and the Champions League since 2010-2011; in MLS, it covers all matches since 2012, through last Tuesday.)Average Allotted Stoppage TimeIn all, the data included 1,884 matches in which the home team led by a goal entering stoppage time, and 1,326 matches in which the home team trailed by a goal entering stoppage time. (There are more of the former because home teams win more often than they lose.) On average, the home team gets eight more seconds when it needs more time than when it doesn’t: Three minutes and 59 seconds compared to three minutes and 51 seconds. That’s a 4 percent increase: small, but enough to get the average home team a net gain in goals when it needs them over thousands of matches.The home edge varies widely across leagues. In Ligue 1, it’s somewhat surprisingly reversed: The home team gets 1 percent less time, on average, when trailing by a goal than when leading by a goal. Serie A and the Premier League — despite the fame of Fergie time — are around average. And in the Bundesliga and MLS, the home edge is a whopping 11 percent. That amounts to a more significant edge in absolute soccer terms for MLS home teams, however, because the average amount of stoppage time awarded is greater in the U.S. club league: Home teams trailing by a goal get an average of 28 more seconds than those leading by a goal in MLS, compared to just 19 more seconds in the Bundesliga.It’s impossible to say over a single match, or a small set of matches, that stoppage-time awarding is flawed: Maybe the game in which the home team trailed did have more disruptions, by chance or because there’s something systematic about such matches that eats more time. But the gap in MLS and Bundesliga, over more than 300 matches in each, is big enough to be suspicious. That doesn’t mean refs are consciously favoring the home side: It’s possible they’re influenced by the crowd or other circumstances without knowing it.Some clubs get an especially immense home advantage at the end of matches. Most of the biggest outliers are in the MLS. Among the 183 clubs studied, 117 had at least five home matches in the sample in which they entered stoppage time behind by a goal, and also had at least five matches in which they entered stoppage time ahead by a goal. Among these 117 clubs, the five with the biggest favorable home edge in absolute terms all were in the MLS. Ranking instead by percentage edge, these same five clubs place in the top nine. They are the Chicago Fire, the Los Angeles Galaxy, the Vancouver Whitecaps, Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City.Average Allotted Stoppage TimeGarth Lagerwey, general manager of Real Salt Lake, wasn’t surprised by the findings. He attributed them in part to the inexperience of MLS refs. Few have been full-time employees, though their number has increased this season after a lockout, “so they’re right at the beginning of the curve in terms of referee-growth development,” Lagerwey said in a phone interview. The influence of the crowd on refs “shows up in every sport: the NFL, the NBA and soccer,” he said. “The more experienced the referee, the less variation” he’d expect in stoppage time depending on the situation.Peter Walton, general manager of the Professional Referee Organization, which employees MLS refs, said he’d take a closer look at the issue of fairness in stoppage-time decisions. “I was not aware of any patterns in stoppage-time allowance,” Walton said in an email. “However, on the strength of your data I will be taking more interest in stoppage time per club. This is such a subjective topic and I feel more definitive guidelines are required to become more transparent in its use.” read more

Its Official Lance Armstrong Stripped of 7 Tour de

Lance Armstrong‘s historic straight Tour de France cycling championships never happened. That’s what the UCI, the international governing body of the sport, said in its scathing support of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s report that Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs in a wide-ranging fashion during his legendary career.His career is now notorious.Once considered the greatest rider in Tour history, the American was cast aside like a flat tire by his sport Monday, formally stripped of his seven titles and banned for life for his involvement in what U.S. sports authorities describe as a massive doping program that tainted all of his greatest triumphs. The Tour de France wants the prize money he received back. Professionally, it cannot get much worse for Armstrong.“Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling, and he deserves to be forgotten in cycling,” said Pat McQuaid, president of the International Cycling Union. “This is a landmark day for cycling.”McQuaid announced that his group, known as UCI, accepted sanctions imposed by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and would not appeal them to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. McQuaid said he was “sickened” by some of the evidence detailed by USADA in its 200-page report and hundreds of pages of supporting testimony and documents.The condemnation by cycling’s most senior official confirmed Armstrong’s pariah status, after the UCI had backed Armstrong at times in trying to seize the doping investigation from USADA. McQuaid said the UCI endorsed a lifelong ban for Armstrong after almost two weeks studying the American agency’s evidence, and will meet Friday to discuss going after his 2000 Olympic bronze medal.Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme said he no longer considers Armstrong to be a champion from 1999 to 2005 and wants him to pay back his prize money.“We wish that there is no winner for this period,” he said in Paris. “For us, very clearly, the titles should remain blank. Effectively, we wish for these years to remain without winners.”Armstrong’s representatives had no immediate comment, but the rider was defiant in August as he chose not to fight USADA in one of the agency’s arbitration hearings. He argued the process was rigged against him.“I know who won those seven Tours, my teammates know who won those seven Tours, and everyone I competed against knows who won those seven Tours,” Armstrong said then. “The toughest event in the world where the strongest man wins. Nobody can ever change that.” read more

The MayweatherMcGregor Fight As Told Through Emojis

1😂25.2%– 4👏3.3– I’m crying😭 #MayweatherVsMcGregor— Macaela Marin (@MacaelaMarin) August 27, 2017 We were monitoring Twitter on fight night, pulling tweets that contained fight-related hashtags — those that included #MayweatherVsMcgregor, for example. In the end, we collected about 200,000 fight-related tweets, of which more than 12,000 contained emojis. (To be clear, that’s a small enough sample that this emojinalysis might not make it through peer review.)1We used the Twitter Streaming API which provides a sample of all the tweets that matched our search terms: #MayMac, #MayweatherMcGregor, #MayweatherVMcGregor, #MayweatherVsMcGregor, #McGregor and #Mayweather. Of the 197,989 tweets we collected between 12:05 a.m. and 1:15 a.m. EDT, 12,118 had emojis.There were the likely frontrunners for most-used emoji: the 🥊, the 👊, the 💪. But the emoji of the fight was far and away the 😂. (“Face with tears of joy.”)2That’s certainly appropriate for this spectacle, but it should be noted that 😂 is also the most tweeted emoji generally.Here’s how the night unfolded, emoji-wise. (All of the charts below show them on a four-minute rolling average.) 2🥊5.6– They laughed. They cried. And they laughed some more. And they cried some more. 10💰1.8– It ended just over 37 minutes after it began. Five seconds later, Mayweather leapt up on the corner ropes, victorious — 50-0. Some observers declared it a satisfying spectacle. Others, McGregor chief among them, were frustrated with the finish. The emoji users on Twitter appeared to think the fight was, for the most part, 🔥 — especially as it heated up toward the end. While the result may never have been in question, this was a welcome outcome for many who viewed Mayweather’s last megafight against Manny Pacquiao as an epic 😴😴😴😴. The biggest punchlineHow the megafight played out on Twitter For one thing, the fight was a sharply partisan affair. The majority of people in the arena appeared to be McGregor fans — he hails from Dublin and an Irish flag, worn cape-style, almost seemed like the evening’s dress code. But other fans were members of TMT — The Money Team — and loyal to “Money” Mayweather. Twitter’s loyalties came and went as the match progressed, with enthusiasm from either camp seemingly matching each fighter’s success. 8🔥2.3– 9😭2.1– 5🤣2.5– 6💪2.5– By the sixth round, it seemed like only a matter of time until the old pro dismantled the newcomer. By the ninth it was clear Mayweather was going for the knockout. It came soon thereafter. Mayweather unleashed a vicious flurry of punches in the 10th and the ref stepped in, declaring Mayweather the victor and saving McGregor, who was somehow still on his feet, from further damage. 3👊3.4– 7🇮🇪2.4– EMOJIPERCENT To the surprise of many (of the neutral and pro-Mayweather viewers, anyway) McGregor won the first round. The next couple were washes, and a quarter of the way into the scheduled 12 rounds … the Irish underdog may have been winning! The Irish flags and shamrocks followed on Twitter. Things slowly (perhaps even 😴ly) turned around as one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in history took control of the man making his pro debut — an outcome which was predicted by precisely everyone. Out came the emoji money bags. The most-used emoji in over 240,000 tweets collected during the Mayweather-McGregor fight broadcast, from 12:05 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. EDT on Aug. 27.Source: Twitter Streaming API For the nearly 15,000 people in Las Vegas’s T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night, and the millions more huddled around TVs across the world, the Floyd Mayweather–Conor McGregor fight was a roller coaster of emotions. They were anxious as pay-per-view technical problems pushed back the fight’s start. They were full of anticipation when the combatants finally emerged after months of hype. They were surprised when McGregor held his own, or seemed to hold his own, for a couple of rounds. They were thrilled when Mayweather finally started fighting. And they were exhausted by the end.How do we know all this? Emojis. read more

Alex Bayne stepping up as leader slugger for Ohio State softball

OSU redshirt junior outfielder Alex Bayne (left). Credit: Courtesy of OSU“Small but mighty” might be the most fitting adage to describe Ohio State softball player Alex Bayne. Despite standing a mere 5-foot-5, the redshirt junior is currently leading her team in home runs and RBIs after three weekends of play.“She’s a monster in the weight room,” said OSU coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly.Bayne, a Texas native, played her freshman year at Marshall University in West Virginia but said she did not find her fit in the team and culture. After visiting a friend at OSU, she fell in love with the community and decided to transfer.“I saw the team was having open tryouts, and I was lucky enough for them to want me to come on,” Bayne said.Schoenly already envisioned Bayne, who took a year off from playing in 2014, as a great addition to the team prior to tryouts.“She pestered me over email for seven months, saying, ‘Coach, I want to try out for the team,’” Schoenly said. “After, she came into my office and had zero expectations. She was willing to do whatever we needed her to do.”This conversation showed Schoenly the type of selfless player the outfielder was — and continues to be — as she steps into a larger leadership role this season.“My close friends last year were the leaders, and I just followed in their footsteps and communicated with my coaches about what they and my team need out of me,” Bayne said.Bayne, who studies strategic communication, was given the OSU Sportsmanship Award in 2015, in addition to being named a scholar-athlete. Because of her natural leadership skills, her teammates nominated her to be a captain despite having just a lone season donning the scarlet and gray. Senior teammate Maddy McIntyre, who ultimately earned the captain role, indicated her enthusiasm about what Bayne continues to bring to the team.“Bayne has kind of taken it to a new level this year. She’s really stepped up into a leadership role,” McIntyre said. “She’s just the embodiment of empathy and so mature beyond her years.”Like McIntyre, Schoenly also described Bayne as lighthearted and commended her incessant dedication to the team.“She’s never going to leave anybody out. She’s a part of every group on the team,” Schoenly said, mentioning how Bayne will offer to give teammates rides or help the pitchers out at any chance she gets.Schoenly also recalled a game against Nebraska last season when Bayne’s commitment first started to show.“I put her in to pinch hit and she hit a double. I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to keep her in,’ and then she hit another double,” Schoenly said.Within two weeks, Bayne had earned a starting position, and by the end of the season, she was hitting .375 with 17 RBIs.“A few games after Nebraska, she hit two home runs against Ohio University,” Schoenly said. “Because of her commitment to the process, she was more than ready for the opportunity.”Those two home runs were just the beginning of the slugger’s ascension to being one of the Buckeyes’ most dominant and consistent hitters. As she takes on a starting role, Bayne said she wants to focus on what her team needs rather than being only a big hitter.“Hopefully, I can continue to keep doing what I’ve been doing, but I’m not trying to think too big,” Bayne said. “Just bat on ball.”McIntyre laughed when asked what she expects from Bayne as the season moves forward.“If she could hit three home runs every weekend, we would love that,” she joked. Regardless of whether Bayne actually hits three home runs per weekend, she said she plans to keep supporting her teammates no matter what happens. “I just want to be there for my team through the ups and downs of it all,” she said.Bayne is planning to use her fifth year of eligibility on the diamond to attend OSU for graduate school, where she hopes to prepare for a career in either a communication program at a university or an athletics public relations firm.To Schoenly, who praised her player’s outlook on life, Bayne is the precedent for the younger players when it comes to making the most out of any opportunity.“She has this ‘I’m not taking anything for granted’ attitude,” Schoenly said. “She is really competitive, though.”Right now, Bayne’s competitive edge is the epicenter of the Buckeyes’ dynamic start to the season. The Scarlet and Gray are 9-4 with a chance to bolster that mark during a four-game stint in Tempe, Arizona, beginning Friday. When asked about whether her choice to come to OSU was the right one, Bayne’s eyes lit up as she started to grin.“It’s been one of the best decisions of my life,” she said. read more

Ohio State mens hockey sweeps No 6 Michigan in highscoring series

The Ohio State men’s hockey team continued its recent high-flying offensive performances and collected maximum points against a team equally as potent on offense, No. 6 Michigan. The Buckeyes won 7-4 on Friday at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and followed that up with a 6-5 overtime victory at Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus on Sunday afternoon.The first period of Friday’s match was a wild one, with five goals scored in total over the opening 20 minutes. The Wolverines got on the board first, courtesy of a power-play goal from junior forward J.T. Compher. Less than five minutes later, Michigan (20-6-5, 10-4-3) doubled its lead from a shot by junior forward Alex Kile off a counter attack.However, the Buckeyes (11-17-3, 6-8-3) were not fazed by the early two-goal deficit. In a span of 10 minutes, the Scarlet and Gray notched three goals to grab the lead.Freshman forward Dakota Joshua would strike first just after the halfway point of the opening period. Junior defenseman Josh Healey’s shot from beyond the blue line then found its way past senior goaltender Steve Racine to bring the score to even. Then with less than a minute remaining in the period, a shot from freshman forward Mason Jobst took a rebound and fell to the feet of freshman forward John Wiitala, who promptly slotted the puck behind Racine.The momentum was clearly on the Buckeyes’ side, and it became just as apparent that they took full advantage of it.Sophomore forward Kevin Miller collected a pass from freshman defenseman Sasha Larocque and fired past Racine to double the Buckeyes’ lead. Just 22 seconds later, freshman forward Brendon Kearney converted to put OSU up 5-2. This prompted Michigan coach Red Berenson to make a change between the pipes, sending junior netminder Zach Nagelvoort into the fray for the Wolverines.Yet it didn’t make much of a difference, as junior defenseman Drew Brevig took advantage of a shorthanded Michigan side and fired from long range past Nagelvoort for the Buckeyes’ sixth unanswered goal.The Wolverines showed some fight in the third period with the hefty deficit. Sophomore forward Tony Calderone scored twice, giving a glimmer of hope for a potential comeback. However, freshman forward Freddy Gerard would put the final nail in the coffin with an empty-net goal with less than two minutes remaining in the contest. Despite having Saturday off, the Buckeyes appeared to pick up right where they left off when they entered Nationwide Arena on Sunday. OSU coach Steve Rohlik said it didn’t surprise him that both of the contests were high scoring. “It’s almost the way our two teams match up against one another, to be honest with you,” Rohlik said. “I don’t even know what the total goals are, but it’s off the charts in the four games, that’s for sure.“Every time you play (Michigan), at the end of the day you’ve probably got to score five goals to win.” Joshua would put one past Racine to kick off the Buckeyes’ scoring once again. Kearney then doubled the Scarlet and Gray’s lead with a little over three minutes remaining in the period. Just 25 seconds later, junior forward and co-captain Nick Schilkey would grab his 18th goal of the season and put OSU up 3-0.“It’s nice to know that the bounces are coming my way and coming the way of my line. We’ve been playing well,” Schilkey said. “There’s a few lines that have been putting the puck in the net. It’s kind of nice to get those bounces at this time and we just got to keep that going for sure.”Sophomore defenseman and Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick Zach Werenski’s power-play goal put the Wolverines on the board in the second period. Jobst would then restore the Buckeyes three-goal advantage after his shot managed to trickle underneath both a Michigan defenseman and the goaltender Racine. Senior defenseman and co-captain Craig Dalrymple went on to make it 5-1 with a long-range shot that went over Racine’s glove. Michigan would get back into the contest with two goals in the final minute of the second period. In just 24 seconds, sophomore forwards Cutler Martin and Calderone found the net for the Wolverines, setting up a competitive final period. “Stuff happens. Next thing you know, we give up the goal, didn’t get a penalty, they score on a power play, its 5-3. This team could score just like that,” Rohlik said. “They made it 5-3, and that two-goal lead going into the third, it’s never comfortable.”Werenski’s second goal of the day cut the Buckeyes’ lead to just one with over nine minutes left in the game. Michigan then tied it up with less than five minutes remaining, courtesy of freshman forward Cooper Marody.After three minutes of four-on-four overtime hockey, Schilkey collected a loose puck off a shot from Brevig on the rush and slotted it home, ending the contest 6-5. “Puck just got thrown out of our end. It kind of bounced off their stick weird. I was going the other way and couldn’t really get it to settle down. There I knew they were coming back on me. First chance I could I just ripped it,” Schilkey said on his winning goal. “Next thing I know I’m coming around the net and I see the goalie coming out after (the puck). It was a foot race, and I think I got him.”The Buckeyes’ regular season is set to finish next weekend at Michigan State. The puck is scheduled to drop at 7:05 p.m. on Friday and Saturday in East Lansing, Michigan. OSU freshman forward Mason Jobst (26) and a Michigan player shove each other during a game on March 6 at Nationwide Arena. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo Editor read more

Nightmare for Nittany Lions Ohio State field hockey upsets No 8 Penn

The No. 18 Ohio State field hockey team left State College, Pa. posting a 2-0 shutout against the No. 8 Penn State Nittany Lions Saturday. By knocking off a top 10 opponent, the Buckeyes (10-7, 3-2) are now tied for second place in the conference standings heading into the final week of the regular season. Junior forward Berta Queralt scored the first goal of the match to get the Scarlet and Gray off to a quick start. The Buckeyes added a goal in the 52nd minute from senior back Jenn Sciullu, but Queralt’s goal was all the Buckeyes would need. With the win, OSU now has a 5-1 record on the road. “It was really important to get this win on the road coming off of two conference losses,” senior goalie Ally Tunitis said. “We knew what we were going up against. We played our hardest.” The Buckeyes quick start came when Queralt notched the first goal at the 10:33 mark off of a penalty corner. Sciulli assisted on the goal. The rest of the first half remained scoreless as the stout OSU defense was faced with pressure by the Penn State attack, Tunitis helped the Buckeyes escape with the lead. Tunitis notched her third shutout of the season and is now third on the OSU all-time shutout list with 13. “It felt really good,” Tunitis said. “It’s always really good to have no goal scorers, as it makes it that much sweeter. It is a confidence booster.” In the second half, Sciulli notched the second goal of the match at the 52-minute mark on a penalty corner. The defensive back now has a career-high 14 points on the season. The senior back has been known for her defensive talent, but her offensive play was what set up the Buckeyes for a win. “I would be scared if I was playing against us and saw me running full speed setting up for a shot,” Sciulli said. “It was a big play for us.” The Buckeyes defense protected the two-goal lead despite Penn State’s numerous opportunities in the final minutes. Tunitis finished the game with six saves. “Our defense was unstoppable today,” Sciulli said. “We had one goal in mind and that was to keep the ball out of the cage.” The win sends OSU into its regular season finale against Northwestern on Friday in Evanston, Ill., at 4 p.m. on a high note. Big Ten Tournament play begins Nov. 3., in State College, Pa. read more

Commentary Cincinnati Bengals Cleveland Browns still face questions marks

After two games, surprisingly enough, the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns find themselves in a similar position – looking for answers. Bengals fans expected great things out of their team this year, as they should. The Bengals made the playoffs last year with a young roster glittered with talent and a solid coaching staff. But while Cincinnati (1-1) managed to beat its Ohio rivals Sunday, it cannot be satisfied with its team’s performance so far, particularly on defense. Meanwhile, Cleveland (0-2) was considered to be in rebuilding mode from the very start of the season. But after a strong showing on offense, the Browns look to build on the momentum of an encouraging loss. The team’s Paul Brown went head to head last week, hoping that a little sibling rivalry would help it bounce back after losing its openers. The fans in observance at Paul Brown Stadium were treated with a high scoring affair in which the younger sibling won out, 34-27. But the fashion in which Cincinnati eventually prevailed was not convincing, nor was it enough to compensate for the thrashing it suffered at the hands of the Ravens in week 1. The Bengals’ secondary got lit up by Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden. This is after Weeden could not crack the double-digit mark in quarterback rating the previous week versus the Eagles after he was 12 of 35 for 118 yards, no touchdowns, and four interceptions – a 5.1 quarterback rating. As if that weren’t enough, Cleveland rookie running back Trent Richardson rolled over Cincinnati for 145 total yards and two touchdowns. Richardson is undoubtedly talented. However, the Eagles managed to hold him to 39 yards just a week earlier. It is highly doubtful that the Bengals want to be known as the team that cures all offensive ails. Meanwhile, Cleveland left the game feeling confident that its offense is not as far behind its defense as its week-one performance would indicate. Playing on the road against a team looking for redemption, Weeden looked aggressive from the very start. After studying Cincinnati’s opener, Weeden knew to attack the Bengals secondary, an element of their team that is most likely now their biggest question mark. The previous week, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco had a nearly flawless game in his team’s opener against Cincinnati (21 of 29, 299 yards, two touchdowns and a 128.4 quarterback rating). At the time, experts were gushing over Flacco’s improvement and some even went so far as to say that his infamous offseason proclamation that he was the NFL’s best quarterback was not as far-fetched as once imagined. However, the next week at Philadelphia, Flacco came back to Earth, posting a 66.8 quarterback rating. So let’s see, Weeden and Richardson are embarrassed and shutdown respectively by the Eagles, then have prolific offensive performances versus the Bengals. Meanwhile, the Ravens look unstoppable on offense in their opener against Cincinnati, then put up 16 points in a loss at Philly. Sure the Eagles are impressive defensively, but the Bengals can no longer feel confident that their defense will win them games. Giving up 27 points in a home opener to a struggling quarterback is not exactly the ’84 Bears. Up next for Cincinnati are the Redskins. Washington is averaging 34 points a game under the guidance of rookie Robert Griffin III, a true anomaly at the quarterback position. Wily veterans dream of his 70.9 percent completion rate while many running backs will fall short of the near-1,000 yards Griffin is on pace to gain on the ground. Griffin delivered a near-flawless performance in his team’s season-opening win in New Orleans. The Redskins then fell just short last week in St. Louis to a Rams team that exploded for 28 points in the second half. One can only imagine how the disappointment of that loss combined with the added enthusiasm of playing at home will motivate Griffin. What do the Bengals, ranked 29th in pass defense, plan to do to stop him? With zero interceptions on the year, will Griffin feel intimidated? Unlikely. Their five sacks in two games don’t exactly strike fear into opponents’ hearts either.  If the Bengals want to win, they will need to match the firepower of the Redskins. Last week, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati offense showed signs of life. The second-year quarterback threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns against an imposing defense. And now they get to face a Redskins defense that is ranked 31st against the pass. But there is no guarantee that the Bengals will be able to pick apart Washington’s secondary. After all, the Bengals have allowed more sacks than any team in the league. And Dalton has looked uncomfortable at times this year, unable to connect with favorite target wide receiver A.J. Green. That is where free-agent addition, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, comes into play. The former Patriot has provided consistency and grit and proven to be a clear upgrade over predecessor running back Cedric Benson. He helped Cincinnati finish off Cleveland last weekend and was the only bright spot in that horrendous loss in Baltimore. Playing on the road, convention would say: mix Green-Ellis in with the pass early on, turning to the short passing game to pick up first downs until the opportunity presents itself to take the occasional shot downfield to Green. With a young offense like the Bengals, it is better to start slowly, so as to avoid falling behind early against the (surprisingly) prolific offense of the Redskins. Meanwhile, the Browns are at home to face Bills. Buffalo features the latest NFL sensation, running back C.J. Spiller. Despite not starting the opener, Spiller leads the league in rushing and shows no signs of slowing down. He is averaging a Madden NFL-like 10.1 yards per carry. Oh, and the Bills are thin at wide receiver and feature an inconsistent quarterback. Yeah, we might see them run the ball. But Cleveland cannot afford to stack the line of scrimmage as they were forced to reshuffle their secondary after the suspension of cornerback Joe Haden. Fortunately, the Browns feature a defense that can make plays. They are first in the league in interceptions and tied for second in sacks. They might be wise to pound the ball with Richardson and wait for something to happen on defense or special teams. While the Bills are ranked near the bottom of the league in pass defense, Cleveland’s coaching staff should avoid the temptation of allowing Weeden to air it out. They shouldn’t read too much into last week– the Bengals’ secondary looked confused, as they did against the Ravens. It would seem that Weeden is closer to the turnover prone rookie we saw in the opener than the passer who threw for over 300 yards in Cincinnati. Besides, Weeden’s success was a direct result of Richardson’s breakout game anyway. read more

Despite secure CCHA footing Ohio State mens hockey heads to Miami desperate

The Ohio State men’s ice hockey team will bring its regular season campaign to a close with a two-game road series at No. 3 Miami (Ohio) this weekend. Barring a date in the postseason, it will mark the final time the in-state rivals meet as members of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. The league, which began in 1971, will disband after this season. OSU is set to join the six-team Big Ten Conference in its inaugural hockey season, and Miami will move to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. The series carries large implications for both squads. Miami sits on top of the 11-team CCHA and two points will secure its fourth CCHA regular-season title. In contrast, OSU owns only one league championship (1972) in the conference’s 42-year existence. Sophomore forward Tanner Fritz said this weekend and the ensuing playoffs are great opportunities to make a statement as a program. “(The RedHawks) have been dominating this league for quite a few years now. That’s what OSU hockey wants to do,” Fritz said. “I think we’re pushing the pace for that this year. In years to come, OSU hockey is going to be on the map.” OSU, sitting in a tie for fourth with Ferris State, will face the Bulldogs in the quarterfinal round of the CCHA Tournament regardless of this weekend’s results. Whichever team earns more points will host the second-round matchup. Ferris State will play two games at Michigan over the weekend. Miami and OSU have already faced-off three times this season. The RedHawks took five of six points in a CCHA series in December, before beating the Buckeyes in the Three Rivers Classic, 1-0. “We’ve had three tight games against Miami, we want to go down there and win some hockey games and try to get home ice,” said associate head coach Steve Rohlik. In 185 minutes of play against Miami this year, OSU has only scored twice. The Buckeyes are not the only team that Miami has suffocated on offense this season. The RedHawks lead the nation in team defense, allowing a stingy 1.56 goals per game. Freshman goalie Ryan McKay has the best save percentage (.962) and goals against average (1.0570) in the country. OSU rode its own stalwart defending for much of the season. But since junior defenseman Curtis Gedig’s injury against Notre Dame on Feb. 1, the Buckeyes have given up an average of 3.4 goals per game. Barring any setbacks, Gedig will return to action this weekend to strengthen the blue line. “(Gedig) has been out skating this week; I expect him to be full-go this weekend,” Rohlik said. “Having Curtis back this weekend will be a big boost for us.” The series will be the last opportunity for OSU sophomore forward Ryan Dzingel and senior goalie Brady Hjelle to showcase their talents before the current round of voting for the Hobey Baker Award ends on March 10. The teammates are two of 77 candidates for college hockey’s most prestigious individual award. After being swept by Michigan last weekend, OSU freshman defenseman Sam Jardine said a better effort is crucial for his team this weekend. “It needs to be a playoff environment for us, and we need to be desperate,” Jardine said. Game one of the two-game series is set for Friday at 7:35 p.m. in Oxford, Ohio. read more

The next step Braxton Miller shows off development

CINCINNATI – The new-and-improved version of Braxton Miller has been on display inside the concrete walls of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for roughly the past month and a half. With a recently dyed, bleach blond hairdo, the junior quarterback has impressed his coaches, his teammates, media members and others with his progression this March and April at the Buckeyes’ training facility. Miller’s passing has been more precise, footwork more efficient and decision-making more to coach Urban Meyer’s liking during Ohio State’s 15 spring practices. On a bigger stage Saturday, Miller showcased his enhanced array of talents to a few thousand more people, leading his Scarlet squad to a 31-14 win against the Gray team in the Spring Game at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati in front of a crowd of 37,643. The Huber Heights, Ohio, native finished the 2013 edition of the annual intra-squad scrimmage, moved from the homely confines of Ohio Stadium due to construction, with 217 yards passing on 16-of-25 attempts and two touchdowns. Miller’s stat line isn’t overly impressive. It pales in comparison to the numbers the then-sophomore put up in 2012, when the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder electrified OSU crowds on his way to breaking the Buckeyes’ record for total yards in a season. Wearing a black, no-contact jersey, Miller’s normally thrilling style of play highlighted by long scrambles that routinely ended past the goal line was hindered Saturday. So Miller had to rely on what he’s been working on all offseason: his fundamentals. Nearly all of the dual-threat quarterback’s throws came inside the pocket on a three- or five-step drop, as Miller is trying to better both his throwing technique and his footwork. “(It was) pretty good. I still have some things to work on and I made some mistakes,” Miller said. The 20-year-old is still far from a finished product, and he’ll be the first to downplay any recognition or praise given to him. There are chinks in the Heisman candidate’s armor, and Miller’s faults – while minor – were evident at times Saturday. Most of the ill tendencies in Miller’s game showed up outside of the pocket. He continues to drop his shoulder a little too much when making a throw on the run and will sporadically force passes in to heavy coverage. “If you see, fundamentally, he’s pretty good,” Meyer said. “But when it breaks down, that’s when it starts to go. And I thought today that was pretty good. He had a couple situations where it didn’t look very good, he went back to the old days and started running instead of keeping your eyes downfield. But he’s much improved.” The raw talent, and more importantly, the work Miller did over the winter and in to the spring to improve his game, overshadowed any mistakes the junior quarterback made. On the first play of the contest, Miller hit junior wide receiver Evan Spencer, in stride, for a 49-yard completion. He found junior wide out Devin Smith on a back-shoulder throw to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown a few plays later. Miller’s second touchdown pass of the day was a 3-yard slant to his favorite target from last season, senior wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown. “It was a pass-heavy game, an area that we weren’t very good at last year, an area that have we to get better in. I thought at times that Braxton Miller and a couple of the wide outs, Philly Brown in particular, did very well,” Meyer said. Being a more accurate thrower is the biggest stride Miller has admittedly made from the end of last season to now. “Placing the ball where it needed to be placed, especially hitting receivers in stride and back-shoulder throws,” Miller said, noting where he has made improvements. The athleticism showed up in spurts, too, as Miller ran five yards for a score in the third quarter and even caught a five-yard pass off a trick play late in the second half. “It’s always good to see him (being) very mobile. When he comes out of the pocket, he keeps drives alive and that’s what’s so good about Braxton,” said redshirt senior wide receiver Chris Fields. Miller’s evolving fundamentals, and his growing knowledge of OSU’s playbook, are what captivated his teammates and coaches most. Once the 2012 season ended, Meyer challenged Miller to become the most fundamentally-sound quarterback in the country. Miller obliged as best he could, traveling to California to work with quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. in December and over spring break, and watching film as much as possible. In terms of fulfilling his coach’s wishes, Miller might not be all the way there yet, but it’s clear that the junior is a smarter, more well-rounded football player than he was a season ago. “He’s working on his technique on throwing, being more accurate. I see the accuracy, it’s paying off from the offseason,” Fields said. Of all the players on OSU’s 2013 roster, possibly none spent more time in the film room and studying the playbook than Miller. “I know the plays better, how they’ll develop and where the guys are going to be. It allows me to move around the pocket more confidently,” Miller said. Miller’s increased knowledge is something that has his wide receivers excited for the fall. “All the athletic ability, that’s always going to be there, but him knowing the game way more than any other year and him studying way more than I’ve ever seen him, it’s showing up on the field,” Brown said. Miller’s teammates and coaches hope the steady development of their quarterback continues to show up on the field, especially come fall, when OSU will look to improve on its 12-0 record from a year prior. As for the golden locks, Miller said his blond hair is starting to grow out and will soon be completely gone. Miller, admittedly, has enough flashiness in his game, which will come back to life in August after being harnessed this spring. Meyer said he’s satisfied with where his quarterback, and his team, is right now. “I think we’re on track,” he said. OSU opens up its 2013 campaign Aug. 31 against Buffalo in Columbus. read more