Reaching across the aisle: Kansas

Written by Craig Meyer on .


West Virginia will play perhaps its most overmatched opponent since FCS Liberty when it takes the field Saturday against Kansas, which is one of two winless FBS teams at 0-10 and is playing about 20 guys below the FBS scholarship limit.

To find out a little more about the Jayhawks, I caught up via email with Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. You can find Rustin's work here and follow him on Twitter at @RustinDodd.

A lot has been made about Kansas' bizarre scholarship situation. For David Beaty and the Kansas team itself, what has been the most difficult aspect of it?

In short, depth. The Jayhawks are starting former walk-ons at some spots, and once you get beyond the starters and parts of the two-deep, you're getting down to former walk-ons, true freshmen and inexperienced players. At the moment, KU has around 64 scholarship players or so, and when you're that low, the usual attrition of injuries really takes a toll.

As you see it, and based on how this team has done lately, is the close loss to TCU an aberration or a sign that things are getting turned around?

I think it's a little of both. I think there are signs that David Beaty is laying a solid foundation -- the players continue to play hard, even during all the losing, he's continued to recruit, and he's instilling a solid culture. The defense, which is really inexperienced, has made strides as well. In that sense, the TCU result was a positive. But it was also sort of a fluky game. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin was injured early, and for whatever reason, KU has had TCU's number the last four years -- they've been competitive almost every year.

But is it a sign that Kansas will be competitive in these last two weeks against West Virginia? We'll see. The Jayhawks have such a slim margin for error, and their offense has struggled to score points. If they can back up the TCU performance with another solid outing against West Virginia, that could be more telling.

Fish Smithson is a name West Virginia fans are going to be hearing a lot come Saturday. How much of a revelation has he been this year and what exactly changed for him?

Smithson is really solid. He's not a tremendous athlete, but he's a smart football player and a sure-handed tackler. He was a junior college transfer last season, and he played quite a bit. But KU had a veteran secondary, so he never cracked the starting lineup. Fortunately for Kansas, he's a junior college player that had three years of eligibility remaining. So he'll be back at Kansas next season.

Ryan Willis wasn't the Jayhawks' starting QB at the beginning of the season, but, as a freshman, he's been thrust into that role. What kind of development have you noticed from him as the season has gone on?

Willis has perhaps been the biggest bright spot this season, and that might say as much about Kansas' recent quarterback play as it does about Willis. He was a top recruit -- a top-20 pro-style quarterback, according to Rivals -- and he has a big arm and solid accuracy. He's still learning the system and the finer points of playing quarterback at the college level. Sometimes, for instance, he holds onto the football too long, and he's had to play under heavy duress this season. But in the grand scheme, he looks like he could be answer moving forward at the position.


Craig Meyer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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Empty Netter Assists - Recapping Penguins-Avalanche - 11-20-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .


-The Post-Gazette's recap from last night's game. “We just want to continue this momentum we’re building and really try to build our identity as a team.” - Captain/center Sidney Crosby.

-The Denver Post's recap. "We were in complete control of the game and bang-bang-bang, 3-1 for them." - Avalanche forward Matt Duchene on the Penguins scoring three goals in the second period.

-The Associated Press' recap. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is tied for the league lead with 10 wins.


-Mike Lange's goal calls.

-Right winger Phil Kessel (left), center Evgeni Malkin (center) and right winger Patric Hornqvist were popular:

-Malkin bailed out his teammates here:

-Head coach Mike Johnston (left) and assistant coach Rick Tocchet got a leg up on the Avalanche:

-A good look at left winger Chris Kunitz beating Avalanche goaltender Reto Berra and center Carl Soderberg for a goal:

-Fleury scooped up this puck:

-Avalanche coach Patrick Roy just wasn't feeling it:

-Duchene was popular:

-Berra was focused on this puck:

-Defenseman Olli Maatta's "upper-body" injury reunited Kris Letang and Rob Scuderi.

-Happy 58th birthday to former Penguins center Tom Roulston. Acquired midway through the 1983-84 season in a deal which sent right winger Kevin McClelland and a draft pick to the Oilers, Roulston spent parts of two seasons with the Penguins. He finished 1983-84 by appearing in 53 games for the Penguins and scoring 28 points. After spending all of 1985-86 with the Penguins' AHL affiliate in Baltimore, Roulston saw action in five games in 1985-86 and failed to record a point. He was released in the 1986 offseason. In 58 games with the Penguins, he scored 28 points.

-After the Jump: Alex Ovechkin makes history. 

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Postgame thoughts - Penguins 4, Avalanche 3 -11-19-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Observations from the Penguins' 4-3 win against the Avalanche:

What if we told you the Penguins' shutdown defensive pairing was a throw-in on a blockbuster trade involving Jordan Staal and a complete misfire of a return in a deal which sent Simon Despres out west?

And what if we told you the Penguins saw fit to take those two misfit toys and put them on the ice against a a loaded and talented line of former No. 1 or 2 overall picks?

And what if we told you the Penguins' top defensive pairing to date has been Brian Dumoulin and Ben Lovejoy?

Would you believe us? 

We're still trying to verify evidence of that claim ourselves but the Penguins used Dumoulin and Lovejoy as their shutdown defensive duo against the Avalanche's star-studded "Nine Line" of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene. While they didn't truly "shut down" that line - it generated eight shots in five-on-five play, including one in which center Evgeni Malkin had to sweep a puck off his own goal line - they did limit that line's effectiveness.

Keep in mind, the bar is set very, very low to earn the designation of being the Penguins' best defensive duo. But sure enough, Dumoulin and Lovejoy have claimed it and tonight's effort only solidified that claim.

While the sturdy effort by Dumoulin and Lovejoy was definitely a positive, it can't completely overshadow the fact that the Penguins once again gave up goals late and allowed a seemingly secure win to get anxious late. It happened against the Wild Tuesday and it happened again tonight. Regardless, a win is a win and the Penguins have two in a row.

What happened

-After each team exchanged a few fruitless power-play chances in the first period, the Avalanche had a late chance with the man advantage after right winger Pascal Dupuis was given a phantom interference minor against Duchene with 41 seconds left in the period. Defenseman Tyson Barrie settled a puck at the right point and moved it to former Penguins right winger Jarome Iginla at the left point. Iginla unleashed a cannon of a one-timer. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made the initial save with his left skate but allowed a rebound. Landeskog reacted to it quicker than defensemen Ian Cole and Adam Clendening and was able to plunk it by the blocker of Fleury for a 1-0 lead with 29 seconds left in the period. 

-In the second period, the teams exchanged minor penalties. After a bogus high stick minor to Avalanche defenseman Francois Beauchemin against center Matt Cullen in the neutral zone, the Penguins got a four-on-four face off in the Avalanche's left circle. Head coach Mike Johnston sent out right winger Beau Bennett and left winger David Perron, Bennett, hardly a faceoff specialist, beat former Penguins left winger Blake Comeau on a draw and got a puck back to Cole above the left circle. Cole stepped up and hammered a knuckler of a one-timer. Perron drove to the cage against defenseman Nick Holden. The puck hit off his backside and bounced through goaltender Reto Berra's five hole to tie the game, 1-1, at 5:35 of the second.

-Not long after that, play moved to a five-on-four power play and the Penguins went to work. From the left half wall, right winger Phil Kessel dealt a pass to Malkin at the right point. Malkin tapped it to defenseman Kris Letang above the left circle. As Letang slid to the center point, Malkin darted to the right half wall. Taking a pass back from Letang, Malkin blistered a one-timer by Berra's left shoulder on the near side to make it a 2-1 game at the 7:04 mark.

-The Penguins didn't stop there. They used their forcheck to score again. Cledening dumped a puck from the left point in behind the Colorado net. Berra left his crease to play it but was oblivious to left winger Chris Kunitz's forehceck from the right wing. Kunitz forced the puck to center Nick Bonino who was position to the left of the cage. Bonino hurried a shot as Berra scrambled to get back into position. Berra got a piece of the shot with his stick. The puck then glanced off the near post and as Berra tried to smother it, Kunitz jabbed at it with a backhand and into the net at the 7:43 mark. It capped off a three-goal outburst in a span of 2:08.

-In the third period, captain/center Sidney Crosby drew two early penalties but the Penguins were unable to capitalize with any insurance goals. That led to the Avalanche getting its second goal at the 8:49 mark. Under pressure from MacKinnon, Cole turned a puck over behind his net to Iglina. From the right of the cage, Iginla moved the puck to Barrie at the right point. Barrie settled it and fired a wrister which beat Fleury's left skate on the far side. Iginla had a screen on the play which may have led to the goal.

-Just over three minutes later, at the 11:56 mark, Crosby scored a vintage goal. Cole led a rush up ice from behind his own net and dealt a pass to Crosby in the neutral zone. Crosby bobbled the puck a bit. Barrie chopped at the rebound and ended up dealing it right to Dupuis. Dupuis settled the puck and dealt it to Crosby who darted between Barrie and defenseman Nick Holden then tucked a silky backhander through Berra's five hole to make it a 4-2 game.

-The Avalanche made a late push to tie the game and came close. After failing to convert a late power play, Avalanche coach Patrick Roy pulled Berra fairly early for an extra attacker (a signature move of Roy's). It paid off. Barrie moved a puck from the right point to the slot for Iginla. Iginla whacked a one-timer which Clendening blocked. Landeskog settled the puck to the left of the crease and moved it to Duchene who plunked in an easy forehand shot from the left of the crease by Fleury's left skate with 1:23 left in regulation. 

-The Avalanche pumped a few more shots late, including a last second wrister by Iginla from the slot which Fleury gloved but couldn't get a fourth goal.

The Penguins

-As mentioned earlier, Lovejoy and Dumoulin were fantastic. They saw a ton of assignments against the Avalanche's top line and really limited that group's effectiveness.

-That allowed the Penguins to use the reunited duo of Letang and defenseman Rob Scuderi as a second pairing and they seemed okay. They played a fairly conservative clean game. They didn't give up a ton of chances against the Avalanche's lesser lines and seemed fairly comfortable with one another. We're not ready to anoint them the next coming of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, but Letang and Scuderi were adequate.

-Scuderi was sporting a big scrape or some kind of brushburn under his right eye. He won't be using aftershave for a few days.

-He wasn't quite as prolific as his four-point outing against the Wild, but Malkin again looked dominant. He drove play. He helped create chances for his wingers, Perron and Kessel. And he just seemed to put the Avalanche's defenders on their heels. He looks very dangerous right now. 

-At one point, Malkin was bullying his way around the Avalanche zone and throwing his body around on defenseman Erik Johnson, who stands a stout 6-foot-4, 232 pounds. Malkin looked like a power forward center along the lines of Mats Sundin, Eric Lindros or Peter Forsberg. It was fantastic to see.

-The third and fourth lines seemed to create some chances with their forehceck. As mentioned above, the forecheck led to Kuntiz's goal and even the fourth line had a few opportunities. Sergei Plotnikov had one shift in the first period which led to chances.

-It was interesting to see Bennett used in the faceoff circle twice tonight. The first led to Perron's goal. He went 2 for 2 tonight. For the season, he is two for three.

-Clendening and Cole were hardly perfect. They were on the ice for each of Colorado's five-on-five goals but they were also on for two of the Penguins' five-on-five scores. They were competent. Perhaps with a little more playing time, they will smooth things out.

-Fleury was good. Perhaps he could have kicked out a better rebound on the Duchene goal but he was more than adequate tonight.

-The Penguins' power play was once again fairly aggressive. It generated eight shots and one important goal.

-At one point in the second period, on a sloppy defensive play in their own zone, right winger Patric Hornqvist flopped down in front of the crease and blocked a Beauchemin shot with his visor. HIS VISOR.

-If you played a game with 20 Patric Hornqvists in your lineup, you'd probably lose but the other team would have to earn that win.

The Avalanche

The Avalanche's depth just killed it tonight. It has a very good first line and first defensive combination. But after that, it drops off. When Nick Holden and Zach Redmond are playing significant minutes on defense, that's an issue. The Penguins' superior depth played a role in this win.

-Berra was not sharp. He looked unsure of himself at times. His play on the Kuntiz goal seemed to rattle him a bit. The Avalanche needed him to be sharper.

-Even if they were limited a bit by the Dumoulin-Lovejoy combination a bit, the Landeskog-MacKinnon-Duchene still looked dangerous when it stepped on the ice. 

-No one is going to start a fundraiser over this but the Avalanche is probably a much better team when it is healthy, particularly on defense. We realize Brad Stuart is long in the tooth but if he's in the lineup, this team is probably much better on the blue line.

-He's relegated to the second line right now, but Iginla can still bring it. His shot creates all kind of havoc. And even though he's 38, it's evident that he's still in phenomenal shape. Talking to him today after the morning skate and seeing him in person, he still is one of the most impressive physical specimens we've ever encountered in professional hockey. 

-Avalanche left winger Cody McLeod ran around trying to create trouble and ended up nearly injuring Clendening with a brain-dead boarding hit in the first period:

He also seemed to have a dangerous high hit on Crosby in the first:

Beyond that, McLeod accomplished little in this game, especially in matters which involved his puck skills.


-This was the second consecutive Penguins game in which officials called a ton of penalties. They also seemed to miss several. We're not sure if the league offices have sent out word to on-ice officials to get penalty totals up, but they definitely are for the Penguins' past two contests.


-Crosby, notoriously superstitious did not wear a helmet, as he normally does, for the pregame warmup skate. He was asked if he'll continue to go without a lid after scoring a goal. He joked: 

"We'll see. I don't know what you're talking about. "

-Johnston was asked about Dumoulin-Lovejoy:

"They've had a lot of top matchups the last couple of weeks. What we like about that pair is just both are very solid defensively. They're physical but they don't get tangled up so that they lose position. A guy like Duchene down low, he spins off checks, he's a hard guy to handle. So you've got to be a very good positional defensmean with a real good stick and both those guys are. So that's why we went with that matchup against MacKinnon, Duchene and Landeskog."

-Johnston lauded the Letang-Scuderi pairing:

"Good. I thought [Scuderi] was really poised tonight. I liked the way he played the game. They're playing against top players but [Dumoulin] and Lovejoy had the majority of the load against Landeksog and MacKinnon. But I like [Scuderi] and [Letang] as a pair, just because I think [Letang] even felt there's a good safety valve and that's what [Scuderi] provides."

-Johnston was asked if they need to work on closing games better:

“Well the most important thing is finishing with a win. If teams pull their goaltender and get a power play late, like sometimes those things happen. The big thing is, is I think if you look at our record going back to last year, in third periods when we have a lead, I think we're 32-2 last year and [we've] probably [added] a few more to that now. When we have the lead in the third, we've been one of the best teams in the league. We feel really confident when we have the lead in the third period. That team there, that's a good group they had on the ice at the end and they made a nice play. But I thought in the third period as a whole, we managed the game well."  

-Scuderi was asked about finishing games as well:

"There's a couple of simple plays you can make to not put yourself in harm's way. And I think if we do those, we'll be fine. But for the most part, it's good to see good energy, guys finishing the game. We're not happy about giving up the third one there but we finished the game the right way."

-Scuderi, who missed the previous game due to an illness and was still dealing with a little bit of a cough tonight, was asked about his health:

“It's night and day. You always want to show up to work and do your part but I think I let it go a little too far. It took a little out of me but I was glad to come back tonight. Felt pretty good.”

-Roy was not happy about the Beauchemin penalty which led to the Penguins' first and second goals:

"Well I can't be happy about that call because it was the turning point of the game. They had the faceoff in the [offensive] zone and they won the draw and they score. And after that, they score on the power play and made it a 2-1 game. "


-The Avalanche had a 31-30 edge in shots.

-Landeskog led the game with six shots.

-Right winger Hornqvist led the Penguins with four shots.

-Beauchemin led the game with 25:15 of ice time.

-Letang led the Penguins with 23:28 of ice time.

-The Penguins led in faceoffs, 33-28.

-Bonino was 12 for 15 (80 percent).

-Duchene was 9 for 13 (69 percent).

-Johnson led the game with five blocked shots.

-Letang led the Penguins with four blocked shots.

Historically Speaking

-Perron now has seven points (three goals, four assists) in his past 11 games.

-Dupuis (246 points)  moved past right winger Peter Lee (245) for 33rd place on the franchise's career scoring list.


-Game summary.

-Event summary.


(Photo: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

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WPIAL semifinal predictions ..... Miles Sanders to visit some schools

Written by Mike White on .

Friday's live blog will come from the Penn-Trafford-Pine-Richland game. For scores and reports on other games, look to the right of this blog for @PGVarsityXtra's Twitter account. If you have a score, note or update on games, tweet it with #wpial and tag @PVarsityXtra

The WPIAL semifinal predictions are below. But before that, a little bit of recruiting news.

In talking with Woodland Hills star running back Miles Sanders earlier this week, he said "I am still committed" to Penn State. But Sanders said he will visit some other colleges after the season. So is he still committed? Guess it depends on your definition of committed.

Sanders said he has visits set up to Pitt, Penn State and Alabama, and is thinking about visiting Arizona State and Michigan State.

Look in tomorrow's Post-Gazette for feature story on the "Two-Headed Wolverine." That would be the terrific running back duo of Sanders and Jo-El Shaw.


Now, onto the semifinal predictions. The record last week was a sub-par 10-6. That dropped season record to 126-29 (.812 percentage).

WPIAL CLASS AAAA - Central Catholic over Woodland Hills; Pine-Richland over Penn-Trafford.

WPIAL CLASS AAA - Thomas Jefferson over Franklin Regional; Central Valley over Mars.

WPIAL CLASS AA - Aliquippa over Freeport; South Fayette over Steel Valley.

WPIAL CLASS A - Clairton over Frazier; Jeannette over Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic.

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Jersey hunt - Avalanche at Penguins - 11-19-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

The best jerseys at tonight's Penguins-Avalanche game:

-First things first, the Penguins equipment managers had a bunch of spare skates set up in the event level concourse:

-Jean Pronovost:

-Johan Hedberg:

-Marc-Andre FLeury Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins:

-Alexei Kovalev:

-Joe Mullen:

-Gary Roberts:

-There are a fair amount of Avalanche fans here. Nathan MacKinnon:

-Joe Sakic:

-Paul Stastny:

-Patrick Roy:

-Adam Foote:

-Gabriel Landeskog:

-Mario Lemieux Team Canada:

-Sidney Crosby Team Canada World Junior Championship tournament:

-Sticking with the international theme, Zbynek Michalek Czech Republic:

-Current Avalanche and former Penguins right winger Jarome Iginla is popular in Calgary Flames form:

-The lettering on this jersey is not accurate but Holy Cow, a Paul Stanton No. 23 jersey!

-Jersey of the Night: Former Penguins/Avalanche defenseman/annoyance Darius Kasparaitis:

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