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Reaching across the aisle: Texas Tech

Written by Craig Meyer on .

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(Photo: LubbockOnline.com)

With its four-game Inferno now complete, West Virginia moves to a slightly easier second half of its Big 12 schedule with a noon kickoff against Texas Tech.

The Red Raiders are 5-4 and one win shy of bowl eligibility. To get a better idea of who Texas Tech is and what Kliff Kingsbury's squad is all about, I chatted (via email) with Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. You can find Don's work here and follow him on Twitter at @AJ_DonWilliams.

1) Tech has struggled mightily on defense the past few seasons and made a change at defensive coordinator this season, bringing in David Gibbs. Even with that switch, it still ranks near the bottom of the FBS in several major statistics. What kind of tangible progress, if any, has there been on that side of the ball?

One of the big reasons Gibbs was brought in was because his teams at Houston had 73 takeaways in the last two seasons, most in the FBS over that time frame. He raised some eyebrows – or at least mine – shortly after he was hired when he said come to practice and you’ll see his players working only on stripping the football for fumbles, nothing else.

He sort of concedes that against the Big 12’s prolific passing offenses, a defense is going to give up points and yards, so takeaways are the best way to counter. With his focus on that, Tech is tied for 14th in the FBS and third in the Big 12 in turnovers gained with 18 (eight fumble recoveries, 10 interceptions). So there's progress there, but not much in other areas. Against what’s shaking out to be the big four in the Big 12 – TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State – Tech’s given up 55 to 70 points to each. You just can’t win that way.

2) Patrick Mahomes has put up some gaudy numbers and turned quite a few heads this season. From the other quarterbacks you've seen in the Big 12 this season, where does he rank?

I’d put him fourth behind Trevone Boykin, the now-injured Seth Russell and Baker Mayfield. He started fast, but in the last three games he’s been sacked 11 times and has seven interceptions and six touchdown passes. When he’s in the groove, he makes a lot of good things happen by extending plays with his feet. The flip side is he can fall in love with that aspect of his game and hold the ball too long, thus taking some sacks that shouldn’t happen. With that said, he has a big arm, a lot of talent and Tech’s glad he’ll be around for two more years.

3) This Tech team, rather remarkably, has yet to have a bye week this season. Have you noticed a certain sense of fatigue that has set in?

That’s a sore spot, for sure, with Texas Tech fans, who have complained about it quite a bit. Playing 11 weeks in a row – this is the 10th of the 11 -- doesn’t help. As much as this team struggles on defense, they’d probably benefit by a week off for teaching purposes and fundamental drills. Not to mention taking a break from being worn down mentally. But would a bye week beforehand have changed the outcomes against Baylor (a 63-35 loss), Oklahoma (a 63-27 loss) and Oklahoma State (a 70-53 loss)? I’m not sure you can make that leap.

Maybe a little extra time would have helped prepare for TCU, a game Tech lost 55-52, but that was in week four.

4) Most any conversation with a WVU coach about Tech this week invariably came back to Jakeem Grant. How integral is he to what the Red Raiders do on offense and what makes him such a difficult matchup for opposing defenses?

He’s more important than ever this season, partly because he’s putting together a career year and partly because the rest of the receiving corps has been a disappointment. Grant has 69 catches, 952 yards and five TDs. The catches and yards are more than double that of his next closest teammate, and that’s not typical of Tech’s spread-passing offense the last 15 years. The Red Raiders want to distribute the ball to four receivers and a running back, making opponents defend sideline to sideline, but he’s been the only week-in, week-out threat among the receivers. The thing that makes him a challenge for defenses is he’s a tiny target at 5-foot-6 and often dodges the first tackler or two. He has a good combination of being quick and slippery and then has speed once he gets into the open field. I’d say compared to most receivers, he gets a higher percentage of his yards after the catch. The best example came last week when he turned a simple 3-yard out route into a 90-yard gain that showcased his cutting ability and broken-field running.

 

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-Oilers - 11-07-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Penguins

-The Post-Gazette's recap from last night's game. Right winger Pascal Dupuis missed the game after being hospitalized and tested due to symptoms similar to blood clots.

-The Edmonton Journal's recap. “I don’t want us to accept losing but the buildup throughout game … the not folding our hand, the resiliency, those were all positives. That said, I don’t want our team to acknowledge that losing is fine. It’s not.” - Oilers coach Todd McLellan.

-The Associated Press' recap. "We're getting better, we're starting to improve. We had chances, but, a little crisper and we'll be better." - Right winger Phil Kessel.

-Highlights:

-Mike Lange's goal calls.

-Right winger Daniel Sprong was pumped:

-Head coach Mike Johnston speaks:

-“Players like that can break out in an instant.” - Oilers forward Taylor Hall on Penguins captain/center Sidney Crosby.

-Center Matt Cullen avoids carbs.

-A goal and an assist by defenseman Derrick Pouliot helped key the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in a 4-1 comeback win against the St. John’s Ice Caps. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has won eight consecutive games. Defenseman Will O’Neill recorded two assists for the Penguins while goaltender Matt Murray made 20 saves in the victory.

-Highlights:

-Forward Sahir Gill had a goal and an assist for the Wheeling Nailers in a 4-3 loss to the Kalamazoo Wings. Goaltender Franky Palazzese made 23 saves for Wheeling.

-Former Penguins left winger Gene Carr needs a stem cell operation to heal a chronic back ailment.

-After the Jump: Ryan Miller returns to Buffalo.

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Postgame - Penguins 2, Oilers 1 - 11-06-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Observations from the Penguins, 2-1 road win against the Oilers.

-First things first, right winger Pascal Dupuis' tests for blood clot symptoms were negative. He was able to leave the hospital and be at Rexall Place. He even celebrated with his teammates as they came off the ice.

-According to head coach Mike Johnston, Dupuis will skip tomorrow's game in Calgary as a precaution and will be reevaluated in Pittsburgh.

-Defenseman Rob Scuderi stated things well:

"I think you're more concerned than anything. You want to make sure the person is okay. The hockey player is the part we know the most but you want to make sure the guy is okay and that's the most important thing. It was great that we got to get a win tonight but that's more on the life side of things. Not on hockey."

-As far as the game goes, earlier in the day, Oilers coach Todd McLellan lauded the Penguins as a team which "doesn't need five goals to win. It needs [two to three] goals to win."

-Tonight, they only got two goals and pulled out their sixth consecutive win, this time against a very skilled Oilers team. It's strange to say this, especially when backup Jeff Zatkoff was in the pipes, but the Penguins of Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are winning with goaltending these days.

What happened

-After the teams exchanged power-play chances within the first five minutes, the Penguins got another power-play chance with 5:12 left in the first period. They appeared to cash it in but the NHL's new coaching challenge rule snuffed it out.

-Battling down low for a puck, right winger Patric Hornqvist stole a puck and it eventually found its way onto the stick of right winger Phil Kessel on the left half wall. Kessel moved it to defenseman Kris Letang at center point. Letang surveyed the zone and then sent it to Crosby in the left circle. Crosby whacked a one-timer which goaltender Anders Nilsson initally stopped but he allowed a rebound to squirt loose behind him. It came to a stop in the blue paint where Hornqvist was able to tuck it into the cage.

-As the Penguins and a fair amount of their fans celebrated, the Oilers challenged the goal on the basis of the Penguins being offside as they entered the zone. A replay show Hornqvist a few feet past the Oilers' blue line as Kessel gained the offensive zone. After a few moments, it was announced the goal was nullified.

-After the clock reverted to the moment Hornqvist was offside, the Penguins still had north of a minute of power-play but did little with that remaining time.

-After one period, the game was scoreless but the Penguins had a 15-5 lead in shots.

-The Oilers came out on fire to start the first period and forced the Penguins into a number of turnovers which led to their own scoring chances.

-One of those chances happened all of 45 seconds into the period. After Malkin turned over the puck in the Oilers' zone, left winger Benoit Pouliot pushed play up the right wing and sent a cross ice pass to defenseman Oskar Klefbom. Klefbom motored up the left wing, took the ample space defenseman Ben Lovjeoy gave him and cranked a fairly average slapper by goaltender Jeff Zatkoff on the near side. It was just a bad goal for anyone in a white jersey.

-The Penguins were able to get their first goal from the fourth line at the 9:06 mark. Left winger Sergei Plotnikov won a battle with defenseman Andrej Sekera and Pouliot down low on the Oilers' end boards and was able to get the puck to center Matt Cullen behind the net. Cullen was able to snap off a pass to the slot for right winger Daniel Sprong. Sprong gripped and ripped a wrister by Nilsson's blocker. Plotnikov's effort to win the puck was really something impressive.

-The third period was fairly tame until the Penguins got another power play chance at the 9:30 mark. After Malkin stole a puck on the Oilers' right wall, he moved it to Kessel low on the goal line. Kessel one-touched it with a backhander to left winger David Perron behind him in the right circle.  Perron cut across the front of the crease. Nilsson sprawled down low in hopes of preventing a shot and ended up tripping up Perron with his stick. Nilsson ended up with a tripping minor which right winger Nail Yakupov served. 

-The Penguins sent out Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Kessel and Hornqvist fo the power play. After Letang kept a puck in the offensive zone at the left point, he moved it to Kessel on the left half wall. Kessel surveyed the zone and snt off a fairly pedestrian wrister through a few bodies in the slot and beat Nilsson's left skate on the far side to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead with 10:15 left in regulation.

-The Oilers made a pretty strong push late in the game in hopes of tying the game. Yakupov hit a post with 5:58 remaining. And after defenseman Ian Cole cleared a puck out of play and took a delay of game penalty, the Oilers were given a power-play with 4:05 left in regulation. The Oilers attempted five shots during this power play and could only get one on net.

-Their last best chance came with 1:55 remaining when center Leon Draisaitl whipped a backhander from the right wing off the far post. 

-With 1:26 remaining, Pouliot threw a puck out of the Penguins' left wing corner to the slot into Zatkoff. The Oilers started to celebrate but an official didn't really signal anything and play was halted. A video review failed to show the puck sneaking through his gear.

-After that scare, the Penguins choked the life out of the game and took the win.

The Penguins

-With the exception of the Klefbom goal, Zatkoff was strong and lucky. He was pretty sharp with his rebounds and seemed to absorb just about anything put on net. But he got a lot of help from his posts. He should see if he can buy one of the cages here in Edmonton and use it for future games. Regardless, he was a big part of this win.

-With Dupuis sidelined, Center Eric Fehr took over for him on the top line left wing. He was ... fair. It's hard to say there was immediate chemistry with Crosby and Hornqvist but he looked more than competent. He was strong on the boards and won his fair share of puck battles. Perhaps with a game under his belt on that line, he may look more comfortable tomorrow if the Penguins use that trio again, but he was adequate.

-Let's put it his way. He was no worse than some of left winger Chris Kunitz's clunker games in that role the past two seasons.

-The second line of Perron, Malkin and Kessel continued to look sharp. Even if it didn't create a five-on-five goal, they just had quite a few things going with their passing.

-With Fehr moved to the top line, Plotnikov got into the game and seemed to thrive with Cullen and Sprong. They were able to generate a fair amount of chances in the offensive zone and just meshed.

-The Rob Scuderi-Olli Maatta duo had one really rough shift in the second period but beyond that, they were adequate. Scuderi had a somewhat productive night in that he was able to draw two penalties leading to power plays in the first period.

-In addition to the offsides play which nullified their would-be goal in the first period, Hornqvist and Perron each had additional offsides plays as Kessel tried to carry the puck into the zone later in the game.

-The fact that the Penguins scored another power play goal tonight is nothing insignificant. After so many struggles to start the season, they have power-play goals in four consecutive games. And if you dismiss the coach's challenge from the first period, they basically scored twice on the power play tonight. 

The Oilers

-Based on what we saw tonight, it's scary to think what this team could have looked like if Connor McDavid had played. The Oilers just have wave after wave of skill up front. They kept the heat on the Penguins throughout the game.

-He's hardly the most skilled guy on this team, but center Matt Hendricks has a strong game, he was physical. He had a big hit on Maatta which led to a near scoring chance for Edmonton in the third. And he had a nice neutral zone steal against Letang in the third period which Zatkoff snuffed out. Hendricks blocked a lot of shots and just seemed to involved in so many facets of this game.

-Even beyond his goal, Klefbom had a strong game. When the Oilers were out-shot, 15-5, in the first period, he accounted for three of their shots. He just seemed confident anytime he had the puck.

-Nilsson played a sharp game. He was the primary reason the game was tied after the first period.

Quoteable

-Johnston spoke about using Fehr on the left wing and seemed to indicate he was going to use him on the fourth-line left wing prior to Dupuis being hospitalized:

"When I heard [Dupuis] wasn't going be available, Fehr was going to play the left side tonight. He was going to play anyway tonight. Then when [Dupuis] went down, I decided to bump him up on the left side. He's played the left side quite a bit in his career. I just like the way he's been playing lately. He's got his skating legs now. He handles the puck well. A big bodied guy. As we talked about before, some of our lines are going to be rotating wingers."

-Scuderi talked about the significance of having to comeback from a one-goal deficit:

"It was good. I'm not sure how long it's been but it feels like it's been a while since we had a good come-from-behind win. I think it was a testament to the guys just kind of staying with it. I thought we were outplaying them for the majority of the game to that point. We got the goal called back and not that we were going to throw in the towel, but I thought everyone stayed with it and chipped away."

-Scuderi also spoke about the team's success on the penalty kill as of late:

"I think great goaltending. If you're going to have a good penalty kill, you have to have great goaltending. The fact is they have the best players on the ice on the other team against one less of yours and your goalie has to come up big. I think we've done a good job of getting clears and knocking second opportunities on rebounds which is big. But both goalies have made some big saves for us."

Numbers

-The Penguins led in shots on net, 33-28.

-Klefbom led the game with five shots.

-Crosby and Kessel each led the Penguins with four shots.

-Letang led the game with 26:16 of ice time.

-Klefbom led the Oilers with 24:30 of ice time.

-The Penguins had a 33-30 edge in faceoffs.

-Center Nick Bonino was 12 for 18 (67 percent).

-Oilers center Anton Lander was 6 for 10 (60 percent).

-OIlers defenseman Brandon Davidson led the game with four blocked shots.

-Defensemen Brian Dumoulin, Cole and Scuderi each led the Penguins with three blocked shots.

Historically speaking

-This was the Penguins' final regular season game in Rexall Place. They finished with an 11-22-3 all-time record in this barn.

-The Penguins have a streak of 19 successful penalty kills.

-Plotnikov has been penalized in five of his 10 games so far this season.

-Malkin played in his 600th career game.

-Cole played in his 200th career game.

Potpourri

-On a personal note, this was a real treat being here for this game. This building is so unique compared to the other cookie cutters around the NHL. All the strange little nooks and crannies below the stands are fascinating. You could get lost in this building for days and not see day light. We're very grateful for being able to see it firsthand:

 

A hockey night in Edmonton.

A photo posted by Seth Rorabaugh (@emptynetters) on

-The fans here were very quiet. We're not sure if that has to do with the Oilers being mostly rotten the past decade but this was a very quiet building. They were attentive to the action and they reacted appropiately to positive or negative plays but we expected a more raucous atmosphere.

-There were quite a few Penguins fans on hand. Many of them seemed like they were more fans of Crosby than the team, but anytime the Penguins scored, you knew it.

Visuals

-Game summary.

-Event summary.

-Highlights:

(Photo: Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

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Jersey hunt - Penguins at Oilers - 11-06-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

-First things first, right winger Pascal Dupuis was hospitalized after experiencing symptoms the team says "may or may not" be related to blood-clot issues.

It's premature to make any sort of statements regarding his health until more is known, but it's fair to be concerned about Dupuis' long-term health away from the rink. He has missed parts of two seasons partially due to blood clots. 

-With Dupuis absent, the Penguins' lines and pairings in warmups were:

16 Eric Fehr - 87 Sidney Crosby - 72 Patric Hornqvist
57 David Perron - 71 Evgeni Malkin - 81 Phil Kessel
14 Chris Kunitz - 13 Nick Bonino - 19 Beau Bennett
61 Sergei Plotnikov - 7 Matt Cullen - 41 Daniel Sprong

28 Ian Cole - 58 Kris Letang
8 Brian Dumolin - 12 Ben Lovejoy
3 - Olli Maatta - 4 Rob Scuderi

-With that grim news out of the way, here's the best jerseys tonight in Rexall Place:

-The have banners you can actually see in this building:

-And an oil derrick!

-Wayne Gretzky's statue doesn't have nearly enough ex-Islanders defensemen:

-The scoreboard here is decidedly low-tech:

-The second concourse in this building is very similar to the one in Mellon Arena:

-The view from the worst seats in this building:

-The standing room only accommodations here are cozy:

-They squeeze every soul they can into this place:

-Former Oilers defenseman Sheldon Souray has a fan:

-Former Oilers captain/defenseman Jason Smith:

-Ditto captain/center Mark Messier:

-One time Penguin killer/Oilers right wing Ales Hemsky:

-And some dude who scored a few goals:

-Left winger David Perron still has a fan here:

-Ditto former Oilers/Penguins right winger Georges Laraque:

-Former Penguins/Oilers defenseman Paul Coffey:

-Another former Penguins/Oilers defenseman, Andrew Ference:

-There are more than a few Penguins fans here. Kris Letang:

-That Flames/Oilers rivalry burns here with this fan of former Penguins right winger Jarome Iginla:

-Center Evgeni Malkin:

-Olympic hero/Canada center  Sidney Crosby:

-These Rimouski Oceanic Crosby and Erie Otters Connor McDavid fans had their hopes of a Crosby-McDavid showdown dashed by McDavid's shoulder injury:

-Jersey of the Night: Current Oilers/Former Penguins center Mark Letestu:

 

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Pregame thoughts - Penguins at OIlers - 11-06-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

-Hey, guess where were are:

-No, not quite:

 

Edmonton.

A photo posted by Seth Rorabaugh (@emptynetters) on

-We made the long trek to Edmonton to see Rexall Place. This is the Oilers' last season in this barn and we wanted to see this place for ourselves while we could. We're not expecting a Penguins-Oilers Stanley Cup final so we felt this would be our last chance.

-This building is Spartan. It's cramped. It's musty in places. There are odd stains on the walls, ceilings and floors. There's exposed wiring and piping everwhere. The scoreboard is not HD. The climb to the press box can be exhausting to someone who eats their fair share of carbohydrates.

-It's beautiful. 

With so many newer buildings like Consol Energy Center being cookie cutters, a barn like Rexall Place is really special. It's just like the Civic Arena. And when you factor in the history this place has with the Oilers dynasty in the 1980s, that just adds to the mystique of this place. This is a very special trip for us.

-If you go into TD Garden in Boston, Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, you really can't tell the difference between those buildings outside of the team logos or colors around the building. In the 1960s and 19070s, cookie cutter buildings for baseball and football were the norm. In the 19990s and 2000s, cookie cutter buildings for hockey and basketball are now the norm.

-Perhaps in 20 years, engineers will start building retro hockey and basketball stadiums. For now, we're in an era of bland ordinary buildings like Consol Energy Center.

---

-With this being the Penguins' presumed final game in this building, we looked up their first game here:

-The Penguins' first game at this building was a 4-3 loss Jan. 23, 1980. Edmonton opened the scoring at 9:34 of the first period with an unassisted goal by right winger Ed Lumley.

-The Oilers made it a 2-0 game at the 13:56 mark when right winger Cam Conner scored off assists from captain/center Ron Chipperfield and right winger Bobby Schmautz. 

-The Penguins got on the scoreboard only 53 seconds into the second period thanks to a goal by center Greg Malone. Right winger George Feguson and defenseman Bob Stewart netted assists. 

-A goal by left winger Gary McAdam at the 11:17 mark made it a 2-2 game. Left winger Gregg Sheppard had the lone assist. 

-Edmonton reclaimed a 3-2 lead when left winger Brett Callighen scored off assists from right winger Blair MacDonald and center Wayne Gretzky.

-At 7:22 of the third, a power-play goal by defenseman Dale Tallon tied the game again, 3-3. Assists went to Malone and McAdam.

-Following an icing call against the Penguins which brought a faceoff in the Penguins' zone, Gretzky scored with only 19 seconds left in regulation to put the Oilers up, 4-3. Callighen and defenseman Doug Hicks netted assists.

-Goaltender Eddie Mio made 20 saves in the win. Goaltender Rob Holland took the loss after making 22 saves.

-On his goal, Gretzky said:

"It was kind of a fluke the way it went in. I was just turning around in front of the net to look for the puck when it hit the top of my skate and went past their goaltender."

-Penguins center Orest Kindrachuk and defenseman Ron Stackhouse each missed the game due to injuries. Defenseman Russ Anderson was suspended for his role in a bench clearing brawl between the two teams four days earlier at the Civic Arena. 

-In his final state of the union address to Congress, President Jimmy Carter suggested reinstituing draft registration in response to the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. 

-The game sheet from that night:

 

-Not many of the Penguins' players were particularly sentimental about this place. Eric Fehr, who spent most of his career in the Eastern Conference and didn't play in Edmonton much did have an appreciation for it:

"A lot of people like to see the new buildings. Personally, I like to see the older ones. I enjoyed playing in the Mellon Arena. I enjoy playing in the older rinks with a lot of history. I grew up watching hockey and seeing the players that went through and knowing I'm sitting in the same locker room as them, there's something really cool about that."

-Matt Cullen, who played the 2005 Stanley Cup Final in this building with the Hurricanes appreciates this building as well:

"It's kind of fun to come to these rinks. It's kind of old fashioned hockey. It just reminds you of starting out. I played a lot of games in this building. It always fun. It's always been known as one of the best ice sheets in the league. Just a fun place to come to for me."

---

-Oilers coach Todd McLellan had some interesting thoughts on the Penguins' limited goal output this season:

“This is a confident team. This is a team that's on a roll and winning. It doesn't need five goals to win. It needs [two to three] goals to win. The fact that some of their offensive guys … haven't been on the board as much they normally are, they're winning games. Their big star players are playing a big part in that because they're checking well, they're playing well defensively, they're playing well as a team, their goaltender is playing well. So you can overcome certain individuals not having a lot offense on your team."

-We'll have more in our "Jersey Hunt" post.

 

 

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