No. 15 K-State starting to look stout on defense
MANHATTAN (AP) — There was a period during the late 1990s, back in Bill Snyder’s first tenure at Kansas State, when the Wildcats annually fielded one of the best defenses in the country. There are signs that another stout defense is forming in the Flint Hills. Heading into a high-profile game against sixth-ranked Oklahoma, the No. 15 Wildcats have already piled up eight sacks and 22 tackles for loss, an increase of nearly 50 percent over last season. It’s not just one player who makes the Wildcats’ defense dangerous, either. Meshak Williams, whose seven sacks tied him for sixth in the Big 12 last year, is back rushing quarterbacks. Linebacker Arthur Brown skipped the NFL draft to return for his senior season. Focus on either of them too long and you might miss Adam Davis, who already has three sacks this year, or Justin Tuggle, Ryan Mueller and John Sua, who have also gotten into the act. The Wildcats haven’t had a player with at least 10 sacks in a season since Ian Campbell in 2006, but suddenly, there are a handful of guys who have shown that kind of potential. “They’re very quick and technically sound,” Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson said. “Bill Snyder does a great job of coaching those guys and instilling that they’re a team that they’re not going to take a play off. I think their D-line and the linebackers are kind of their strong points.” Johnson and the rest of the Sooners front line will certainly have their hands full. Oklahoma has already allowed seven sacks through two games after giving up 11 in 13 games all of last season. Seven of those sacks came in their two losses — four by Baylor and three by Oklahoma State. The Wildcats didn’t get their paws on Landry Jones once in a 58-17 defeat in Manhattan, and the box score revealed just how much that hurt them. Jones threw for a school-record 505 yards, with 25 plays of at least 10 yards. More than half of his completions went for at least 15 yards, including seven that went for at least 20. “You have to get pressure on him,” Snyder said. “We’ve been better the first couple of ball games than we were, perhaps, a year ago, but this is a level up.” Kansas State’s secondary took the brunt of criticism last season, but the lack of a pass rush gave Jones plenty of time to find his targets down field. That defensive front appears to be vastly improved this season, and that could make life a little more difficult for Jones on Saturday. “A sack is probably one of the biggest plays in football,” Kansas State wide receiver Curry Sexton said. “Obviously it’s just one more shot their quarterback takes, and it’s one more blow to their offensive line.” Even if they don’t get to the quarterback, a pass rush from the defensive line — in theory — should force Jones to deliver the ball more quickly, and that could mean fewer big plays. Still, that tactic runs the risk of an opponent beating you bit-by-bit. “You can take the quick passes and keep them in front of you and slow the process down and down, but by the same token, that can always hurt you,” Snyder said, referring to last Saturday’s win over North Texas, which used a short passing game to keep possession more than 37 minutes. “By being able to keep the ball in front, we also gave them the opportunity to move the chains, get first downs,” Snyder said, “so everything we’re talking about today is a dilemma.” Roughing up Jones would go a long way toward resolving the issue. Taking down the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage would provide not just a confidence boost for the Wildcats, but also quiet what will surely be a raucous atmosphere at Owens Field. The Kansas State defense knows how pivotal a sack can be, especially after viewing game film of some of their predecessors — including defensive line coach Joe Bob Clements, who played on some of the program’s better defenses earlier in Snyder’s tenure. “All the guys in our film room were kind of shocked at how fast these guys were moving around, how aggressive they were,” Mueller said. “We were watching this like, ’These guys are like crazy!’" Crazy, but effective. “We just thought to ourselves, ’If we push ourselves, we can be these crazy guys on defense,’" Mueller said, “and make plays like they did.’"
Decades later, Brooklyn has its own pro team again
NEW YORK (AP) — It was like a death in the family for Brooklyn baseball fans when their beloved Dodgers left the borough behind in 1957 for the California coast. Times were grim for Brooklyn back then. Residents were leaving en masse for the suburbs. Crime was on the rise. And there was little hope that the borough’s plight would improve. “When the Dodgers left, it was another punch in the face to the fact that Brooklyn’s best days may not be ahead, but may have been behind us,” said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who was 12 years old at the time. “It was depressing.” After decades without a professional sports team, New York City’s ascendant borough is hitting the major leagues again on Friday when the Brooklyn Nets’ new arena opens to the public. The state-of-the-art, 18,000-seat arena will be officially christened Saturday night with a rap concert by Nets co-owner and native Brooklynite Jay-Z. Just as the Dodgers’ departure was a harbinger of difficult times ahead, the opening of the Barclays Center is a symbol of Brooklyn’s astonishing rise in recent years as a sought-after destination for people from all over the globe. Basketball is now the sport du jour here, not baseball. And in a stroke of irony, the new stadium was built directly across the street from the spot where Dodgers President Walter O’Malley wanted to erect a new ballpark to replace Ebbets Field, the team’s home that was later demolished. “When they left, that’s when I washed my hands of baseball,” said 72-year-old Fred Wilken, who was so distraught by the loss of his hometown team that he stopped watching sports altogether. “For years we supported them, we came down here. And then all of a sudden they decide to leave.” The Dodgers were the golden thread that tied Brooklyn together in those days. The fabric of the team was woven into the neighborhood. About two miles from the new Nets’ Arena, the hallowed ground where Ebbets Field once stood is now a massive brick apartment building in a neighborhood of Caribbean immigrants. “We still haven’t gotten over it,” admitted Ron Schweiger, Brooklyn’s official borough historian, whose basement is stuffed with Dodgers memorabilia. “I tend to think they never moved. They’re on an extended road trip.” Why O’Malley moved the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles after the 1957 season was, at its core, a question of dollars and cents. O’Malley wanted the city to help subsidize the new stadium, and the city refused. Fast-forward to the present: the $1 billion Barclays Center has received millions in public money. With its deliberately rusted steel exterior, the new arena looks like a spaceship that cruised in for a landing in Brooklyn’s busiest transportation and shopping hub. There are chain stores galore. A Modell’s sporting apparel store across the street is stocked with racks full of team apparel in the Nets’ new black-and-white color scheme and the logo designed by Jay-Z himself. Rivalry-stirring T-shirts proclaim: "New York Divided.” The city is banking on Brooklynites’ deep-rooted sense of borough pride to win over new fans. And the championship-hungry Nets are hoping their new Brooklyn home will turn the tide for a franchise that has been largely overshadowed by the New York Knicks. But gone are the days when sports allegiances were dictated by zip code. Brooklyn is a tight-knit borough no more: It is a deeply diverse community of many nationalities and income brackets. Large swaths of Brooklyn are actually starting to look a whole lot like Manhattan. The borough of about 2.5 million residents draws its own share of tourists who want to stroll down Brooklyn Heights’ charming brownstone-lined streets or shop in Williamsburg’s chic boutiques. Celebrities live in Brooklyn now. It’s home to fashionable hipsters and upscale beer gardens and well-heeled mothers pushing expensive baby strollers down the street. Brooklyn is no longer just a place to live — it’s a place to visit. “Brooklyn had an image as the underdog upstarts, which the Dodgers exemplified,” said Henry Fetter, author of "Taking on the Yankees: Winning and Losing in the Business of Baseball.” ’’I think Brooklyn no longer has that image. And the Nets don’t necessarily exemplify that.” At the end of the day, as the wins pile up, the fans will follow. A new generation of Brooklyn children will grow up with the Nets, just as their grandparents and great-grandparents grew up with the Dodgers. But fans are a more fickle species nowadays. A group of young men shooting hoops across the street from Ebbets Field Apartments vowed to remain loyal to the Knicks, despite being born and raised in Brooklyn. “If they had Dwight Howard, they would’ve been the team of New York,” said 23-year-old Mario Volcin. “They would’ve been the best team of New York. The Nets don’t really have enough pieces.” In a winner-take-all kind of town, being second-best just doesn’t cut it. And as any Dodgers fan would tell you, old loyalties die hard. But even the old-timers are willing to give this new team a chance. “I can’t see this as atonement. Too many years have gone by for that,” said Schweiger, the historian. “But I definitely intend to go to a bunch of the games. In fact, I already have a Brooklyn Nets T-shirt.”
Nationals beat Dodgers to clinch postseason slot
WASHINGTON (AP) — Bryce Harper was unaware of the significance of the Washington Nationals’ latest victory until the fireworks started going off and he was handed a playoff T-shirt and hat. “I said, ’Well, I guess we’re going to the playoffs,’" the 19-year-old center fielder said. Yup, that’s right. Postseason baseball is returning to the nation’s capital for the first time since 1933. The Nationals used Ross Detwiler’s six strong innings and Ryan Zimmerman’s RBI double to lock up a playoff spot Thursday night with a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Nats Clinch" flashed on the scoreboard as Washington was ensured of at least an NL wild card, delighting the crowd of 30,359. “That was fun, but it’s not what I had my eye on,” manager Davey Johnson said. “I don’t want this.” The fans stood and cheered in the ninth inning, then got even louder when Drew Storen struck out Hanley Ramirez to end it. Johnson saluted the crowd as he left the field and the team wore caps and T-shirts acknowledging the playoff berth. “I noticed like in the fifth or sixth, some signs, some different things that kind of keyed me into that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary evening,” Jayson Werth said. “That was not an ordinary win.” Washington’s magic number to win the NL East was reduced to eight. The Nationals lead idle Atlanta by 5 1/2 games. “We’ve been through a lot and a lot of us in here have been through a lot of not-good times and these are the beginning of hope for a lot of good times,” Zimmerman said. Zimmerman is the only Nationals player to appear in each of the team’s eight seasons. “It’s a first step, and it’s a long ways to go,” he said. Washington became the second team in the majors to clinch a playoff spot this year. Cincinnati earned its slot earlier in the day. The Nationals celebrated with a private champagne toast. No spraying and no protective plastic over their lockers. “I think there was some talk about not celebrating at all, but I kind of talked them out of that,” Werth said. “The next one would not be as subdued, I would imagine,” Zimmerman said. Washington last reached the postseason 79 years ago, when player-manager Joe Cronin and the Senators lost to the New York Giants in five games in the World Series. “I can’t remember that year,” Johnson said with a laugh. Until this year, the Nationals had never had a winning season — nor finished above third place — since moving from Montreal for the 2005 season. It will be just the franchise’s second postseason berth and its first since the Expos came within a game of the World Series in 1981. The Nationals lost more than 100 games in both 2008 and 2009, allowing them to draft pitcher Stephen Strasburg and Harper. The loss dropped the Dodgers three games behind St. Louis for the NL’s second wild-card spot. Milwaukee moved ahead of Los Angeles with its win over Pittsburgh. Manager Don Mattingly agreed the team’s playoff chances dimmed after the Dodgers’ 10th loss in 14 games. “You know, honestly, it does. It feels like it is a little bit, and I don’t think there’s any way for us to look at it other than that,” he said. “I mean, it’s, yeah, we’re going the wrong direction. “For us at this point, we’re going to have to put a run together that’s going to be more than just win a series.” Detwiler (10-6) allowed Mark Ellis’ fourth-inning home run and two singles. Storen pitched the ninth for his third save. Zimmerman’s third-inning double scored Harper with Washington’s first run. Zimmerman then took third on an infield out and scored on a wild pitch by Chris Capuano (11-11). The Nationals added two runs in the fourth on a walk to Ian Desmond, an RBI double by Danny Espinosa and a sacrifice fly by Kurt Suzuki. Werth, who signed a $126 million, seven-year deal with the Nationals before the 2011 season, is most eager for the postseason to begin. “I’ve got a lot to prove. I’ve got a lot of people to prove wrong, and I can’t wait,” Werth said. NOTES: Mattingly said that LHP Clayton Kershaw was continuing with his throwing program. Kershaw will have to demonstrate he’s free from pain in his right hip before he’ll be able to pitch again, the manager said. ... Johnson said RHP Chien-Ming Wang will start on Sunday. Wang hasn’t started since June 19. He missed nearly two months with a right hip injury.