Check out FiveThirtyEight’s Women’s World Cup predictions.The U.S. women’s national team begins World Cup play Monday, opening their set of group-stage matches against Australia. Despite having drawn the “Group of Death,” the U.S. team is still heavily favored in each of its three Group D matches, and its odds of surviving to the knockout rounds look promising.According to FiveThirtyEight’s forecast, the USWNT has a 68 percent chance of beating Australia (19 percent chance of a draw). But what if the U.S. goes down by a goal early? When should you start to panic?Consider the following your in-game cheat sheet for the U.S. game against Australia — a guide to when to start worrying and when it’s safe to start looking ahead to the next match. Using play-by-play data compiled from recent seasons of top league play,1Data comes from matches from the following women’s soccer leagues: Germany’s Bundesliga, Spain’s Primera Division, Sweden’s Damallsvenskan, and the U.S. National Women’s Soccer League. we built an in-game win probability model for women’s soccer. The model calculates win/draw/loss probabilities as a function of game time, score and, most importantly, the pre-match odds.When it comes to the availability of data in women’s sports, inequality reigns. When building a similar model for men’s soccer, I collected play-by-play results for 3,000+ matches while hardly breaking a sweat. The win probability model for women’s soccer is built from a much smaller sample, about 950 matches, and that data required significantly more effort to compile. As a result of this smaller sample size, the modeling shared here may be more prone to noise, and may be less precise than one built from a more robust data set.Data issues aside, what can we do with such a model? For one, it can tell U.S. fans how safe an early lead is if a heavy underdog like Nigeria starts strong. Or, when the score is tied, the crucial point in a match when a draw becomes more likely than victory for the USWNT.One of the nice things about being a heavy favorite is that victory is rarely out of reach, even if you’ve fallen behind early, or remain deadlocked in a draw late in the match. Let’s take Monday’s game against Australia. For a tie game, the USWNT’s chances of defeat hold relatively steady for most of the match. With loss probability largely fixed, the U.S. is effectively trading win probability for draw probability the longer the match remains tied. At about 62 minutes in, a U.S. win and a draw are equally likely, and after that a draw increasingly becomes the most likely outcome.What if the U.S. falls behind? When trailing by a goal, the match probabilities develop in a much different fashion. The draw and loss probabilities practically move in lockstep until about 75 minutes in, when they shoot off in opposite directions. It seems that the 75th minute marks a crucial turning point for many matches, at least according to our 950-match dataset. Bonus Hot Takedown Podcast: FiveThirtyEight’s Allison McCann talks with ESPN’s Julie Foudy and USWNT players Kelley O’Hara and Christen Press. Subscribe on iTunes.Audio Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/hottakedown_150504_wwcspecial.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.
On Sunday night, I put out a call on Twitter for burning NFL questions. Among the responses, some guy asked:Whoa, boss. This is a question for which everyone seems to have an answer, but about which few people have anything new to say.Assessing how good someone is at something is easy if that thing is directly measurable, like running 100 meters, or is independent enough to be measured over time, like hitting a baseball. In sports like basketball or hockey, contributions may be harder to measure, but can often be imputed indirectly: There’s often enough data to see how a team performs with or without individual players.1At the very least we can model how various statistical markers (like points, rebounds or assists) predict how a team performs with or without individual players. All of these metrics are basically variations of “statistical plus-minus” — even ones that came before, like John Hollinger’s PER.But in football, a player’s contribution is impossible to measure directly, because there are too many variables that go into every result. And it can’t be measured indirectly, because the sample sizes are too small (that is, there are relatively few games and not as much data). Thus, player valuation is a quagmire of guesswork and debate.This is why I prefer questions of limited scope, like, “How certain are you that Peyton Manning is a good quarterback?” For which, the answer is “really extra pretty super-duper certain.” OK, that seems obvious, but ask me the same question about Joe Montana — whom many regard as the greatest quarterback of all time — and I’m not sure. It seems very, very likely to me that Montana was a good quarterback, but I am literally thousands of times less certain of that fact than I am when evaluating Manning.But that doesn’t even prove that Manning was better than Montana, though I tend to think the odds are tilted a bit in his favor. The problem with saying anyone is “the best” is that he has to be better than Montana, then better than Dan Marino, then better than Lawrence Taylor, etc. And it’s even possible that the true winner could be someone with incredible skills who was never in the right situation. Like, what if Jeff George had played for Bill Walsh? Anything is possible.So we can’t know for sure. But we constantly have to act on things we don’t know for sure. Thus, if my life depended on guessing who was the best NFL player of all time, I’d pick Peyton Manning.2But, oops, the answer was Randall Cunningham, and now I’m dead. Not because he’s clearly the best, but because he seems to have the best odds of being the best.Why do I think that? Have you got all day? OK then, short version, there are four main axes to the issue:3Any one of which could probably be a series of posts in its own right. Answering this isn’t quite as straightforward as it sounds.For the largest gap between a player’s TD per game and the baseline for his era, the answer is Peyton Manning. Not only is he the all-time pass touchdown per game leader, but he’s about .7 touchdowns per game higher than the league average for his era. But as a ratio between a passer’s TD per game and that of the entire league during the period he played, he is only in second place. For the highest, you have to go all the way back into the 20s, when Benjamin “Benny” Friedman of the New York Giants got it done:Manning has 1.51 times more TD passes per game than his era, but Friedman had 1.65 times more.If you look at the details, that 1.65 might not even do it justice. In 1929, Friedman had 20 TD passes. The next highest total that season: six. The entire league (12 teams) had only 81 TD passes; Friedman accounted for nearly one quarter of them. And he was way ahead of his time — the NFL wouldn’t even reach .6 touchdown passes per game until after Friedman retired.Also worth consideration is Dan Marino. While technically his TD rate may not have been as far above average as Manning’s, he played in an era when no one else was even close.8He also did it in an era that didn’t feature any massive changes to the game, unlike Friedman’s era and possibly the present one. Note that Manning has a lot of company in the two TD/game zone, including Aaron Rodgers right beneath him.I had to do a double take at first because there are so many modern players on that list, despite the fact that the measurement is relative to era. In other words, the current era isn’t just an era of pass-happy offenses, it’s an era in which some offenses are way more pass-happy than others.Rookie QB watchThis week we saw the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Blake Bortles score his first win (despite throwing three interceptions, he was the first rookie to win a game since last month), and Teddy Bridgewater score his first touchdown pass for the Minnesota Vikings. With the Cleveland Browns’ Manziel still on the bench, the rookie QB game seems to be all about Bortles, Bridgewater and the Raiders’ Derek Carr. Each of these now has at least four full games under their belt — that’s a big achievement unlocked. So let’s start comparing some real stats.What we learn about rookies is very different from what we learn from other QBs. Normally we care a lot about efficiency and how much a QB helps his team win, but for rookies we’re normally looking for raw production. But let’s take a peek at efficiency anyway, shall we?Here’s a table comparing the rate at which each QB’s drives end in a touchdown or interception, and the average Expected Points Added (EPA) per drive:Carr currently leads all three categories. Note that their EPAs are all negative, meaning they are scoring fewer points per drive than a typical NFL team — but Carr is doing the least-worst.Kicking awardsIt was kind of a crazy week for kicking, with the entire NFL making just three of eight tries from 50+ yards, but going 45 for 46 on all other attempts. (That’s why you see a large cluster of kickers just to the right of zero in the chart).Last week I talked about the golden triad of young kickers, which includes Blair Walsh, Justin Tucker and Dan Bailey. All three made all of their kicks in Week 7, and Walsh took the MVK award, largely due to his 55-yard make just before the half. It’s like the Hacker Gods were paying attention and wanted to justify my devoting a large section of this column every week to kickers.9Though, admittedly, my perception that one event resulted directly from the other could just be a fiction. From the Hacker Gods’ perspective, they may have simply programmed me and the universe to recognize Walsh at the same time.Cairo Santos also deserves recognition for hitting a 48-yard game-winning field goal, but the points vs. expectation model isn’t impressed by a 48-yard attempt.10As of this moment, the MVP algorithm doesn’t distinguish between close games that you won and close games that you lost.This week Walsh was one of two kickers (along with Shayne Graham of the New Orleans Saints) who had points above expectation higher than the margin of victory or defeat in their games. Unfortunately, both of their teams lost their games, so no kicker earns a “win” just yet. (My definition of a kicker “win” is that their points above expectation must have been the difference in the game –not just their actual points scored. Kicker “wins” are extremely rare. There have been none so far in 2014, and there were seven in 2013, with Justin Tucker taking two of them. In 2012 there were none.)Gunslinger of the weekMatthew Stafford led his team back from a 14-point third-quarter deficit — still down 13 points with under 4 minutes to go — to win against the New Orleans Saints. Oh, and he threw an interception in the fourth quarter with his team still down 10.Stafford, for all his woes as QB of the Lions, seems to have a game well suited to the gunslinger paradigm.Among QBs with 20 or more games with comeback opportunities (down 9+ in the second half), Stafford now has the third-highest winning percentage, behind only Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. This is, of course, despite his relatively high interception rate (e.g., over twice as high as Aaron Rodgers’s):That he did this for lowly Detroit is particularly remarkable to me, since Stafford has gotten some of the worst team support in football.There’s a basic way to test how much support a QB gets. Winning Percentage Added (WPA) is a stat that measures how a team’s chances of winning a game (based on league-wide models for a typical team) change after each play. Thus, a QB’s WPA for a game is how much his team’s chances of winning increased on the plays he was involved with. All else being equal, his team should win a game about 50 percent of the time plus the QB’s WPA.11If you’re clever you can adjust this for home/away, etc.If you take this estimate and then subtract from the actual result, you get a figure equal to the amount of winning percentage added by elements of the team that are NOT the passing game (including running, defense, and special teams). We can plot a comparison between these two like so:Some QBs like Tom Brady and Joe Flacco actually win more often than their passing would suggest, meaning the non-passing part of their team is contributing as well. Others have to overcome bad teams. Stafford is a great example of this, as he typically adds close to 10 percent to his teams chances, only to see even more stripped in the plays where he isn’t an active participant. In fact, Stafford gets the worst support of any QB with a positive WPA.Most empirically significant game of Week 8Lots of great and/or interesting QB matchups in Week 8, such as:Philip Rivers vs. Peyton ManningMatthew Stafford vs. Matt RyanJay Cutler vs. Tom BradyAndrew Luck vs. Ben RoethlisbergerAaron Rodgers vs. Drew BreesJoe Flacco vs. Andy DaltonRussell Wilson vs. Cam NewtonOoh, the final matchup is an interesting one. Two 25-year-old former rookie Pro Bowlers known for their running abilities — one 5 feet 11 inches and the other 6 feet 6 inches.Last week, Wilson joined the illustrious list of QBs who passed for 300 yards and ran for 100 in the same game:Yet the Seahawks picked up their third loss, equaling Wilson’s total from last season. As the boss notes, the Seahawks are in a precarious spot, such that, even aside from the information value of a loss, it may get very hard for the Hawks to make the playoffs even if they’re really good, considering their schedule and division. Are the Seahawks going to be a dynasty like the Pats or teams-Peyton-Manning-is-QBing? Or will they regress to the mean and/or burn out like most teams do?Both teams are 3-3 (though Carolina also has a tie). Historically, teams that start 4-3 make the playoffs about 30 percentage points more often than teams that start 3-4 (about 50 percent vs. about 20 percent). So it’s a high-leverage game on both sides.Reminder: If you tweet questions to me @skepticalsports, there is a non-zero chance that I’ll answer them here.Charts by Reuben Fischer-Baum. A player’s location on the y-axis represents the number of TDs he has thrown per game played for his entire career. The horizontal lines show the span of his career. The bubble at the end of each career shows you how many touchdown passes he threw in total. The thick black line shows you the NFL’s average TD’s thrown per game by year. What do we take away from this?First, NFL teams have gotten better at passing for touchdowns, though I was a little surprised at how many touchdowns were thrown in the 50s and 60s. Johnny Unitas, for example, wasn’t nearly the outlier I assumed he would be: While he did break what was then a long-standing record (ultimately by a very large amount), he was also a product of a very passing-friendly era.Manning now has the largest bubble, obviously, and in a shorter career than Brett Favre’s — so far. But the record-setting QBs are a pretty elite group.So, relatedly, here’s another question I got on Twitter: Stats: No matter how you slice and dice the stats — career stats, drive stats, winning stats, efficiency stats, or whatever you want — Manning generally comes out on top. But players in the NFL aren’t responsible for their stats to nearly the degree players are in baseball or basketball, so without more corroborating evidence, this doesn’t mean as much as people think.But perhaps even more important than the stats themselves is consistency: Manning’s consistency is preternatural. Since 2001, he has completed 65 percent or more of his passes every year and only once passed for fewer than 4,000 yards.4He had 3,747 in 2005. Most quarterbacks’ performance varies significantly from year to year, largely as a result of the changing variables around them. But Manning essentially does the same thing year in and year out.Lack of entanglement: Manning has played for four different coaches and two different teams now, and hasn’t failed to win 10 games since 2001.5Also, the Colts stunk the one year they were without him or Andrew Luck, though I’d discount this a bit because it isn’t clear that they were trying very hard to win. Of course, it’s still possible that he has been surrounded by superior talent, but that’s a lot of lucky to get. Looking at dynasties in NFL history, who has ever been so good for so long? The 49ers, who had three different coaches and two great QBs; the Patriots, with one quarterback and one great coach; and Peyton Manning. Winning consistently in the NFL is hard, especially in the salary cap era.But the playoffs: Manning gets knocked for performing below expectations in the playoffs, and I won’t dismiss the issue out of hand. As I’ve shown before, Manning handles tough defenses well.6In some preliminary research, I’ve also found that Manning performs slightly better in the playoffs against teams that he also played in the regular season. So there are basically three possibilities: first, Manning has gotten unlucky in the playoffs; second, Manning has gotten lucky in the regular season; or third, Manning just plays worse in the playoffs for some reason. I can’t disprove the third possibility, and I’m not above believing that sort of thing, but I haven’t seen a plausible explanation yet.The second and third axes are probably undervalued. Manning’s unnatural consistency in a number of different scenarios is a unique phenomenon. And this is what Bayesian inference is all about: I’ve just witnessed a phenomenon, and I want to know what the most likely causes are. To do this, I consider the likelihood of each potential cause, and the likelihood of those causes creating that effect.And so in this case the question is really, which is more likely: that Manning has been uniquely, historically, fortunate in having many great players and coaches around him constantly, or that Manning is a unique, historical talent?Chart of the weekOne area where Manning seems unassailable is in the record books, but in fairness to everyone else, he has presided over a distinctly offensive era. So how does his career touchdown record stack up to history?Let’s summarize every NFL QB’s career in one chart:7Like The New York Times did, but different.
More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed FiveThirtyEight Embed Code The Hot Takedown crew gathers this week to discuss March Madness upsets and the first few MLB games. Over the weekend, Michigan State clinched a spot in the Final Four with a 1-point win over the pre-tournament favorite, Duke. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo lauded the top seed, calling the Blue Devils arguably “the best team in the country.” We look at whether Duke is worthy of the praise and what we can expect going into this weekend’s games. Also, Neil has a perfect bracket and we’ll never let it go.Our second segment takes stock of MLB’s opening weekend, including which teams faltered and which are surging. With the season barely underway, what warrants concern and what’s an overreaction? Could the Braves’ lackluster start have been predicted? Andy Bunker of Atlanta’s 92.9 “The Game” sure seems to think so. Using our Elo model, we discuss whether other weekend surprises and uproars deserve our attention — or if it’s still too early to tell.Finally, our Rabbit Hole of the Week takes a look at the youngest athlete in pro baseball. There’s a lot of, “He was born when?!” “Gen Z?!”Here’s what we’re looking at this week:We can’t take our eyes off the FiveThirtyEight March Madness interactive.FiveThirtyEight’s MLB predictions are also demanding our attention.Revisiting Travis Sawchik’s analysis of Christian Yelich feels particularly relevant after his opening weekend performance.
Talking to Spencer Smith, it’s quickly obvious that he is a family man. But mention his brother, Connor Smith, and his face brightens, his eyes widen and a toothy grin takes shape. When they were younger, Spencer Smith, a redshirt sophomore fullback, and Connor, a redshirt junior offensive lineman, played many sports together, including soccer, basketball and baseball. But football is where they have always shared their strongest bond.The two played high school football at Colerain, a perennial public school powerhouse on the outskirts of Cincinnati, where they were coached by their father, Joe Smith. The brothers have since migrated 90 miles north to play at Ohio State.“I’d say first of all, my brother’s probably my best friend,” Spencer Smith said. “That’s one of the biggest reasons I decided to come here in the end is because of my relationship with him.”Connor Smith has truly relished the time spent with his brother even though they have always lived under the same roof and live together off campus.“Me and my brother, we’ve been on every team together growing up,” Connor Smith said. “We hang out all the time; it’s really a neat situation.”Considering all the quality time the brothers enjoy together, it comes as no surprise that OSU football is truly a family affair for the Smiths. Joe Smith was an offensive tackle and four-year letterman at OSU from 1979-1982. For him, the experience of playing OSU football has come full circle.“It’s been great for me, but truly it’s about them, the experience that they get a chance to go through,” said Joe Smith, now a veterinarian at College Hill Animal Hospital in Cincinnati. “It gives you something in common for the rest of your life with your boys.”The relationship between the two only seemed to strengthen on the football field, especially at Colerain high school. They were only on the field together for one season, but they did not waste any opportunity to line up side by side.“My junior year, when we played right next to each other, that was an unbelievable experience just knowing that I had a lot of trust in him. It’s something that’s almost indescribable,” Spencer Smith said. “He’s got your back, you’ve got his back. It’s like a bond that’s even stronger than just a teammate’s bond.”Now that they are at OSU and play different positions, the brothers don’t see much of each other on the field. But they manage to run into each other through alternative means.“When we played in high school, we were together a lot,” Connor Smith said. “We’re sort of coached by the same people now, so we’re in a lot of our meetings together now.”Because Joe Smith coached his sons in high school and was also available at home, the brothers picked his brain to get a sense of his football acumen.“He always pushed us hard. When we wanted to be pushed, he pushed,” Connor Smith said. “He’s very knowledgeable. He was a very good model for me and Spence.”Spencer Smith said his father was often a closed book when asked about his experiences playing at OSU. But Joe Smith always referenced an OSU coaching icon.“He’s a very humble man. I’d learn stuff through other people because he was so humble,” Spencer Smith said. “But he talked about Woody Hayes. He was recruited by Woody Hayes, and he played his redshirt year for Woody Hayes. That’s who he came to play for at Ohio State.”In Joe Smith’s mind, the brothers had enough of an innate desire for success that he did not need to get his point across often. However, that does not mean that he treated his sons differently than their teammates.“There were a few times when I had to get after them for effort, and I certainly made it publicly known. Me and the [Colerain] head coach both had sons on the team, and we had to make sure we didn’t play any favorites,” Joe Smith said. “You actually overcompensate because you’re harder on your own kids, but you do that to make sure there isn’t a prejudice there with the other kids.”For Spencer and Connor Smith, the coaching continued well after practice. Not only could they turn to their “coach” for advice on strategy and technique — but for guidance and life lessons, too. “I talk to my dad, if not every night, six out of seven nights of the week,” Spencer Smith said. “He’s always there to encourage me. It’s good because he’s been where I’ve been. Maybe different positions, maybe [at a] different time, but when it comes down to it, the tradition and excellence of how good either of our teams were, we’ve been in a lot of similar situations. “He’s probably been the biggest influence of my life, and he always has the right things to say. He knows what I’m going through, and it’s nice to always talk to him.”Spencer, Connor, and Joe Smith might have gone through many of the same exhilarating victories and heartbreaking losses, but according to Joe, the game has changed since his playing days.“Things were different then,” Joe Smith said. “There were more kids on scholarship, more kids to compete against. Spring ball was a lot longer. We didn’t have a mandatory academic day on Monday. We practiced every day. “The time commitment was more back then, just from what I can see. I think the way the coaches have to coddle the athlete now is much different.”But what hasn’t changed is OSU football’s tradition of excellence. Surviving the rest of the season will be tough Spencer Smith said, but he believes the team has a great foundation for success.“It takes an effort to manage your time, but you have all the support staff around you that makes it possible,” Spencer said. “It would be tough to do it all on your own.”Both on the field and in their family, support will never be an issue for the Smith brothers. They hope to carry their unbreakable bond to a national championship and use it to further the tradition of the OSU football family.“The goal is to win the national championship. We’ve been pretty close the last couple of years,” Spencer Smith said. “The Big Ten championship is always one of our team goals. You win the Big Ten championship, you’re always in the national title hunt.”
Like most of the Cleveland Indians’ roster, the pitching staff is comprised mostly of young players. But that doesn’t stop Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro from putting pressure on the starting rotation. “It all depends on how the starting pitching comes together and what they accomplish,” Shapiro said. “If things break right I feel good about this group.”In order for things to break right the Indians are going to need a big year from the lone veteran in the rotation, Jake Westbrook. Westbrook, who has been plagued by injuries, missed all of last season after having Tommy John surgery — elbow ligament replacement — in June 2008. Due to surgery and other injuries, the right-hander hasn’t been able to complete a full season since 2006, but has proven he can be effective when healthy. Westbrook won 44 games for the Indians from 2004-2006. Finally healthy, the 32-year-old is looking to get back on the mound this season.“Obviously, Jake has been chomping at the bit to get back,” Indians relief pitcher Jensen Lewis said. “Anytime you can get Westbrook 100 percent healthy, he’s going to be a force.” The Indians are looking for Westbrook not only to be a force on the field, but also a leader in the clubhouse. First-year Manager Manny Acta believes Westbrook will be just that.“Jake being healthy is going to be huge as a leader,” Acta said. “It’s easier to lead when you’re healthy and able to pitch and contribute.”Outside of Westbrook, the Indians don’t have a starting pitcher older than 26. While the staff is very young, it possesses valuable big-league experience. Acta believes now could be the time the young hurlers put it all together. “We have some guys who started last year and showed some flashes,” Acta said. “They’ve pitched effectively in the past. We’re just looking for more consistency out of them. I think they’re at the right age to take that step forward.”To help the young starters take that step, the Indians promoted Tim Belcher from within the organization to be the Tribe’s pitching coach. Lewis has tremendous respect for Belcher, having had previous experience with him. “I’ve worked with Tim from the minute I got into the organization in 2005,” Lewis said. “He’s a hell of a competitor, very intense and pretty much as go-getter as you’re going to find. I think that he’s really going to help all of us in the staff, both in the rotation and bullpen.”Acta echoed Lewis’ belief that Belcher will have success in developing the youthful staff. “I think he can make a difference. Belcher is a guy who has been there and had success,” Acta said. “He’s very smart and already working hard in the offseason to have a plan in order for us to pound the strike zone.”Acta, like anyone who knows the game, understands the importance of controlling the strike zone. “We need to throw more strikes. It’s not a coincidence the guys who didn’t pitch as well [had] way too many guys on base,” Acta said. Fausto Carmona is one of the Indians’ pitchers who struggled to throw strikes last year and tied a career-high with 70 walks. Consequently, Carmona set a career-high in losses with 12 and had a career-worst 6.32 ERA. The Indians will look for Carmona to bounce back to his 2007 form, when he won 19 games for the Tribe and recorded 137 strikeouts.“As long as Fausto does what he usually does he’ll be fine,” Lewis said. Carmona will start the season as the Indians’ second starter behind Westbrook.The third slot in the rotation looks to belong to Justin Masterson, who the Indians acquired in the Victor Martinez trade last season. In his first two seasons at the big league level Masterson juggled between starting and relieving. This year will be the first time the 24-year-old will have a full offseason to prepare as a starter.“Justin is a guy who is a tremendous competitor with above average stuff,” Shapiro said. “He wants to start and it’s just a question of repeating his delivery to be able to command the strike zone a little better. I think starting gives him a chance to do that.”Assuming Masterson adjusts to starting full time, the Indians will have two more spots to fill in the rotation. Those spots could be filled by any combination of David Huff, Aaron Laffey, Jeremy Sowers, Carlos Carrasco and Mitch Talbot. The Indians will use spring training to sort through their plethora of young starters. Acta said he expects a couple of the young guns to step up in Arizona, where the Tribe holds spring training. Acta believes if the Indians rotation is solidified, they have a chance to compete in a very balanced central division.“It’s not a secret,” he said. “All we need is our starting rotation to get in order.”
Following the Blue Jackets’ 5-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, left winger R.J. Umberger was already looking ahead to Tuesday’s game against the St. Louis Blues. “We really want to come out and get a win against St. Louis,” Umberger said. “That’s a team we love to beat.” Defeating the Blues will be no small task for the Blue Jackets. Following a 3-0 victory against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday, St. Louis has 75 points, good for third place in the National Hockey League standings and second place behind the Detroit Red Wings in the Central Division of the Western Conference. The Blues have been, arguably, one of the best teams all season since former Blue Jackets’ coach Ken Hitchcock took over in early November. Under Hitchcock, the Blues have gone 21-5-6. The Blues’ have compiled their record behind the prowess of the goaltending tandem of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak. Halak is tied for the NHL lead in shutouts with six and Elliot is close behind with five. It could be argued that Hitchcock’s defense-first system is responsible for the stellar goaltending that the Blues’ have seen this season, but the fact remains that the Blue Jackets could have a hard time scoring in Tuesday’s game. On the other end of this goaltending spectrum is Blue Jackets’ goalie Steve Mason, who looks like he will be getting his third straight start, with the Blue Jackets’ other goalie, Curtis Sanford, out indefinitely with a back ailment. Mason has long been the brunt of criticism this season, and has done nothing with his play to put his critics to rest. Interim coach Todd Richards said he was happy with Mason’s effort after Sunday’s game against the Ducks, despite the fact that Mason gave up five goals. “I thought he gave us a chance,” Richards said following the game. “There’s only certain things he can control.” Mason will be key to giving the Blue Jackets’ a chance on Tuesday. If he can’t keep the score close, the Blues’ defensive system might prove to be too much for the Blue Jackets’ offense. Another key to the game will be the Jackets’ power play. It is the one point of consistency that the Blue Jackets’ seem to have found. Following the game against the Ducks’ in which the Blue Jackets recorded two power-play tallies, they now have seven power-play goals in their last five games. Richards credited the success of his team’s power play to their ability to hold on to the puck. “We’re able to retain possession of the puck,” he said. “We’re scoring in a lot of different ways.” Blue Jackets’ defenseman James Wisniewski said after Sunday’s game that it was time for the team to look “deep down.” The game against the Blues will prove whether the team takes this message to heart. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Nationwide Arena.
(Left) Former Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson is reported to be coming to OSU as a defensive coach. Courtesy of The Daily Collegiate Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash is reported to be coming to OSU as a defensive coach. Courtesy of Arkansas Athletic DepartmentOhio State coach Urban Meyer has been known to be a quick worker on the recruiting trail when it comes to student-athletes.It looks like the same could be said about coaches.According to separate reports by “Sports Illustrated” writer Pete Thamel, Meyer snatched up two defensive coaches within 13 hours — Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash and former Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson.An OSU spokesman told The Lantern in separate emails Tuesday that he did not “have any information (to) share at this time” regarding the reports, which were released about Johnson and Ash late Monday night and Tuesday at about noon, respectively.Ash is set to fill the void of former OSU co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Everett Withers, who was announced as the next head coach at James Madison University Dec. 20. Johnson is slated to replace former defensive line coach Mike Vrabel, who announced that he was leaving OSU for a job with the NFL’s Houston Texans via Twitter Thursday. Vrabel’s move comes after Houston announced the hiring of its new head coach, former Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien, Jan. 3.Ash came to Arkansas before this past season with Razorback coach Bret Bielema, whom he coached with the three years prior at Wisconsin, helping lead the Badgers to consecutive Rose Bowls from 2011-13.Bielema posted a statement to Twitter via his account, @BretBielema, Tuesday about coaching changes, but did not specifically mention Ash’s name.“Have always felt transition on my staff has allowed us to get even better. Have had success hiring right people and will again. #woopig #1-0,” Bielema’s initial tweet read, sent at 1 p.m Tuesday.He followed it with another tweet 12 minutes later.“Very happy for former coaches that decide to move to new challenges, the respect our staff gets nationally will continue to grow. #woopig,” the tweet read.At Arkansas, Ash made $550,000, according to the USA TODAY coaches’ salaries database. In his second and final year at OSU, Ash’s predecessor, Withers, earned $585,000.The Razorback defense finished ranked 73rd in passing defense during the team’s 3-9 campaign in 2013, giving up an average of 235 yards per game. OSU’s pass defense finished ranked 112th in the country, giving up an average of 268 yards per game.Johnson spent the last 19 years in State College, Pa., coaching the defensive line for the last 15 seasons. At Penn State, he groomed a total of seven first team All-Americans, including the top pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, defensive end Courtney Brown. Johnson’s salary was not available on the USA TODAY coaches database, but in his final year at OSU, Vrabel’s base salary was $291,004.According to PennLive, Johnson was offered to stay as the defensive line coach at Penn State by James Franklin — who was officially hired as the Nittany Lion head coach Saturday — but declined.The new faces on the OSU defensive staff look to strengthen a unit that has digressed in Meyer’s two year tenure. The Buckeyes finished with the 19th best defense in 2011 — the year before Meyer arrived — 34th in 2012 and 47th overall this past season.The Buckeyes are set to kick off their 2014 campaign Aug. 30 against Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
OSU junior guard Ameryst Alston (14) goes up for a lay up during a game Nov. 16 against St. Francis at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won, 113-97. Credit: Tessa DiTirro / Lantern photographerAfter splitting the first two games of the season, the Ohio State women’s basketball team will look to gain momentum against a physical No. 24 Georgia team.After losing on the road to Virginia and beating St. Francis (Pa.) in a game where the Buckeyes scored 113 points, the Buckeyes are now focused on the visiting Bulldogs. Junior guard Ameryst Alston said she recognizes that the Bulldogs are a quality team.“Last year, I thought they were a pretty good team,” Alston said. “They have really good guard play and some pretty good post, so overall as a team, I think they’re pretty good.”OSU lost, 53-49, on the road last season to the Bulldogs. Coach Kevin McGuff said the team struggled offensively in that game and wasn’t able to make enough plays toward the end.“We had a hard time putting the ball in the basket,” McGuff said. “It was kind of an ugly game I think for both teams last year, and they made more plays down the stretch than we did, which is why they won and deserved to win.”The Buckeyes shot just 14.3 percent from the field in the second half of last year’s game and were six for 11 from the free throw line. Alston said she blames the loss on a lack of focus from the team.“It came down to a little mental toughness,” Alston said. “I think overall we played really well as a team, and it was just a couple missed assignments.”OSU will look to gain an advantage in the post against Georgia. Freshman forward Alexa Hart, who had eight blocks and 11 rebounds in the game against St. Francis, said she plans to use her agility to be a threat on defense.“From what the coaches have been saying, their post players are really physical,” Hart said. “I plan to use my speed to get around them and still be able to protect the basket at all times.”McGuff added that he’s been impressed with what he’s seen from Hart when she’s outside of the paint.“She’s done a little more away from the basket than I thought she’d be able to do,” McGuff said. “That’s what probably surprised me the most about her, but it’s great.”The Buckeyes will also look to redshirt-sophomore forward Kalpana Beach to provide help in the post. Beach, who returned to the team this year after suffering ACL injuries in each of the last two seasons, had 12 points and nine rebounds in the win against St. Francis.“I’m just really excited for her to be able to have the opportunity to be out on the court,” McGuff said. “She’s worked incredibly hard to put herself in this position so I’m just really happy for her that she’s out there and she’s contributing.”McGuff said he’s seen Beach work hard in the first games of the season and expects her to be back to her old self sooner than later.“You can’t really get that back until you do it in a game setting,” McGuff said. “Already since the scrimmage, the exhibition and the two regular season games, she’s made progress, and I think she’s really kind of on the fast track of getting back to 100 percent very quickly.”For the game against the Bulldogs, McGuff said the team will need to play tough if it wants to win.“They play really hard and they’re really physical so we’re going to have to bring our hard hats for 40 minutes to compete against them,” McGuff said.OSU is scheduled to play Georgia on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.
Then-redshirt-sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones (12) lines up behind members of the offensive line during the College Football National Championship game against Oregon on Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas. OSU won, 42-20.Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editorMuch like the rest of the Ohio State football team, the offensive line is bringing back plenty of experience.With four starters coming back to Columbus and just one spot open, it appears as though there’s a two-horse race to become a starting member of what the Buckeyes call “the slobs.”Redshirt-senior Chase Farris and sophomore Jamarco Jones are the frontrunners to replace Darryl Baldwin at right tackle, but offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said Farris is ahead of the pack.“He hit stride where we thought he was playing really good towards the end of the (2014) season, but you got a starting lineup, we (were) on a roll. Darryl Baldwin was playing his butt off,” Warinner said Thursday. “If he keeps doing what he’s doing, he’ll be able to take that position over, (but) Jamarco Jones is not by any means just going to let him have it.”While Jones is behind Farris on the depth chart for now, he has been getting extensive reps in practice at left tackle with senior Taylor Decker sitting out most of spring practice for rest purposes.Decker said Thursday that he also believes Farris is the favorite to win the job, but has been pleasantly surprised with the way Jones has been performing in his usual spot.“I think he is doing a really good job. The one thing I wanted to see personally out of him was consistency and how he practices. I think he is developing that, especially with all of the reps he is getting, he doesn’t have a choice,” Decker said. “Coach (Urban) Meyer is going to be right there watching him. Coach Warinner is going to be watching him because they expect a lot out of him.”Regardless of who wins the job, Warinner said he is pleased with the personnel he has along the offensive front. “I love the chemistry with those guys. They are great people, I love being around them. They are part of a family that we are all a part of,” Warinner said. “Those guys are great, great kids and that’s why we have a great room and so forth.”Redshirt-junior offensive lineman Pat Elflein, who is set to enter into his second full season as a starter, said the chemistry within the unit is a credit to Warinner’s “very intense” coaching.“He’s a perfectionist. He won’t let anything slip. No matter what it is, wrong step, whatever, hand placement, if it’s not perfect, he’s on you,” Elflein said Thursday. “I think that is probably his best quality and that’s why we’ve been playing so good. He has developed so many guys to be great players.”But while he is a coach and not a player, how does Warinner fit in among the self-named “slobs?”“I don’t know where that name came from. I didn’t give them that, but I am the head of them. So I am an honorary. I am also trying to lose 10 pounds,” Warinner said with a smile. “They are always trying to gain their weight. They’re human garbage disposals. Eight-thousand calories a day and they look pretty good doing it. If I keep up with them, you’ll have to get a 4X (shirt) for me.”With a coach who has developed players and has just one starting spot to fill, Elflein said he is excited to see where the Buckeyes’ front five can go.“We just have to get everybody on the same page. It’s not easy. That’s our goal is to get everybody bought into the culture and if we can do that, watch out,” Elflein said. “We are going to have a good unit.”The Buckeyes are set to take to the field for their annual Spring Game on April 18 at Ohio Stadium before beginning the 2015 season on the road against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., on Sept. 7.
Sophomore safety Jordan Fuller (4) awaits the snap during the second quarter at the OSU-Maryland game on Oct. 7. Credit: Ris Twigg | Former Assistant Photo EditorOhio State junior safety Jordan Fuller will not play against Oregon State, due to a hamstring injury.Redshirt sophomore Jahsen Wint and sophomore Isaiah Pryor started in place of Fuller, with both Wint and Pryor fighting for the starting safety position alongside Fuller in the offseason.Fuller was out on the field early, participating in warm-ups before the rest of the team.Fuller was named a team captain for the Buckeyes earlier this week.