Logo

About Keir Chapman

  • Member Since: April 7, 2016

Description

Keir Chapman began his career in sports journalism as Sports Director for iCLU Radio in Thousand Oaks. After graduating from California Lutheran University in 2013, Keir used his experiences as a writer and a college basketball player in a weekly blog for the New York based athletic gear company, True Athelite. Now, Keir makes weekly appearances on the Doug and John show on KHTS as Mr. Sports and is happy to contribute to the Santa Clarita Gazette.

Ads / Latest items listed

Sorry, no listings were found.

Posts / Recent blog posts

UCLA Bruins Basketball Banks on Balance in Recent Win Streak

| Sports | January 6, 2018

UCLA began the 2017-2018 college basketball season looking lost without Lonzo Ball. Two losses in a row to Michigan and Cincinnati made it appear that the Bruins would be unable to hang with bigger named programs as the season progressed. A narrow 85-82 victory over the South Dakota Coyotes broke the two-game losing streak, but did little to quell the concerns of the UCLA faithful.

Although the win wasn’t glamorous, the Bruins haven’t lost since. This includes their 83-75 upset victory over the then 7th ranked Kentucky Wildcats, the team that sent UCLA home in Sweet 16 of the NCAA men’s basketball championship a season ago. The Bruins needed a balance between their big named freshmen and their reliable veterans to pull out the win. It’s a formula that has served them well during the four-game win streak they are currently riding.

Aaron Holiday continues to make the Holiday name proud. As his brother Jrue once did for UCLA in the 2008-2009 season, Aaron is leading his team to victory, night in and night out. Against Kentucky, he finished with a team-high 20 points and eight assists. It is no surprise that he leads the team in both categories, averaging 18 points and five assists per game.

His 36 percent 3-point shooting percentage doesn’t jump off the page, exemplifying how his ability to get to the basket is his biggest weapon. It allows him to get easy points at the rim, attempt a team-high five free throws per game, and dish the ball to open shooters as defenses collapse on him.

Surprisingly, this includes senior Thomas Welsh, who has added the “three ball” to his repertoire. This gives UCLA the stretch center that has become pivotal to basketball in both college and the pros. Last season, Welsh attempted just one 3-pointer, the first of his career. Now he is second amongst all starters in three-point shooting percentages, at 39 percent.

This hasn’t taken away from his ability to corral rebounds. In fact, his 11 rebounds per game is his highest season average of his career, outperforming his last season average of nine. Against Kentucky, Welsh used a mix of his newfound shooting ability, going 3-6 from three-point range helping him put in 13 total points, and his reliable rebounding, snagging 11 boards.

Coming in to the year, the fanfare of the incoming freshman class paled in comparison to a season ago. Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands, and Cody Riley were the big names to watch for, and aside from Riley who was suspended for the season due to the China shoplifting fiasco, Wilkes and Hands have made major contributions to UCLA’s winning ways.

Hands started the season as a starter, but has bolstered the bench unit in recent games, as redshirt sophomore Prince Ali has been inserted into the starting lineup. In the game against Kentucky, Hands provided 14 points off the bench, shooting 50 percent from the court. He currently has the highest shooting percentage of all Bruins’ guards, making 47 percent of the shots he takes.

Wilkes has been the offensive spark plug at small forward that he was expected to be when he joined the team. He is second in points-per-game, with 13, as well as rebounds, with six. His skill set was apparent against Kentucky, as he tied Holiday with 20 points, while grabbing five rebounds. His ability to make threes, however, is an area in which he needs to improve. He went 3-9 against the Wildcats, and makes just 29 percent of his 3-pointers.

UCLA has begun Pac-12 play with two wins over Washington State and Washington, leaving them in first place in the conference. The win over Washington State was a wire-to-wire 96-82 drubbing, but the Bruins’ match against Washington was the Huskies’ to lose in the final eight minutes of the game.

And lost it they did. Washington led 52-48, but were able to muster just one point for the rest of the game, while UCLA poured on 26 to make the final score 74-53. Holiday and Wilkes put up nine points apiece in this stretch, displaying to the audience that they are the offensive pillars of the team. The win was one to celebrate, but it did highlight a flaw that UCLA will need to address if they are to continue the momentum they have created for themselves.

The Bruins turned the ball over 15 times to Washington’s 12. Although UCLA isn’t in danger of leading the country in turnovers, their propensity to give the ball away has hurt them in the past. In their 78-69 loss to Michigan, they turned the ball over 20 times, following that with 18 turnovers in their 77-63 loss to Cincinnati.

Luckily, UCLA will have a chance to focus on holding on to the ball against their next two opponents. Stanford is 24th in the country in turnovers, with 16 per game, and average only five steals per game. The Bruins take on the Cardinal on Thursday. Cal is just slightly better at holding on to the ball than their northern California counterparts, with 15 turnovers per game, while snagging six steals per game.

UCLA has found success working as a team, and the chemistry they have created will only get stronger as the season progresses. Identifying and solving their turnover problem will go a long way in ensuring they stay successful in a surprisingly weak Pac-12. The year is young, but UCLA has a lot they can build on before March rolls around.

To get to the top, the Bruins would need a Cinderella story style run through the bracket. The improvements they make now will give them the tools they need to make a fantastic finish like that a reality.

USC’s Upperclassmen Undermine ‘One and Done’ Stigma of College Basketball

| Sports | December 28, 2017

In the “one and done” era that has dominated college basketball, it is rare to find a program that relies on veteran leadership. USC goes against the grain in this fashion, starting four upperclassmen, all of whom are making major contributions to a team that is 9-4 heading into Pac-12 play.

The Trojans are currently riding a three-game winning streak that helped propel them to the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic championship, a tournament USC has won twice in program history. Their 77-72 win against New Mexico State in the final round came down to the wire, but a big game from junior Bennie Boatwright made all the difference.

Boatwright exploded for a game-high 33 points, aided by his 6-10 3-point shooting performance. The most important of these triples came in the final five seconds of the match, breaking a 72-72 tie, to give the Trojans a lead they would never relinquish. Senior guard Jordan McLaughlin led USC in assists with eight, the final of which came on Boatwright’s game-sealing three, demonstrating the chemistry this team has built through years of playing with each other.

While Boatwright was the hero of the championship game, getting to that point took a team effort. In a come-from-behind victory against Akron, Boatwright was sent to the locker room early after earning a flagrant two-foul in the first half. Fortunately, senior guard Elijah Stewart and junior forward Chimezie Metu stepped up in Boatwright’s absence.

The duo combined for 15 points in a 20-5 run to start the second half, giving USC a 49-38 lead, after having trailed 33-29 at halftime. Akron never recovered and wound up falling to the Trojans 84-53.

In the team’s next game against Middle Tennessee, Boatwright’s range again came in to play, as he hit a 3-pointer with just under 7:30 left to play, giving USC a 67-66 lead and momentum that carried them through the rest of the match. For the game, Boatwright and Metu combined to score 50 points, 15 rebounds, and 10 assists.

USC’s veteran presence is apparent in highly-contested games, like the ones that took place at the Diamond Head Classic, as well as on the stat sheet. Boatwright, Metu, Stewart, and McLaughlin lead the Trojans in every major statistical category. Metu is the team’s top scorer and rebounder, with 18 and eight, respectively. McLaughlin boasts the most assists per game, with eight as well.

The four upperclassmen all play over 30 minutes per game, and score 12 or more points per game each. The efficiency in which they score these points, is what makes them so dangerous. Metu leads the way in field goal percentage, making 54 percent of his shots and 56 percent of the 3-pointers he takes.

In fact, Boatwright is the least efficient of the four, hitting 43 percent of his field goals, and 36 percent of his threes. While not hyper-efficient, these numbers are nothing to scoff at, especially as a 6-foot 10-inch forward who can consistently stretch the floor.

Feel-good wins and solid statistics aside, USC is still searching for the marquee victory to prove that they’re talented enough to run with the big names of college basketball. In the two tests the Trojans have had so far, they have come up short.

The first time they faced off against a ranked opponent, the then-16th ranked Texas A&M Aggies, USC lead 10-7 with 16 minutes left in the first half, before Texas A&M took control and never let up. The Aggies would go on to blow out the Trojans 75-59. Texas A&M is now ranked 5th in the nation, so a victory for USC would have been a major upset.

The Trojans also drew a matchup against the Oklahoma Sooners, and freshman phenom Trae Young, who leads the nation in points and assists, with 28 and 10, respectively. Young did his thing against USC, scoring 29 points to help the Sooners take an 85-83 win. Oklahoma is now the 12th ranked team in the nation, so the Trojans’ ability to hang tight with this squad should be seen as a positive sign.

A win against the 10-3 Washington Huskies to open Pac-12 play would be a big statement for USC. Washington already has a signature win this season, defeating the then 2nd ranked Kansas Jayhawks 74-65. The first key to defeating the Huskies is to stop their top-tier freshman Jaylen Nowell, who scores 17 points per game on 50 percent shooting.

To do so, USC must force him, along with the entire Washington team, to continually pass the ball. The Huskies average 13 assists per game as a team, to 14 turnovers. The more the ball is moving, the higher chance the Trojans will have to take it away. Nowell turns it over two times per game, an area of weakness USC must exploit.

The success the Trojans are having thus far with a lineup of upperclassmen is refreshing to see. They are proving that five-star freshman recruits aren’t the only way to make a splash in college basketball. It is only a matter of time before they collect a win that gets the nation’s collective attention. And when they do, everyone will point to their veteran leadership as the key to their unexpected emergence.

Rams and Seahawks Battle for Supremacy in NFC West

| Sports | December 14, 2017

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Rams will defend their lead in the NFC West against the Seattle Seahawks. It’s a scenario that would have been met with laughter just a few months ago before the season began.

Under new head coach Sean McVay, and with a revamped offensive line, however, the Rams have executed one of the quickest turnarounds in recent memory. Now the playoffs are tantalizingly close, but are, by no means, a sure thing. Carolina, Atlanta, and Seattle are all ready to pounce if Los Angeles at all falters, making their matchup with the Seahawks this week a must win.

As division rivals, this won’t be the first meeting between these two teams. If you are a fan of the Rams, it may not be wise to use history as any indication of how the second matchup will go. This is because Seattle slowed down Los Angeles’ high-powered offense, winning the first meeting 16-10.

Jared Goff is enjoying a stellar sophomore year, but was more of a hindrance in the week-five game against the Seahawks. Goff was picked off twice and lost a fumble, accounting for three of his team’s five turnovers. Giving the ball away that many times explains how Los Angeles, which scored the game’s first 10 points, allowed 16 unanswered.

The Rams’ defensive effort is a silver lining that can be taken from this game. Russell Wilson threw an interception of his own, and was sacked three times. The Seahawks have also struggled to run the ball all season, and this game was no different. The team totaled just 62 yards on 25 carries.

Clearly the game against Seattle was an outlier, and not indicative of the kind of season Los Angeles is having. McVay, the one-time offensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins, has turned the Rams’ league-worst scoring offense from a season ago into the second highest scoring offense in the NFL today. Their 30.5 points per game trails only the NFC-leading Philadelphia Eagles.

Of course, McVay’s mere presence isn’t the sole reason for Los Angeles’ offensive renaissance. Much of the credit has to go to the moves made in the offseason to shore up the offensive line. Last year, Goff and Case Keenum were sacked a combined 49 times, with Goff hitting the turf 26 times in seven games. Running back Todd Gurley also fell victim to the holes in the line, as constant backfield pressure kept him to 3.2 yards per carry and six rushing touchdowns for the whole season.

One big change starts at the heart of the line, with the addition of center John Sullivan, who was the backup snapper for the Redskins last season, so there is already a familiarity with him and McVay. So far, Sullivan has rewarded the trust of his head coach, having allowed just one sack all year, while committing just two penalties.

Los Angeles’ biggest acquisition this offseason, however, was left tackle Andrew Whitworth, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals. In 2016, Whitworth played all 16 games without allowing a single sack. This number has jumped a little with the Rams, as he has already allowed five with three games still to go. Goff has only been sacked 22 times in 13 games, meaning the pass rush brings him down less than two times per game.

With more time in the backfield, Goff has been able to show why the Rams moved up on draft day to take him first overall in 2016. He is tied for eighth in the NFL in touchdown passes with 22, matching Washington’s Kirk Cousins, another protege of McVay. Goff has also thrown six interceptions, which is the second least among quarterbacks who have started all season. Only Alex Smith of Kansas City has thrown less, with five.

Those who wrote off Gurley as a one-year wonder due to his sophomore slump last season have a lot of crow to eat. He currently leads all running backs with 10 rushing touchdowns, and is third in total yards with 1,035. The Rams are truly a testament to the immediate impact a good offensive line can make. They will need a big effort from their line when they host Seattle this Sunday.

The Seahawks aren’t always a threat to bring down the quarterback in the backfield, as they are tied for 13th in total sacks for the season, with 32. However, they do know how to slow down the run, which is something Los Angeles relies heavily on to open up passing lanes for Goff. Seattle allows an average of 3.9 yards per carry to opposing running backs, and is third in the league in forcing rushing fumbles, causing seven and recovering four.

This rematch has all the makings of another defensive struggle, as the Rams also excel in creating turnovers. Their defense is fifth in the NFL in interceptions, with 15, and no player has more than three. This balance means an opposing quarterback has to be wary of anywhere he throws the ball, as Los Angeles has players at each position who can snag an interception.

Wilson has 11 interceptions on the year, which isn’t a terribly high amount. However, he has been sacked 30 times this year, ninth most in the league, something Los Angeles’ defense can take advantage of. They have the third most sacks with 40, and should be applying constant pressure to Wilson all game. The more flustered he is, the higher chance of him throwing an interception. With Wilson, however, his ability to avoid being sacked to make a big play is something that needs to be taken into consideration.

The fact that the Rams are already major players in the playoff picture, a season removed from going 4-12 should be seen as a victory already. This team isn’t looking for consolation prizes, though, and won’t be happy if they see their spot in the postseason slip away.

Sunday’s rematch with the Seahawks in Los Angeles may be their biggest game of the year. With the struggling Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers as the last two games of the season, the Rams need to win this weekend for a strong start to that home stretch. Get ready for a gritty game of football that most likely won’t be decided until the final moments of the fourth quarter.

Golden Valley’s Golden Success

| Sports | December 7, 2017

For anyone familiar with Santa Clarita football, it will come as no surprise to learn that Golden Valley just enjoyed the best season in school history. The Grizzlies used a strong playoff run to propel themselves into the CIF-Southern Section Division 6 Championship round. A season ago, the school fell one game short of this mark in Division 7, losing to eventual division champs San Gorgonio.

Golden Valley’s success in the playoffs wasn’t guaranteed. It was earned playing in the always brutal Foothill League, in which the Grizzlies finished with a 2-3 record. Overall, they went 5-5, a record that head coach Dan Kelley felt would get his team in to the playoffs. Getting to the postseason was only the first step in a long road towards Golden Valley’s ultimate goal of hoisting the championship trophy. The next step would take Golden Valley 150 miles up this ever-growing road.

Nipomo High School was the Grizzlies’ first opponent, meaning a trek to San Luis Obispo County to take on the Titans. Although it wasn’t a high-scoring affair, Golden Valley won handily, taking a 15-2 victory back to Santa Clarita. Coach Kelley believes that the strength of the Foothill League ensured the team was ready for all of the challenges the playoffs could throw their way.

“Playing in the Foothill League makes you mentally and physically strong,” Kelley said. “It makes you prepare week in and week out for big games. That’s what the playoffs are all about.”

With an already strong mental and physical foundation, plus the momentum gained from winning their first playoff game, Golden Valley trounced Fountain Valley 41-14 in the second round. The Grizzlies were able to make it past the first two rounds devoid of adversity, but the semifinals against Mira Costa would change all that.

Golden Valley jumped out to a first-half 20-10 lead, but wouldn’t score the rest of the way. Instead, they relied on their defense to shut the Mustangs out in the third quarter. Then came the final frame, where Mira Costa hung eight unanswered points on the Grizzlies, and suddenly, victory didn’t seem so assured.

Fortunately for Golden Valley, they have an incredible athlete in Jalin Lewis. With just 1:44 left in the game, Lewis intercepted Mustangs’ quarterback Nick Carpino, sealing the Grizzlies’ 20-18 win. This was Lewis’ second interception of the game, which he paired with a receiving touchdown in the first quarter.

The athleticism of both Lewis and USC-commit DeGabriel Floyd gave Kelley cornerstones on which to build his offense. They both tallied over 1,000 total yards for the season, and put up double digit touchdowns as well. Their impact wasn’t limited to just offense, as their skill sets helped to also bolster the team’s defense.
Bishop Diego set the stage for the championship round by defeating Saugus 45-27 in the semifinals. The Cardinals came in with a 12-1 record, and Kelley knew the Grizzlies would have to play a perfect game to potentially pull off the upset. Going into halftime down just 7-0 was a promising sign for Golden Valley, but the wheels would fall off soon after.

The Grizzlies gave the ball away five times, four of which came in the second half. Unsurprisingly, Bishop Diego capitalized to the tune of 30 points in the final two quarters. Golden Valley’s playoff run ended with a 37-6 loss, but Kelley left the game knowing what his team could improve upon in the hopes of winning the championship next season.

“You need to play perfect, mistake-free football to hoist that trophy,” Kelley said. “We made a lot of mistakes that cost us the game.”

No matter the outcome of the final game, it can’t take away from the fact that Golden Valley achieved great success this season. The school had never made it to a championship round before, but can now use that as a measuring stick for years to come. The strides the Grizzlies have made are not lost on Kelley, who believes Golden Valley has nowhere to go but up from this point on.

“It’s the best season in school history,” Kelley said. “We’re definitely moving in the right direction.”

Keeping Track of the Latest Los Angeles Clippers

| Sports | November 30, 2017

Monday marked the second meeting between Los Angeles’ two NBA teams, the Clippers and the Lakers. This seemed as good a time as any to evaluate how the Clippers have been looking in a season where they lost both Chris Paul and J.J. Redick. This week’s match against the Lakers provided a good example of the Clippers’ playing style this year.

Throughout the game, the Clippers kept it close, but found themselves trailing 89-87 entering the fourth quarter. The deficit they faced can be explained by a less than enthusiastic attitude on defense. Multiple times in the third frame, Lakers forward Brandon Ingram was able to sneak his way into the paint for an easy dunk. A lack of communication and movement on the Clippers’ part allowed these easy points to occur.

Defense has been a problem that has plagued the Clippers all year. Opponents are able to score with relative ease against them, as Los Angeles ranks 20th in the NBA in defensive rating, allowing 109 points per 100 possessions per game. However, when the Clippers are motivated on the defensive end, good things happen. Which brings us back to the game.

Tied 89-89 a minute into the fourth, the Lakers embarked on a 12-4 thanks to the combined efforts of Jordan Clarkson and Kyle Kuzma. The Clippers responded immediately with the help of Lou Williams, who has been the biggest asset acquired in the trade that sent Paul to the Houston Rockets.

Williams piled on six points in a 17-4 run that gave the Clippers a 110-105 lead. “Sweet Lou,” as he is also known, scored 42 points in the game, two shy of his career high. The Clippers snapped a nine-game losing streak, and have won all three games since Williams was inserted into the starting lineup. This should be taken with a grain of salt, however, as their opponents have been the Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings, and the Lakers. Combined the three have 16 wins.

Okay, back to the game. With just under four minutes left, and the Clippers leading 112-110, Blake Griffin had to be helped to the locker room after injuring his knee. He finished the game with 26 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists. Williams ensured the Clippers finished the game strong, scoring the team’s final eight points en route to a 120-115 victory over their hometown rivals.

Losing Griffin for any extended amount of time may be too much for the Clippers to overcome. He has been the team’s best offensive weapon, scoring 23 points per game on a true shooting percentage of 54 percent. He is also hauling in eight rebounds per game and dishing out five assists as well, acting as the offense’s engine.

It’s an offense that could use a little fine-tuning. Watching the match against the Lakers, it was obvious to the audience that the Clippers rely on isolation plays, hoping one of their scorers can will the ball into the basket. This results in others standing around and occasionally setting ball screens. Ball movement suffers in Los Angeles’ offensive style, and unsurprisingly, they rank 27th in the league in team assists, with just 20 a game.

A quick remedy would be to get Deandre Jordan involved more on offense, something that would require Jordan to diversify his offensive game as well. He is incredibly efficient at scoring, boasting the highest true shooting percentage among all starters, at 66 percent. However, he is just averaging 10 points per game, his lowest mark since the 2012-2013 season.

Defenses know that if they don’t allow Jordan a clean look at the hoop, he doesn’t have enough offensive tools to create a shot. He also has very little range, giving opposing centers the opportunity to hunker down in the paint and make driving to the basket that much harder for the Clippers.

Griffin’s knee injury is just one ailment in a long list for Los Angeles this season. It began with point guard Milos Teodosic, who was brought in to be the team’s main ball distributor. He injured his plantar fascia in his left foot on October 21 against the Suns, and has yet to play since.

Teodosic thrived in handing out dimes, accounting for 31 percent of all assists that occurred with him on the floor. In his short time in the NBA, he had already wowed viewers with a few nifty passes. He is expected to return this season, and will greatly improve the Clippers’ ball movement when he is back on the court.

The injury bug continued to bite, as newly acquired small forward Danilo Gallinari was lost to a left hip contusion against the Heat on November 5. Gallinari was expected to provide a big scoring boost to the starting five, and was doing well in his role. He averaged 13 points on a true shooting percentage of 48 percent in the nine games that he played. He, too, is expected to return to the lineup, although there is no exact date for when this will occur.

One of the biggest blows the Clippers suffered on the injury front was losing Patrick Beverley for the season with a knee injury. Beverley, who was brought in with Williams in the Houston trade, is known throughout the league as one of the best defenders at the guard position.

Although he was allowing 107 points per 100 possessions while on the court, Beverley’s presence meant that offenses facing him would have to account for the best wing scorer to be stifled throughout the game. The 12 points Beverley provided per game in his time with the team was an added bonus to his defensive prowess.

As should have been expected, the Clippers are looking a little lost as they try to adjust to life without Paul. Injuries have ravaged a roster that still provides plenty of potential, so it is hard to determine whether Los Angeles will continue to struggle. The team has obvious flaws, but those can easily be fixed with proper game-planning and on-court enthusiasm. The season is young, and it will be interesting to see how the Clippers evolve throughout.

Canyon Cowboys Continue to Grind Their Way to Successful Season

| Sports | November 16, 2017

“Pure excitement!”

This is how Canyon Cowboys head coach Rich Gutierrez described learning that his team would be making the playoffs for the first time since the 2014 season.

Fortunately for the Cowboys, they get to continue feeling this jovial emotion after defeating San Gorgonio High School 36-28 in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 6 playoffs. The victory marks the first time Canyon has reached the second round of the postseason since 2012.

“It’s amazing for the boys,” Gutierrez said in reference to the win over San Gorgonio. “Ultimately, you can never take anything for granted. You must always continue to work and drive towards your essential goals.”

This fighting spirit was with the Cowboys when the Spartans took a 14-13 lead in the second quarter. Canyon took the ensuing possession to the end zone on a 3-yard rushing touchdown from Taylor Tepesano to take a 19-14 lead, and never trail the game again. The go-ahead score was Tepesano’s second rushing touchdown of the game.

Although the Cowboys led throughout the entirety of the second half, San Gorgonio kept it close, as a 4-yard touchdown rush from Kenzel Lawler made the score 29-28 entering the fourth quarter. Despite the down-to-the-wire scenario that Gutierrez’s team faced, he said they needed no additional motivation for a strong finish.

“My boys are fighters and they continued to grind,” Gutierrez said. “Their strength in adversity is amazing.”

The reward for Canyon’s hard fought victory is hosting Mira Costa High School on Saturday, November 18 at 7 p.m. Although the Mustangs have a 5-6 overall record, they went 3-2 in league play and sweated out a 13-12 victory over Crescenta Valley in the first round to set up their showdown with the Cowboys. Gutierrez praised his upcoming competition and affirmed his team will play their style of football.

“They are athletic, strong, and extremely well coached,” Gutierrez said. “We plan on playing to our strengths, play disciplined football, and compete to the best of our abilities.”

Although it is often unwise to look past the game at hand, if everything works out just so, Canyon can potentially face Golden Valley in the quarterfinals of their bracket. When last the two teams met, the Grizzlies used a combination of USC-commit DeGabriel Floyd (one passing and one rushing touchdown), running back Dj Turner (155 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown), and wide receiver Jalin Lewis (83 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown), to shutout the Cowboys 38-0.

Despite the excitement this postseason matchup would create, Gutierrez isn’t looking that far into the future.

“No, I am not focused on who we could potentially play next,” Gutierrez said. “Our sole focus is Saturday night.”

The Cowboys have taken on Gutierrez’s “keep grinding” mantra and used it to propel them this far into the playoffs. This season should already be viewed as a success, but Canyon won’t remain content with their accomplishments, and will continue to grind towards their ultimate goal of taking home a championship.

Brett Hundley Has Room to Grow as Starter in the NFL

| Sports | November 9, 2017

When Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr, formerly of UCLA, knocked Aaron Rodgers to the turf on a questionable hit in Green Bay’s week six matchup against Minnesota, it opened the door for another former UCLA star to get his start in the NFL.

Brett Hundley was projected to be a backup quarterback until either one of two things happened — Rodgers retired, or he was traded to a team desperate for a passer. Rodgers sustained a broken collarbone on the hit from Barr, expediting Hundley’s development. Bruins fans all across the world were excited to see what one of the best quarterbacks to wear the blue and gold, could do in the pros.

So far, the results have not matched the expectations. It’s easy to explain away Hundley’s stat line from the Minnesota game. He was thrown in against the fifth best past defense in the league. To date, the Vikings have allowed nine passing touchdowns, tallied seven interceptions, and have given up 1,606 combined passing yards.

In the little under four quarters Hundley played in this game, he went 18-33 for 153 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Stats of this caliber would more than likely put a starting quarterback on the bench, but at the time, were dismissed due to the rare circumstances surrounding Hundley lining up under center.

With a week of starting reps under his belt, Hundley was expected to do big things against a Saints pass defense that people assumed was one of the worst in the league. That stigma should be going by the wayside, as New Orleans is now eleventh in the league in completion percentage allowed (60.2) and total passing yards allowed (1,684). Much of this newfound success can be attributed to rookie Marshon Lattimore, who has two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, and a team-leading eight defended passes for the season.

This context helps to explain Hundley’s paltry passing numbers in the 26-17 loss the Packers suffered. He went 12-25 for 87 yards and an interception, courtesy of Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro. The only redeeming quality Hundley brought to the field in this matchup was his running ability. He gained 44 yards on just three carries, one of which went for a touchdown.

Okay, New Orleans’s pass defense is actually good, so Hundley with a bye week before a Monday night matchup against the Detroit Lions should be ready to breakout, right? Wrong. The Packers were never close in their most recent game against their NFC North rival, which ended with a 30-17 Green Bay defeat.

On paper, Hundley’s stats look solid. He went 26-38 for 245 and no interceptions. He didn’t throw a touchdown either, but the lack of a turnover should be viewed as a victory, in and of itself. Again, Hundley did most of his damage with his legs, rushing for 22 yards on four carries, one of which put six points on the board.

The pedigree of passers in Packers history, from Bart Starr to Brett Favre, and most recently, Rodgers, puts Hundley in a position where anything but instant success is seen as a failure. Green Bay was assumed to be a playoff, and quite possibly, a Super Bowl team, but both these conclusions seem to be slipping further out of grasp.

For 2017, Hundley is completing 59 percent of his passes and has thrown just one touchdown to four interceptions. His impact as a starter has been so minimal that the Packers sought the talents of Brian Hoyer, who was released by the 49ers after they acquired Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots. Hoyer ultimately decided to go back to where his career began, backing up Tom Brady in New England.

Green Bay’s schedule doesn’t lighten up for the rest of the season. Their next game is against a Chicago Bears pass defense that has allowed only eight touchdowns all season. Outside of this matchup, they still have the Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Panthers, Vikings, and Lions all left to play.

The Packers haven’t ruled Rodgers out for the season, but it is unlikely he will return this year, especially if the playoffs become out of reach. Pessimists will bemoan the fact that Hundley will most likely be the starter for the next eight games, while optimists will celebrate the remaining schedule as an opportunity for Hundley to grow.

The injury Rodgers sustained shows that nothing in an NFL season can be predicted. So, while people may have their minds made up on what Hundley will or will not be as a pro quarterback, the fact remains no one really knows until Green Bay’s 2017 season is in the books. Hundley’s numbers may look bad now, but that doesn’t suggest he won’t have a breakout game. The only thing to do is sit back and enjoy the random chaos of the NFL.

Friday Night Lights – Playoffs!

| Sports | November 9, 2017

SCV Playoff Football Schedule

Canyon Cowboys v. San Gorgonio Spartans: Friday, 11/10 at 7:30 p.m. @ San Gorgonio High School
Golden Valley Grizzlies v. Nipomo Titans: Friday, 11/10 at 7 p.m. @ Nipomo High School
Hart Indians v. Sierra Canyon Trailblazers: Friday, 11/10 at 7 p.m. @ Granada Hills High School
Saugus Centurions v. Sonora Raiders : Friday, 11/10 at 7 p.m. @ College of the Canyons
Valencia Vikings v. Great Oak Wolfpack: Friday, 11/10 at 7 p.m. @ Valencia High School
Santa Clarita Christian Cardinals v. Hamilton Bobcats: Friday, 11/10 at 7 p.m. @ Canyon High School

Los Angeles Chargers Looking Their Best Entering Bye Week

| Sports | November 2, 2017

 

All the noise surrounding the Los Angeles Chargers has suddenly stopped. Now that the team seems to be finding its footing as it heads into a bye week, it is the perfect time to take a look at how L.A.’s newest team is fairing without all of the drama.

October was a good month for the Chargers. It began with a 26-24 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Philly is currently seen as one of the strongest teams in the NFL, so the fact L.A. was able to keep the game close was a sign of good things to come.

These good things came in the form of a three-game winning streak that helped bring the Chargers out of the AFC West basement. Although it took late game heroics from Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon, L.A. was able to defeat the New York Giants 27-22. Then came two conference matchups against the Oakland Raiders and the Denver Broncos.

This time, a last second Nick Novak field goal gave the Chargers the 17-16 win over the Derek Carr-led Raiders. The most defining win came against the Broncos, who were kept scoreless at the hands of L.A.’s defense. Joey Bosa collected two sacks and the Chargers took the game 21-0, marking Denver’s first shutout in 25 years.

Things came to a head when Los Angeles traveled to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots. After all of the improvements L.A. had made, this could have been anyone’s game. When Gordon broke an 87-yard touchdown run to give the Chargers a 7-0 first quarter lead, it felt as though they had snatched the momentum and would possibly ride it to a fourth-straight victory.

That was not the case, however. A 2-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski tied the game, and set off a run of 18 straight points for New England. The Chargers didn’t give in, scoring on a 24-yard touchdown from Rivers to Travis Benjamin to make the score 18-13 in the final quarter. They wouldn’t score again, and a Stephen Gostkowski field goal made the final score 21-13 Patriots.

As with the Eagles, the fact that Los Angeles was able to hang tight with a team none would be surprised to see in the Super Bowl is a move in the right direction. The bye week gives them a chance to review and work on the aspects of the game that left them just short of victory against these two tougher opponents. When the Chargers take the field again, it will be in Jacksonville against the Jaguars and their stout defense, giving L.A. a great test.

A 3-5 record may not breed the utmost confidence in a team, but Los Angeles’s key players are performing above and beyond what the record might reflect. Rivers is fourth in the league in passing yards, with 2,028, and his 13 touchdowns puts him in the top-10 of all quarterbacks. He hasn’t played perfectly, however, as his six interceptions are top-10 amongst all quarterbacks as well, and his 60 percent completion percentage is near the bottom of the NFL.

Gordon has also been pulling his weight from the backfield, coming in sixth place for rushing touchdowns, with four. His 526 rushing yards are seventh most in the league. Gordon also leads the Chargers in receiving touchdowns, with four, giving Rivers a dual-threat at the running back position.

Travis Benjamin and Keenan Allen have made a reliable duo at wide receiver all season. Allen comes in sixth in the NFL in receiving yards, with 548, while Benjamin has scored three receiving touchdowns.

Defensively, the Chargers have been up and down all season. The unit is near the top of the league in points per game, at 19, but in terms of turnovers, they have had trouble forcing them at an efficient rate. No L.A. defender has more than one interception, and only Benjamin has recovered more than one fumble, both of which were balls that he fumbled himself. There is a positive note to this, in that the Chargers still have a positive give/take ratio, as they have forced nine turnovers, and have given the ball up eight times themselves.

Where Los Angeles truly shines on defense is getting to the quarterback. They are top-four in the NFL, with 26 total sacks, due in large part to the play of Bosa. The second-year standout already has 8.5 for the year, and by registering one against Brady, he set the record for most sacks in a player’s first 20 games, with 19. Bosa, despite how well he’s played, can’t definitively be called Los Angeles’ best pass rusher. Melvin Ingram also has 8.5 sacks, making for a deadly duo coming off the edge.

The Chargers’ schedule is ripe with tough competition. After the Jaguars, L.A. plays a tough Buffalo Bills team, the Dallas Cowboys, the Washington Redskins, and their conference rivals in the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Oakland Raiders. After the tough start Los Angeles had to the season, the playoffs may be a lost cause, although in this crazy NFL season, few teams are out of the running yet.

No matter what happens postseason time, the Chargers have shown they are a team that can fight through adversity and hang with the best teams in the NFL. The jury is still out on whether or not they can endear themselves to the community in Los Angeles, but they have been doing all of the right things recently, which is as good a start as any.

Lakers Look for Relevance in the Rookie Clas

| Sports | October 26, 2017

There’s an air of excitement around the Los Angeles Lakers that has been missing for quite some time. This is the kind of impact glorified rookies, like Lonzo Ball, and surprisingly successful players, like Kyle Kuzma, bring to a team that’s been searching for its first winning season since 2012-2013.

The Lakers played three games in their first week of the season, in which Lonzo and Kuzma had an opportunity to introduce themselves and their skill-sets to the NBA watching public. So far, the results have been mixed.

Starting with Lonzo, the second overall pick out of UCLA put on a show in his second start, which came against the Phoenix Suns. He barely missed out on his first career triple-double, scoring 29 points, collecting 11 rebounds, and dishing out nine assists. The fearless nature Ball has on the court was on full display, for better and for worse. He shot 12-27 from the field for a 44 percent success rate, and committed four turnovers.
Lonzo’s accuracy has been an early season issue. At UCLA, he was able to maintain a remarkable 67 percent efficient field goal percentage (eFG%). In the pros, however, Lonzo’s eFG% has tanked to 40 percent, the second lowest on the team.

His inefficient scoring hurt the Lakers in their 119-112 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Lonzo scored just eight points, going 3-13 from the court. In a game decided by 10 points or less, missed shots are a big factor as to why a team couldn’t close the gap.

Lonzo is also under the added pressure that his father, LaVar Ball, created with his constant remarks and boasts to the media. Washington Wizards guard John Wall recently stated that the younger Ball will face tougher competition because of the elder Ball’s actions.

Patrick Beverley proved this point in the first game of the season, holding Lonzo to three points and allowing him to hit just one shot. The Clippers as a team had a defensive rating of 87 points per 100 possessions, owed in large part due to the work Beverley put in on Lonzo. As a result, the outcome was a 108-92 Clippers win. Reports surfaced claiming Beverley taunted Lonzo outside of the locker rooms after the game, treatment one wouldn’t expect any other rookie to receive.

Obviously it is way too early to try to make any kind of evaluation as to the kind of player Lonzo will become. His performance in the 132-130 win over the Suns suggests Lonzo has the potential to produce a good amount of triple-doubles. However, his struggles against better competition is showing that he is still a rookie, and will have to work through his growing pains with a target on his back.

The Lakers put a lot of trust in Lonzo’s hands, a trust he has rewarded by accounting for 34 percent of all assists Los Angeles produces with him on the court. Lonzo faces an insane amount of pressure, but throughout his journey to the NBA, he has proven he can handle it.

Kuzma is the feel good story of the rookie class so far. He was picked 27th overall in the past NBA draft, and was lost amongst the Lonzo media circus. Then came Summer League. Kuzma shocked everyone, posting 22 points per game on 51 percent shooting. He earned the Summer League championship game MVP, scoring 30 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in Los Angeles’s 110-98 win over the Portland Trailblazers.

There was reason to be skeptical, however, as Summer League is not the best measuring stick for how well a player will do come the regular season. In his first three games, Kuzma got more and more comfortable. He scored eight against the Clippers, 15 against the Suns, and 20 against the Pelicans. This upward trend in scoring can be attributed to a growing confidence that comes with getting used to the NBA.

Offensively, Kuzma has been everything the Lakers could have asked for. He comes in third on the team in offensive rating, accounting for 131 points per 100 possessions. Kuzma also places third in eFG% at 67 percent. In the Pelicans match, he was pivotal in bringing the Lakers back in the fourth quarter, scoring six points in the frame.

There are situations in which Kuzma can improve. Although he helped stretch a short-lived lead against New Orleans, he also missed a few shots, and committed a couple costly fouls that allowed the Pelicans to take back the lead and ultimately win the game. It is a good sign that Kuzma’s areas of improvement are this specific, as he hasn’t shown any glaring issues yet.

Lonzo and Kuzma show an incredible amount of promise. It is this potential that Los Angeles hopes will bring the franchise back to its winning ways. Their professional careers are just in their infancy, but keep an eye on this dynamic duo. They very well could be the cornerstones the Lakers build their future on.

Unequaled NFL Parity is Making for an Unpredictable Super Bowl

| Sports | October 19, 2017

Go ahead, name who you think is going to win the Super Bowl this year.

Welcome to the 2017-2018 NFL season, a year that makes absolutely no sense so far. The Lombardi Trophy is up for grabs, and so far, only a select few teams have even made a stake in being considered for it.

Sure, there are a few teams that are already saying better luck next year. These are the San Francisco 49ers, the Cleveland Browns, the New York Giants, the Indianapolis Colts, the Chicago Bears, and the Los Angeles Chargers. Outside of these teams, there are a few more where the chances are looking bleak.

The top of the NFL is where things begin to get dicey. There are two teams that have just one loss in the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs. At this point, they would be the best bet to make it to Super Bowl Sunday, but this season hasn’t followed any supposed script so far.

Let’s start with Philadelphia. They are the toughest team to run against, as they allow just 65 yards per game on the ground. The Eagles’ run defense is so imposing that opponents have attempted a league-low 105 rushes against them.
Carson Wentz is proving that his rookie season success wasn’t a fluke, and has had his name mentioned in MVP conversations. He is fifth in the league in passing yards with 1,584, and has thrown 13 touchdowns — the same number as Tom Brady — to just three interceptions. Former USC wide receiver Nelson Agholor is having a career resurgence, coming in seventh place in the NFL in receiving touchdowns, with seven.

LeGarrette Blount is providing the power running game Philly was hoping he would. The big-bodied veteran is averaging 5.6 yards per attempt, good for fifth in the league, and has scored three times this season.

The Eagles’ lone loss comes at the hands of the Chiefs, in what could have been a Super Bowl preview. A Jake Elliott 40-yard field goal three minutes into the fourth quarter tied the score at 13-13, but Kansas City running back Kareem Hunt proved to be the only running back Philadelphia couldn’t stop. He scored two touchdowns, the second of which came in the fourth quarter to make the score 27-13. Hunt, just a rookie, rushed for 81 yards on 13 carries. An Agholor touchdown in the closing seconds made the final score 27-20.

To say the start of Hunt’s pro career has been successful would be selling him short. He leads the league in rushing yards with 630, and his four rushing touchdowns are tied for top three. Hunt’s surprising emergence has helped to take pressure off of Alex Smith, who already plays with a careful and methodical style.

Smith has yet to throw an interception all season, a stat no quarterback with over 100 passing attempts can match. He comes in third in passing yards, with 1,637, and has 12 passing touchdowns to his credit.

His two biggest targets have been tight end Travis Kelce, and speedy receiver Tyreek Hill. Both have 390 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and help to create a diverse offense that has teams guessing all game. As a team, the Chiefs are second only to the Rams in scoring, with 29.5 points per game.

Defensively, the Chiefs have room to improve. Their pass defense ranks near the bottom of the pack, as they allow 7.8 yards per pass attempt. Kansas City has also allowed receivers and tight ends to score a total of 10 touchdowns this season, good for 22nd in the league.
Kansas City surprisingly lost their first game this past weekend at the hands of a Steelers team that has taken losses to the Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars. Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown was the only receiver for the black and yellow to catch more than five passes, and he sure made them count. He had eight receptions for 155 yards, and a fourth quarter touchdown, which answered De’Anthony Thomas’ 57-yard catch and run for the Chiefs. Brown’s snag made the score 19-10, and the Chiefs never threatened again en route to a 19-13 Pittsburgh win.

This truly is an “any given Sunday” season. The top teams all have tools that take advantage of the other contenders’ weaknesses. This makes predicting fantasy football lineups and making bets an incredibly hard thing to do. For those just watching for the fun of football, it is truly an amazing experience.

There hasn’t been a season in quite some time where the final outcome was so in question. It feels as though the NFL has found a level of parity that could lead to playoffs full of upsets. The Jaguars and the Rams could be facing off in the Super Bowl and no one would bat an eye. It’s the 2017-2018 NFL season, where a team’s pedigree carries little weight, and anyone can walk home a winner.

Dodgers Down Diamondbacks in Divisional Series Sweep

| Sports | October 12, 2017

Near the start of the 2017 MLB season, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, and Arizona Diamondbacks all looked like a legitimate threat to win the National League West Conference (NL West).

L.A. pulled away around the All-Star break, going 41-10 in the months of June and July. A late season skid at the start of November, in which the Dodgers lost 11 games in a row, made it seem as though their early-season dominance was merely a fluke, and another famous postseason collapse was on the way.

The Dodgers went a long way in proving they are the real deal with a sweep of their rival Diamondbacks in the National League Divisional Series (NLDS). Aside from a game two scare, L.A. dominated the series using the same mix of proficient pitching and consistent offense that allowed them to coast, at times, through the regular season.

About that game two. The trouble began right off the bat, as Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt hit a two-run, first inning home run off of Rich Hill. From there on out, it was all Dodgers, particularly Logan Forsythe and Yasiel Puig.

Puig hit the first RBI of the game in the second inning, followed by Forsythe’s running in the trying-score on a wild pitch in the fourth inning. Then, for a brief moment in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Dodgers’ bats came alive.

Forsythe begins by bringing Cody Bellinger home, making the score 3-2 L.A. Austin Barnes then hit a double that allowed Forsythe and Curtis Granderson to add to the score. Puig secured his second RBI of the match with a single that allowed Barnes to pile on the points.

A three-run homer by Brandon Drury at the top of the seventh inning made the deficit 7-5 for his Diamondbacks. However, L.A. shut the door on any kind of comeback when they took their turn to bat in the same frame. Chris Taylor grounded out to shortstop Ketel Marte, who proceeded to commit an error that allowed Forsythe to run in his second score of the game, and gave the Dodgers an 8-5 victory, and a 2-0 series lead.

Puig was pivotal in the first two games of the season. His game two excellence has already been well noted, but it would be a discredit not to mention the .556 batting average he posted in that match. In game one, he posted a .400 batting average, and took home another two RBIs.

The real driving force behind L.A.’s game one victory was third baseman Justin Turner. He came out swinging in the bottom of the first, hitting a three-run home run. Turner’s fourth-inning single made the score 6-1.

Arizona came as close as 7-4 on a Jeff Mathis single home run in the seventh inning, but Corey Seager and Turner hit two respective RBIs in the eighth inning to eventually take the first game, 9-5.
This game also served as a measuring stick to see whether or not Clayton Kershaw is ready for the postseason. His disappearing acts, come playoff time, have become expected by L.A. fans, and is quantified by the 4.55 ERA Kershaw has in the postseason.

So far, the results look so-so. Kershaw did walk away with the win, but allowed four-home runs. Fortunately for him, each homer was just a single, and the Dodgers had racked up seven points on offense before Kershaw headed to the dugouts. His 5.68 ERA should be alarming, but the seven strikeouts he achieved should offer some hope of more postseason success.

Yu Darvish looked right at home in Dodgers blue, collecting his first postseason win with his new team in a 3-1 game three victory. He threw four scoreless innings, before a homer in the fifth by Daniel Descalso made the score 2-1 in favor of L.A., and ended Darvish’s night. In his time on the mound, Darvish struck out seven batters, allowed just one earned run, and posted an ERA of 1.80.

The rookie Bellinger also had a bit of a coming out party in the final game of the series. He collected his first postseason RBI in the first inning, followed by his first postseason home run in the fifth that made the score 2-0.

There is a lot to take away from the Dodgers’ sweep of Arizona. Their batting lineup is deep, and as Turner, Puig, Forsythe, and Bellinger proved, any of L.A.’s batters can take over a game at any given time.

The starting pitching rotation has a lot still to prove, however. Kershaw gave up an alarming number of home runs, while Hill helped Arizona take momentum early in game two. Hill did settle down soon after, allowing just three hits in four innings, but the competition only gets tougher from here. A first inning home run may be all a championship caliber team needs to take a game from the Dodgers.

L.A.’s first postseason series of 2017 is in the books, but only time will tell if the Dodgers can avoid the disappointments of playoffs past.

 

Sam Darnold’s Shaky Start to Season Shrouds Past Success

| Sports | October 5, 2017

A Google search of “Sam Darnold expectations” brings a bevy of results focusing on how the redshirt sophomore handled all the pressure that comes after winning the Rose Bowl in your first season as a starter.

Darnold’s only loss in 2016 came against Utah, his first start after taking the reins from Max Browne. Darnold’s numbers shocked the college football world, as he went on to throw 31 touchdowns to just nine interceptions, while running for 250 yards on a four-yard-per-carry average.

The highlight of his young career, as of now, is the 52-49 comeback from behind victory he and the Trojans pulled off against Penn State in the Rose Bowl. In the contest, Darnold threw five touchdowns and 453 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown to Deontay Burnett in the closing minutes, tying the score at 49. A McSorley interception led to Matt Boermeester’s 46-yard game-winning field goal.

The hype from this game put Darnold in the Heisman conversation, and gave rise to the idea that he may be taken first overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, if he should declare. There are multiple quarterback-hungry teams (e.g., Jets and 49ers) that are projected to be near the top of the draft order, and Darnold’s mix of strong passes and power running makes him an interesting prospect.

Fall of 2017, however, has definitely not started the way Darnold would have liked. USC went wire to wire with Western Kentucky in the opening game of the season, before scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter to pull away. The Mustangs were in a position to pull off the upset, as Darnold tossed two interceptions, and ran for minus six yards in the match. To his credit, Darnold did run for an 11-yard touchdown that tied the game 21-21 in the third frame.

Since then, interceptions have been the story of Darnold’s season. He threw two more in the following two games against Stanford and Texas. The Trojans needed double overtime to finish off the Longhorns, who now have an overall record of 1-2. Darnold threw for three touchdowns, the last of which was a 25-yarder to Burnett in the first overtime period. However, Darnold struggled, running the ball again, carrying it six times for minus 12 yards.

Another too close for comfort win against Cal made it clear that USC’s wire to wire way of winning was unsustainable. Then came Washington State, a team that scored with ease on offense, and stopped the pass on defense. For Darnold, it was a bad game waiting to happen.

On the ground, Darnold did some damage, rushing for 25 yards and two touchdowns. That was to be expected, as the Cougars allowed 129 rushing yards and 1.5 touchdowns per game on defense. Through the air, however, Wazzu proved to be every bit the challenge they were supposed to be.

Darnold went 15-29 for 164 yards and an interception, and lost a fumble with a minute left in the fourth quarter on a strip sack by Jahad Woods, giving the Cougars the 30-27 win. The loss dropped USC to number 14 in the nation with a slightly difficult schedule remaining.

The Trojans should easily get back to their winning ways against a 1-4 Oregon State team, but will face two tough tests in the subsequent weeks. First comes 20th-ranked Utah at the Coliseum. The Utes’ defense does allow over 200 yards passing per game, but they have snagged nine interceptions in their first four games. Defensive back Julian Blackmon leads the team with two, and will be looking to take advantage of any Darnold error.

Then USC travels to South Bend, Ind. to play the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Their pass defense is definitely not their strength, as the team allows 241 yards and two touchdowns per game through the air. This game could serve as an image booster for Darnold, as it will be aired on October 21 in prime-time (7:30 p.m. ET), on NBC. If Darnold puts up the stats he should against Notre Dame and heads home with a win, many of his previous errors may be forgiven.

A shaky start to the season might make NFL teams reconsider if Darnold is franchise quarterback material. However, he did put up monster numbers just a year ago, so he clearly has the capacity for great quarterback play. There are still seven games, and the inevitable bowl game USC will qualify for, for Darnold to prove he is the real deal. If he corrals his crazy interception numbers, he will very likely hear his name near the top of the NFL Draft.

Rams Look Much Improved in their Second Season in Los Angeles

| Sports | September 28, 2017

The Los Angeles Rams are three games into their sophomore season back in Los Angeles, and it is impossible to ignore the almost immediate improvement this young team has made. The key to it all, finally having an offensive line that can keep a clean pocket.

As has been discussed ad nauseam, the Rams’ offensive line struggled all season to provide protection for then rookie quarterback Jared Goff, and the second year stud running back Todd Gurley. Goff was sacked 26 times in just seven games. Gurley was only able to amass 885 total rushing yards a year after rushing for 1,106 yards.

The difference comes in two offseason acquisitions, center John Sullivan, and left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Last season with the Cincinnati Bengals, Whitworth didn’t allow a single sack, a stat he has so far matched with the Rams. Sullivan was not a starter in 2016 with the Redskins, but in 2015, he allowed just 2.5 sacks with the Vikings.

With a fixed offensive line, Los Angeles’ offense under head coach Sean McVay has had the opportunity to show the league what the Rams can do when a play has time to develop. The results have been more than impressive.

Goff finally looks comfortable dropping back to pass, although he does have the tendency to back up into pressure when pass rushers break into the backfield. This hasn’t happened often, however, as Goff has only been sacked three times in the first three games. Goff’s comfort in the pocket is a big reason why he has thrown five touchdowns to just one interception, and has posted a passer rating of 118.2 according to ESPN, third behind the likes of Alex Smith and Tom Brady.

It helps that Goff has new targets to throw to in Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. The two lead the Rams in receiving yards with 194 and 169 respectively. Watkins was pivotal in the team’s 41-39 win over San Francisco, catching two touchdowns with 106 receiving yards. Rookie slot receiver Cooper Kupp has also had a big impact on the Rams, catching seven passes that each resulted in a first down.

Opposing defenses no longer have the luxury of focusing on Los Angeles’ run game, as Goff has shown he can win games. Gurley has taken advantage of this fact, and has rushed for 241 yards and four touchdowns. His yards-per-game has improved dramatically from a year ago, jumping from 55.3 to 80.3.

Los Angeles is now an offensive juggernaut and leads the league in points scored with 107. They hung big numbers on two weak opponents, scoring 46 against the Colts and 41 against the 49ers. The Rams’ only loss came against a Washington team that has allowed just 20 points per game. Los Angeles lost in a 27-20 nail biter, in which the Redskins needed a last minute touchdown from Kirk Cousins to Ryan Grant, to come out on top.

Defensively, the Rams are doing well, but are not playing to the level most thought the unit would under defensive guru Wade Phillips. Against the pass, they are tied for fifth in the league in passing touchdowns allowed, with three, and are tied for sixth in sacks with 10.

Against the run is a completely different story. Los Angeles has given up the fourth most rushing yards in the NFL with a total of 417. Opposing running backs seem to find the end zone with ease when playing against the Rams, as the team has had six rushing touchdowns scored against them, most in the league. This is a major contributing factor in the 25 points-per-game Los Angeles allows.

Star defensive tackle Aaron Donald is still getting into his groove after sitting out of training camp in the hopes of receiving a contract extension. He has collected a sack and a tackle for a loss, but the Rams’ defense needs more from him if they are to live up to the lofty exceptions that come when being coached by Phillips.

Defensive backs Lamarcus Joyner and Trumaine Johnson have done an excellent job of punishing bad passes, as both have one pick-six a piece. Newcomer Nickell Robey-Coleman has also made an impact, picking off one pass, and forcing one fumble.

There is a lot to like about this rendition of the Rams, but it is still too soon to celebrate. They jumped out to a 3-1 start a year ago, and were only able to win one more game en route to a 4-12 record. Still, Los Angeles has shown glimpses of the team they can become if everything falls into place.

Up next on the schedule is the Dallas Cowboys, and the Rams will get all they can handle from Ezekiel Elliott. This will be a true test to see if the defense can slow down a star running back in an effort to get a signature win.

For their troubles, they face the defenses of the Seahawks and the Jaguars the following two weeks, so Los Angeles will have a chance to prove their mettle early in the season. The excitement will be palpable if the Rams prove their signs of improvement have been more than a mere fluke.

 

Chargers Can’t Make Connection in Los Angeles

| Sports | September 21, 2017

In past articles, I have tried to put a positive spin on the Chargers moving to Los Angeles. And while they still have all the time in the world to turn their misfortune around, things are clearly going from bad to worse in one of the more interesting sports sagas.

The writing truly appeared on the wall when San Diego residents refused to use taxpayer money to fund a new football stadium. On November 6, 2016, Measure C was soundly voted down 57 percent to 43 percent. At that point, if there was to be any new stadium in San Diego, it would have to come from Chargers owner Dean Spanos’ pocket.

So, when the news broke on January 12, 2017 that the Chargers would be packing up shop to move to Los Angeles, few were surprised. Angry would be the better term. Fans dropped off memorabilia in front of the team’s headquarters, signifying their displeasure with a move that seemed only in the best interest of the owner.

Despite having to pay $12.6 million to San Diego, as well as a $650 million relocation fee, the Chargers stand to earn more money due to playing in a larger market and in a brand new stadium.

If anyone from the Chargers staff was expecting a warm welcome three hours up the 5, they were certainly mistaken. The Rams already had a season under their belt as Los Angeles’ team, and went an unremarkable 4-8. The proposition of adding a Chargers team that had just gone 5-7 didn’t seem too promising.

Then came the infamous logo debacle. The Chargers unveiled a blue and white logo in the fashion of the Dodgers, the only difference being, the “L” and “A” were made out of lightning bolts. After immediate public backlash, the team updated the logo to match the powder blue and yellow that the Chargers have become famous for.

As the new Inglewood based stadium isn’t set to be completed until 2019, the Chargers needed a temporary home. The Memorial Coliseum was already spoken for by the Rams, so the Chargers were left with StubHub Stadium, home to the LA Galaxy. The 27,000 seats make the stadium the smallest in the NFL.

On top of that, the Chargers were only able to fill 21,054 seats for their first preseason game on August 13. What made this a big deal is that the night before, the Galaxy outsold the Chargers, filling 25,667 seats.

When the season finally opened, the Chargers played their first game on the road, a game they lost 24-21 to the Broncos. Denver called a timeout just before Los Angeles’ rookie kicker Younghoe Koo drilled a 44-yard field goal in the closing seconds. With a second chance at the block, the Broncos capitalized, and Shelby Harris ensured the Chargers headed home with a loss.

Week two marked the Chargers’ first game in Los Angeles since 1960. This time around, they were able to fill 25,381 seats. However, as most saw coming, it felt as though half the fans were rooting for the visiting Dolphins.

“It was crazy,” Chargers running back Melvin Gordon told ESPN. “There were a lot of Chargers fans and there were also a lot of Miami fans. I think it was around 50-50, but it was nice to see a full house.”

Again, the game came down to a last-second 44-yard field goal. Koo couldn’t capitalize again, and Miami went on to win 19-17. In a misfortunate slip of the finger by one random Chargers employee, fireworks went off, ironically punctuating Los Angeles’ defeat.

The Chargers are in Los Angeles for the long-haul, so this laundry list of misfortunes doesn’t have to define the team. In the present, however, it is almost as though the world itself is rejecting a move that has felt forced from the very beginning.

The Rams had the fortune of a long history with Los Angeles to help residents connect with the team. The Chargers, on the other hand, played in the city for one season in 1960, before moving to San Diego. The lack of any true connection makes the motives for the Chargers’ most recent move more questionable.

Winning usually makes accepting a new team easier, so the Chargers need to find a way to win in close game situations. This team was able to hang with a Broncos defense that allowed the Dallas Cowboys to score just 17 points, so there is potential. Predicting the next development in the phenomena that is the Los Angeles Chargers is impossible, so be prepared for the unexpected.

 

Sloane Stephens Makes Big Splash in Big Apple

| Sports | September 14, 2017

Say hello to Sloane Stephens.

The 24-year-old American tennis player thrust herself into tennis stardom, taking down (9) Venus Williams in the U.S. Open semifinals, before sweeping (15) Madison Keys in the finals 6-3, 6-0. The victories over her American counterparts gave Stephens her first Grand Slam title ever, and propelled her 66 spots up the WTA leaderboard, where she now resides at 17.

Against Williams, Stephens got off to a fast start. Despite having a lower percentage of first serves in play (71 percent for Williams, 65 percent for Stephens), Stephens capitalized on these serves with 11 points. Not only that, but she was able to counter Williams’ successful services, racking up 10 receiving points on 17 chances for a 59 percent success rate. Williams was unable to overcome these factors, along with 17 unforced errors, and dropped the first set 6-1.

At first glance, it seemed as though Stephens had this game in the bag, but a tennis match can swing from set to set. Williams was more than happy to prove this point. She bested Stephens in points off of both her first and second serves, 10 and six, respectively. Williams took her turn negating Stephens’ serve, winning 14 receiving points on 22 chances, for a 64 percent success rate. In the blink of an eye, Williams won set two 6-0.

When a set ends 7-5, it’s a good sign that both players have a good feel for one another, and any slight slip up could cost someone the match. The composure Stephens showed under these circumstances, and against a legend of the sport in Williams, allowed Stephens to come out on top.

Stephens and Williams tallied nearly identical successful serve rates, neither wanting to give ground in search of a spot in the Grand Slam’s final. However, Stephens was slightly more successful in return points won, taking the edge, 25 to 18, in this category. Where the match was ultimately decided was in the unforced errors.

Williams committed 26 of these mistakes, including three double faults, to Stephens’ 12. Seeing as how Stephens won a total of 48 points to Williams’ 41, the difference in unforced errors was what sealed Williams’ fate.

In the finals against Madison Keys, Stephens again stayed calm and collected in the face of great pressure. In the first set, both players were even in first serve success rate, Keys converted 71 percent, while Stephens hit 70 percent. Stephens, however, took the advantage in receiving points 14-4.

As she did against Williams, Stephens also played a relatively flawless game compared to her competitor. Keys made 17 unforced errors to Stephens’ two, leading to a 6-3 set, one victory for the underdog.

The second set was much of the same story. First service success rates were comparable, Keys with 75 percent and Stephens with 79 percent. The difference, as it seemed to be for most of Stephens’ sets, was in the unforced errors. Keys committed 13 to Stephens’ four, as Stephens ran away with the second set 6-0.

With Serena Williams out of the picture for an undetermined amount of time, the top of the WTA leaderboard is anyone’s to take. Stephens’ victory was no accident, the trend of her opponents committing a vastly higher number of unforced errors compared to hers, shows that Stephens plays fantastic defense, returning shots until the opposition eventually makes a mistake.

The U.S. Open was the last Grand Slam tournament of the year, meaning Stephens won’t have a big stage to prove she’s the real deal until the Australian Open, which begins January 15, 2018. Until then, the media hype machine (e.g., this article) will continue to churn and market Stephens as the potential next great American women’s tennis player.

Time will tell if that is truly the case, but until then, let’s admire the maturity and poise Stephens displayed on her way to the top of the U.S. Open. These are characteristics that all of the greats share, so Stephens is off to a great start in trying to achieve that status.

Taking in the U.S. Open

| Sports | September 7, 2017

When living in New York, one needs to contend with a lot of obstacles. Public transportation leaves commuters at the mercy of the city. And, when traveling, the sheer number of people can be overwhelming.

Despite the flaws, New York is a treasure trove of sporting events. On Monday, I was fortunate enough to join my girlfriend, Natasha Gaston, and her parents to Arthur Ashe Stadium to take in the U.S. Open.

Getting to the game is where public transportation came in handy. A convenient trip on the 7 train brought us right to the stadium. When attending sporting events in Los Angeles, parking is a major concern, so not having the stress of finding a spot was a huge relief.

Security, as to be expected, was strict, but kind overall. We arrived early enough to avoid the long line of tennis fans forming behind us. This made getting into the gates much quicker. Had we shown up 10 minutes later, the story would not be the same.

Once inside, we enjoyed the New York pastime of fighting through crowds to get where we wanted to go. In this case, we were in search for the overpriced and less-than-perfect quality sporting event food that has come to be the norm in stadiums across the country. Once full, we headed to our seats.

Calling them nosebleeds would be generous for how high we were seated, but the distance from the court didn’t matter; the energy inside the stadium was what we came for. And as soon as (3) Roger Federer stepped on to the court, that energy became incredibly palpable.

The 19-time Grand Slam champion from Switzerland was paired against (33) Philipp Kohlschreiber. The match started evenly, with Federer and Kohlschreiber holding serve en route to a 3-3 game tie in the first set. That’s when Federer began to run away with it. Kohlschreiber would win just one more game as Federer won the first set 6-4.

Federer had an easier time in Set 2, scoring on three aces, as well as returning 45 percent of Kohlschreiber’s serves for points. The set eventually ended 6-2 in Federer’s favor. The last set, however, offered a bit more in the way of excitement that, at times, seemed lacking in this match.

Holding serve again became important, and allowed both players to trade game after game. Federer and Kohlschreiber matched each other in aces four to four, but Federer still had the advantage in return points won with 39 percent to Kohlschreiber’s 11 percent. In the end, however, Kohlschreiber’s 13 unforced errors, and Federer’s 86 percent win percentage on first serves, gave him the expected win.

This match appeared to be the main event, as many spectators began to head for the exits. While some returned with snacks, a vast majority of the seats remained empty as the match between American (16) Madison Keys and Ukrainian (4) Elina Svitolina got underway. Those that left early missed the more interesting match of the night.

It was apparent throughout the first few games that Keys was more warmed up than Svitolina, an advantage that Keys used to take a 3-0 game lead. Svitolina soon got into the swing of things, winning six of the next nine games to force a 6-6 tiebreaker. Keys came out on top of the tiebreaker in dominating fashion, winning seven points to two, taking the first set.

Svitolina was not done, however. She thoroughly won the second set, going to deuce in just the first game, before jumping out to a 5-0 game lead. Keys took game six, but couldn’t muster a comeback in the second set, losing 6-1.

In the final set, both players held serve on way to a 2-2 tie, before Svitolina took the momentum in the next two games. Down 4-2, the crowd came alive, cheering on Keys to make a final push. The American credited the energy in the stadium as a factor that helped her come back.

Keys easily won games seven and eight to tie the third set up 4-4. From there, the momentum was in her favor as she won the last two games just as easily, forcing the 3-2 upset over Svitolina in front of a raucous crowd.

Attending a Grand Slam tournament is unlike anything I’ve experienced. While there were times of rowdiness in the seats, the fans were mainly respectful and stayed silent during match play. During breaks, the giant TVs featured dancing audience members, and one man dubbed “the shirt guy,” whose big energy and many layers of shirts, which he threw into the seats, kept everyone entertained.

All in all, attending the U.S. Open was an amazing experience, one that I would recommend to anyone visiting New York, and one I would do again in a heartbeat. I’m excited to see how the rest of the tournament unfolds, and will definitely break down the outcome in depth after the tournament concludes.

The Los Angeles Rams Look Promising After Offseason Moves

| Sports | August 31, 2017

Amid all the negativity surrounding the Chargers’ move to Los Angeles, the Rams are beginning to be seen in a more positive light. Yes, there is the matter of Aaron Donald’s holdout, which has the potential to last all season if Los Angeles doesn’t allow him to restructure his rookie contract. However, there is a lot to be excited about in the Rams’ second season in their new home.

To start, the wide receiver position has been revamped. Los Angeles appears to be poaching from the Buffalo Bills’ talent pool at the position, as the Rams signed Robert Woods back in March before trading for Sammy Watkins in early August. Along with Tavon Austin, this gives Jared Goff ample weapons to help his improvement. The only caveat is that Watkins must remain healthy, as he missed eight games last season due to a foot injury.

Two new rookie receivers have been making a splash in the preseason as well. Josh Reynolds was taken out of Texas A&M in the fourth round, and has caught two receiving touchdowns. Then there’s Cooper Kupp, who has become a fan favorite. He projects to play in the slot receiver position, and has one receiving touchdown on a beautiful 23-yard pass from Goff against the Raiders.

With his new targets, Goff has thrown two touchdowns, one interception, and 250 yards on 32 attempts in three preseason games. He has looked significantly sharper so far, showing the promise that prompted Los Angeles to take him first overall.

Goff’s protection has also improved with the addition of Andrew Whitworth at left tackle, and John Sullivan at center. Whitworth made headlines during Los Angeles’ third preseason game against the Chargers, running at 18.2 miles per hour to try and stop linebacker Melvin Ingram from returning a fumble for a touchdown. Ingram did score, but Whitworth showed incredible athleticism and a “never give up” attitude that the Rams could definitely use this season.

Todd Gurley has been used sparingly throughout the preseason, so it’s hard to tell how the new line will affect his running ability. His best game came in the second preseason game, where he rushed for 38 yards on eight carries for a 4.75 yard-per-carry average, along with scoring a rushing touchdown.

Despite the uncertainty of Donald’s season, Los Angeles still has linebacker Alec Ogletree taking charge of the defense’s front seven. Ogletree led all Rams defenders in tackles with 136, and tied first overall in interceptions with two in 2016. Mark Barron, another stud linebacker, returns to the team as well. He came in second in tackles with 118, accounted for two more interceptions, and recorded a sack as well.

In the secondary, the Sammy Watkins trade also included cornerback Nikell Robey-Coleman. Robey-Coleman had two interceptions a year ago with the Bills, one of which he returned for a touchdown against the Rams. He also had seven defended passes. He will play alongside returning cornerback Trumaine Johnson. Although Johnson had just one interception, he did defend 11 passes, and completions against Los Angeles were incredibly difficult.

Having to play the Seattle Seahawks twice, along with games against the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, and the Philadelphia Eagles, is a daunting schedule. The Rams may, however, be able to take advantage of a rebuilding San Francisco 49ers in the two games they play against each other. They also face the New Orleans Saints, Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Arizona Cardinals twice, all games that Los Angeles has a realistic chance of winning.

The Rams are certainly trending in a positive direction. Coach Sean McVay is young, but worked wonders with Kirk Cousins in Washington. In 2016, the Redskins were the third overall passing offense, with 309.3 yards per game through the air. Wade Phillips helped create the number one overall defense last season in Houston, and has a lot of talent to work with in Los Angeles.

It’s way too early to tell whether or not the Rams are a playoff team, but they will certainly be a fun team to watch throughout the year. If they make the jump in skill that they are projected to make, it could easily attract big name free agents, while convincing players with expiring contracts to stay. The future is bright for the Rams, let’s sit back and enjoy the ride.

Athlete of the Week – Devon Williams

| Sports | August 24, 2017

One of the top high school football prospects of 2018 resides right outside of Santa Clarita, in the Antelope Valley. Devon Williams is entering his senior season at Antelope Valley High School, and his athletic abilities on both offense and defense have him ranked as the number 10 player in his class, according to ESPN.

Placing Williams into one position is difficult, so much so, that ESPN has him listed as an athlete. In this category, none are better than Williams, who is ranked first in the nation. When watching his highlight tape, it is clear to see why he has garnered the attentions of schools such as UCLA, USC, and Cal.

Right off the bat, Williams’ big play ability jumps out at anyone who has seen him. He can make one-handed grabs, and hurdle would-be tacklers with ease. He is also shifty with the ball, and uses this ability to make defenders miss. Williams rounds out his elite athleticism with good in-game speed, often running by the first line of defense to pick up a large chunk of yards.

With these traits, Williams can line up virtually anywhere on the field, and has done so often in his high school career. At quarterback, he has a good command of the deep ball, throwing passes a great distance with ease. His ball placement on short and intermediate passes is serviceable; however, it could use work.

Lining up as a quarterback also allows Williams to get a good view of the field in front of him, and exploit the holes he sees for big runs. Whether Williams runs up the middle or stretches it outside, his speed allows him to make the most out of the play. Because his passing is unpolished, he might not see a lot of time at quarterback in college, but could easily come into the backfield as a running back.

Williams excels as a wide receiver. Obviously, his agility makes him a good threat for long passes, but he can do so much more than just run far and fast. His routes are very precise, especially when coming back to the ball. He can stop on a dime while the defensive back is still running, creating space for Williams to make the catch and turn the ball back up field.

The athleticism Williams possesses is also useful for screen passes. Screens are essentially extended handoffs, so when Williams is the target for one, he has no trouble catching the ball, turning to see the blocks ahead of him, and hitting any opening with a burst of speed that won’t allow for him to be taken down for a loss of yards.

As demonstrated by being able to corral one-handed catches, Williams has incredibly good hands. This helps him as both a wide receiver, and as a defensive back. In the latter position, Williams really shines.

Before the ball is snapped, Williams is looking into the backfield to see what the quarterback and running back will do as the play progresses. Once Williams knows where the ball is going after the snap, he immediately reacts to his prediction. Against the pass, he is able to jump the ball before it reaches the receiver, leading to either an interception or a broken up pass.

When Williams sees a run play developing, he will charge towards the offensive line, giving him the best chance to bring down the running back before he gains more than a yard at the most. When tackling a receiver or running back making their way into the open field, Williams stays disciplined. He won’t sacrifice a sure tackle to make a big hit, making it hard for an offensive player to get past Williams.

Those trying to picture Williams’ play style should compare him to Adoree Jackson. Jackson played for USC, and was recently drafted by the Tennessee Titans. In his final season at Southern California, Jackson collected five interceptions, one receiving touchdown, and 51 rushing yards on just seven carries, for an average of 7.3 yards per attempt. Along with all of these accomplishments, Jackson also led the nation in punt return yards, with 315.

Comparing Williams to Jackson isn’t to put pressure on the younger athlete. If anything, it shows that Williams has the potential to be an NFL level talent. Defensive back seems to be where he is at his best, but Williams’ versatility will be put to great use at whichever college he winds up attending and playing for.

Antelope Valley will play at Hart High on September 15, so Santa Clarita football fans should definitely take the time to see the game. Not only will they be treated to one of the city’s top teams in the Indians, but they will also get to see one of the nation’s best players at work. And whether or not you’re rooting for Williams to win, watching someone of his skill level is a can’t miss.

The Chargers Keep Trying to Charge Past the Los Angeles Backlash

| Sports | August 17, 2017

To say the Chargers are having a rough start in their new home of Los Angeles would be an understatement. The latest lowlight in an offseason full of them, saw Los Angeles’ second football team in as many seasons, be outsold by the LA Galaxy.

The StubHub Center, which seats 27,000 spectators, filled just 21,054 chairs during the Chargers’ preseason home opener against the Seattle Seahawks on August 13. The night before, 25,667 soccer fans came to Carson to watch the Galaxy take on NYC FC.

For the average ticket price of $135.99, Chargers faithful were able to watch the home team get trounced 48-17 at the hands of Seattle. Even though the preseason has little bearing on how the regular season will play out, such a defeat is not the statement the Chargers were looking to make in their first game in Los Angeles.

To add insult to injury, San Diego Union-Tribune sports columnist Kevin Acee tweeted less than complimentary remarks about the size of the locker rooms at the StubHub Center.

“#Chargers locker room at StubHub makes rest of stadium look oversized. If you played at a large high school, you probably dressed in bigger.”

Compile this with the new Chargers logo debacle back in January (for those who don’t remember, it originally looked liked the Dodgers’ logo made of lightning bolts), and it becomes clear that there have been a series of setbacks in the Chargers’ attempt to win over Los Angeles.

The ultimate remedy for a fickle fanbase is to win. When the starters took the field to open the match against the Seahawks, the result was a 75-yard march to the end zone, capped off with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates.

This classic connection teaming up for another score shows the potential for success the Chargers have. They are a team that is not lacking in talent, however, injuries have quickly befallen their younger prospects.

Forrest Lamp, an offensive lineman taken by Los Angeles in the second round, was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Lamp looked poised to crack the starting lineup for the regular season opener before being ruled out for the year on August 2.

The Chargers will also be without their blossoming middle linebacker Denzel Perryman for 6-8 weeks, as he recovers from an ankle injury sustained in the loss to Seattle. Perryman was third on the team in tackles, with 72. He also accounted for two sacks, six tackles for a loss, and an interception.

One of the biggest blows that came earlier in the offseason was the loss of first round draft pick Mike Williams to a herniated disk. The timetable for his recovery has him potentially returning to the field in October, which is a sigh of relief for the Chargers, as there had been talks of Williams being out for the year.

The road to a winning season seems ever longer when looking at the Chargers’ schedule. Although they have moved cities, Los Angeles will still be playing in the ultra-competitive AFC Western Conference. This means they will face the Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos two times apiece this season.

They will also square off against the NFC and AFC Eastern Conferences, which entails matchups against the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, the Jay Cutler-led Miami Dolphins, and reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in Foxborough.

Despite the overwhelming factors facing the Chargers, there is little reason to fret. Rivers will have Gates, a healthy Keenan Allen, and an eventually healthy Williams to throw to. Melvin Gordon will be taking his assumed spot as starting running back, and will look to build on a stellar sophomore season in which he ran for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The loss of Perryman does hurt the defense, but he will be back manning the middle of the field, and will have beside him Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Casey Hayward. Bosa led all rookies in sacks, with 10.5. Ingram led the Chargers in forced fumbles, with four. And Hayward led the NFL in interceptions, with seven, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

So far, the Chargers’ start in LA has been subpar, but they have an entire season to right the ship. The odds of them making the playoffs seem slim now, but the city will fall in love with a team that is willing to fight against the adversity.

The Chargers have, and will continue to, face plenty of it. Results may not be immediate, but the team will come out stronger for their struggles, and can easily become a group that makes the city of Los Angeles proud.

Los Angeles Dodgers Enjoy a Stellar July

| Sports | August 10, 2017

July was a memorable month for The Blue Crew. The Los Angeles Dodgers finished with a record of 74-31, and separated themselves from both the tightly contested National League West Conference, as well as the entirety of the major leagues.

That’s what happens when a team drops just three matches in a month. The Dodgers took advantage of an easy stretch of games, with their strongest competition coming against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Los Angeles swept Arizona in that series.

When discussing the Dodgers’ success, it is always best to first look to the pitching mound. It was quite a July for Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw, as the duo combined to go 7-0, with Hill tallying four wins, and Kershaw collecting three. More impressive than their win count were the ERAs both posted. Kershaw, as usual, led the way in this category, posting an ERA of 0.72. For the month, he allowed just 15 hits, two earned runs, and one home run in 25 innings pitched.

Hill was not to be outdone by Los Angeles’ ace. Hill had an ERA of 1.45, with 19 hits, five earned runs, and two home runs in 31 innings pitched. He also struck out 40 hitters in the five games he started, an average of eight batters per game.

Just when Los Angeles’ pitching couldn’t seem scarier, they were able to add Texas Rangers ace, Yu Darvish, to the mix. The Dodgers had to part ways with second baseman/outfielder Willie Calhoun, pitcher A.J. Alexey, and infielder Brendon Davis to get the deal done. The results so far have been promising. In his first game in blue, Darvish pitched seven innings, allowed just three hits, and struck out 10 batters in a 6-0 win over the New York Mets on August 5.

The Dodgers’ pitching unit was supported by the team’s big bats. Left fielder Chris Taylor led the way with 37 hits at 94 at bats, leading to a stellar batting average of .394. His 15 RBIs were also the most by a Los Angeles batter for the month.

NL Rookie of the Year candidate Cody Bellinger cooled off a bit in this stretch of games, but still notched solid numbers that prove his talent is well beyond his years. He hit four home runs and had 13 RBIs on 21 hits. Corey Seager, last year’s NL Rookie of the Year, demonstrated his continuing strong play at the plate, leading the team with six home runs on a .333 batting average.

Despite these healthy hitting stats, the Dodgers had a down July on offense. They came in 22nd in the MLB for runs scored with 107. Their 601 total runs trail only the Houston Astros’ 656, so for Los Angeles to be nowhere near the top of this category comes as a surprise. They also had just 105 RBIs, another shocker, as they are in 5th place overall in the majors, with 534.

When the offense is slow, the Dodgers are lucky that they can rely on their defense. They allowed their opponents to score 69 times in the 23 games they played in July, which is an average of three points per game.

Bellinger broke the hearts of a lot of opposing offenses, especially in a 5-4 win over the Atlanta Braves on July 23. In this match, Bellinger had 14 putouts on 14 chances. His fielding had no flaws the entire month, as he committed not a single error.

Yasmani Grandal has already staked his claim as Los Angeles’ best defender, and his play in July cemented that. Although he had two errors, he had 127 putouts and eight assists on 137 chances. For the season, he has a fielding percentage of .994, same as Bellinger.

These two lead the way for a Dodgers defense that has allowed for a total of 365 runs scored against them. Their runs-scored-to-runs-allowed differential of plus-204 is far and away the best in the league. It also shows just how balanced a team Los Angeles really is.

Their pitching makes it hard for batters to even get a hit, and when they do, the defense nixes the play before it can become a threat. And if the opposition finds a way to score, the Dodgers rarely struggle to answer back before tacking on even more points.

This is the way they won July, and the reason they will continue to dominate through the remainder of the regular season. Fans have had their hopes dashed in the playoffs many a time, but this rendition of the Dodgers finally seems to be the one that can take it the distance.

They’re not out of the woods yet, as they still must face the Diamondbacks, as well as the Colorado Rockies a few more times this season, and even then, they still have the Washington Nationals and World Series winners Chicago Cubs to contend with.

However, Dodgers baseball is must watch TV, and Los Angeles has every reason to be excited. July is just a microcosm of what this team is capable of, and if their opponents fail to figure them out, the streets of L.A. will be filled with fans celebrating their team’s World Series title.

Los Angeles Clippers are Keeping Pace in an Ever-Evolving NBA

| Sports | July 27, 2017

In the blink of an eye, the Los Angeles Clippers have become a brand new team. No longer will the likes of Chris Paul, JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute grace the hardwood of Staples Center. In their stead steps a motley crew of high caliber players, who may lack the name power of Paul and Redick, but give the Clippers a chance to contend in the incredibly stacked Western Conference.

The first domino to fall in the Rube Goldberg machine that ultimately created the present day Clippers was the trade that sent Paul to the Houston Rockets. To pair Paul with James Harden, Houston had to part ways with Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Kyle Wiltjer, a protected first-round pick next season, and cash consideration.

Of this treasure trove, Beverley and Williams are the two players that will have the most immediate impact. Beverley will slide into the starting shooting guard role left vacant after Redick departed to Philadelphia on a one-year, $23 million contract. The two could not be more different as players. Beverley is a defensive ace, who can look down any opposing wing player. Redick, on the other hand, is an offensive threat whose three-pointers can instantly change the tone of a game.

Williams should take up the offensive mantle as Los Angeles’ sixth man. Most Angelenos will remember Williams from his stint with the Lakers, where he averaged 18.6 points off the bench in 2016-2017, before being traded to Houston. Some are scratching their heads and thinking, “What about Jamal Crawford?” Well, there’s a story behind that.

The Clippers said goodbye to Mbah a Moute — who has also joined the Rockets — in search of a more offensive-oriented small forward. They set their sights on Danilo Gallinari of the Denver Nuggets. To afford Gallinari’s three-year, $65 million price tag, Los Angeles had to facilitate a sign-and-trade deal that sent Houston’s first-round pick from the Paul deal, Diamond Stone, and Crawford to the Atlanta Hawks.

Crawford was then immediately bought out of his contract with Atlanta, after which, he signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves, a budding super team of their own. The loss of Crawford is a hard pill for nostalgic fans to swallow, but anyone unacquainted with Gallinari will love what he brings to the court when they see him play.
Gallinari averaged 18 points per game last season, shooting 39 percent from three-point territory. With Blake Griffin’s improved long-ball, the Clippers have a forward duo that is suited for the present-day NBA.

Okay, so that covers Paul’s, Redick’s, Crawford’s, and Mbah a Moute’s departures. But wait, what about the person replacing Paul as the team’s starting point guard? This is where the Clippers threw a curve ball. Instead of trading for a big name NBA player, Los Angeles looked overseas to Serbian phenom Milos Teodosic.

Teodosic is not a household name in America, but with CSKA Moscow in the Euroleague, he put up 16 points on 38 percent from three, and 6.8 assists per game. Teodosic is a precision passer, a trait that pairs well with Deandre Jordan. Expect the same amount of rim-shattering slam dunks from Los Angeles’ big man with Teodosic passing him the ball.

The only area in which he falters is on defense, where he allowed 113 points per 100 possessions. Fortunately, Beverley will be able to mask any defensive inefficiencies Teodosic displays, and Teodosic can account for Beverley’s less-than-stellar offense.

That’s the Clippers’ offseason in a nutshell. It’s bittersweet, as Los Angeles has to say goodbye to a team that captured our hearts with Lob City, before becoming a perennial title contender. This is the current state of the NBA, however. With the juggernaut that is the Golden State Warriors, teams that sit idly by are destined to be destroyed as the Warriors sweep their way into the NBA Finals.

That isn’t to say these major moves put the Clippers into championship consideration. However, they are now more suited for the three-point focused NBA. For better or worse, this is your 2017-2018 Los Angeles Clippers; fresh faces ready to fight against a sea of super teams.

Roger Federer Finds His Footing After a Five-Year Fall

| Sports | July 20, 2017

Roger Federer’s reign as the world’s top tennis player seemed to be long over. The likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Andy Murray had all but supplanted Federer as king of the sport.

Then came the year 2017.

It started with a hard fought battle between Federer and Nadal in the final round of the Australian open. Federer came out on top 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3. That tipped the scales slightly toward the Swiss sensation, but would be viewed as a fluke if he didn’t replicate these results at Wimbledon.

Federer didn’t just win Wimbledon, he dominated, never dropping a set on the way to a 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 victory over Marin Cilic (7). He collected his eighth championship at the Grand Slam tournament, and at 35 years old, became the oldest player in the Open era to win at the All England Club.

The win gives Federer 19 Grand Slam titles, widening the gap between him and Nadal. Although Federer leads all men in Grand Slam championships, he is still tied with Helen Wills, and trails Steffi Graf (22), Serena Williams (23), and Margaret Court (24) in the trophy count. Federer should be past his prime at this point, but the record still appears to be in his grasp.

Djokovic seems to have suddenly exited his prime, a possibility that might be explained by a right elbow injury that has been hampering him for over a year and a half. The ailment may cause Djokovic to take time off of the tour, leaving the door open for Federer to take home more Grand Slam titles. Williams will also not have the chance to separate herself from Federer, as her pregnancy has prevented her from continuing on the tour.

The U.S. Open begins August 28 and will be Federer’s next proving ground. This gives Djokovic time to heal in the hopes of playing, although he surely won’t rush his recovery. If he is unable to go, Federer still has to contend with Nadal, Murray, Stan Wawrinka, and Cilic, who will be motivated by his defeat at Wimbledon.

Federer has proven that his comeback is legitimate, which means he will have a target on his back at every tournament where he competes. He will be facing each player at their very best, and it is difficult to say he will come out on top every time. However, if he does get the better of his foes, Federer may find himself at the top of ATP rankings, a spot he hasn’t been in since October 29, 2012.

Doing so will be no easy feat. He will have to make the finals of each ATP World Tour Masters 1000, along with every final of the remaining Grand Slam tournaments. On top of that, he will have to hope Murray and Nadal don’t make it to the final round with him. If they do, Federer has to be the victor for him to have a shot at number one.

Everything will have to go right for this to happen, so it is unfair to expect Federer to be the ATP’s leader in 2017. His recent success has him third overall, which is a good foundation to build upon.

We are currently witnessing arguably the greatest group of athletes among all professional sports. Tom Brady’s fifth Super Bowl victory has unanimously cemented him as the NFL’s best player. LeBron James is chasing Michael Jordan for this title in the NBA.

Federer is in the conversation for Tennis’ all-time greatest, a title he appeared nowhere near in recent history. If he continues his current comeback tour, and finds a way to eventually win Grand Slam title number 25, the conversation will be over. Federer will be the greatest tennis player of all time, and won’t be unseated from that throne for a long, long time.

Free Agent Fits for the Los Angeles Lakers

| Sports | June 30, 2017

The NBA free agency period begins on July 1st, and already, rumors of the Lakers trading for Paul George are beginning to swirl.

George has stated that he will leave the Indiana Pacers in free agency after next season to join Los Angeles, prompting Indiana to swiftly look for trade partners for the disgruntled small forward.

If Los Angeles were to trade for George, they would likely have to bring in a third team, as the Lakers are low on assets that would help the Pacers rebuild. Los Angeles’ most valuable trade asset, D’Angelo Russell, has already been dealt to the Brooklyn Nets with Timofey Mozgov, in exchange for center Brook Lopez.

Since George has a strong desire to join the Lakers, it may be unwise for the team to make sacrifices to bring him in a year early. Although Los Angeles added promising players in Lopez and newly drafted point guard Lonzo Ball, bringing in George at this junction will make them a fringe playoff team at best. This is not a desirable position for a team that is still rebuilding.

The 2017-2018 Season will be another down year for a Lakers franchise that has seen many recently. Ball will be the bright spot of the squad, and his ability to make his teammates better will make for entertaining basketball.

That being said, Los Angeles should make some moves in free agency, albeit small ones, to fill holes that recent departures have created. Aside from trading Russell, shooting guard Nick Young has opted out of his contract, making him a free agent. This move depletes the Lakers’ shooting guard depth, making this priority number one when free agency opens.

There are some big names in the market at this position. JJ Redick and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are two of the stronger options, but carry a hefty price tag that the Lakers won’t be able to afford if they want to have enough money for George next year.

This makes Justin Holiday, brother of UCLA point guards Jrue and Aaron, Los Angeles’ perfect prospect. Holiday had a breakout season with the Knicks, averaging a career high 7.7 points with his best shooting percentage of .433.

Holiday put these numbers up in just 20 minutes per game off the bench. In fact, Holiday has never been a consistent starter in the NBA, but showed he deserves the chance with his solid play in New York. His stats per 36 minutes would’ve had him averaging 13.8 points per game with 4.9 rebounds.

These promising numbers project Holiday can be an efficient, but not flashy, starter. This is the type of player the Lakers should pursue in free agency. His major flaw, however, is defense. Holiday allowed 111 points per 100 possessions, the most in his career. Still, he made just slightly over $1 million last season, a figure that won’t escalate too much, despite his career year.

Rebounding is another area of concern for Los Angeles. As a team, they collected just 43.5 rebounds per game, leaving them at 17th in the league. Lopez is slotted to be the team’s starting center, but struggles in getting rebounds. He averaged only 5.4 per game, and only accounted for 9 percent of all rebounds that occurred with him on the court.

The Lakers can’t rely on Julius Randle to be the only consistent rebounder, and must seek help in this department. This would make Alan Williams a strong addition to the roster. Williams played power forward for the Phoenix Suns last season and, like Holiday, had a breakout year.

Williams tallied 15 double-doubles for the season, which would have been good for second on Los Angeles behind Randle’s 18. Williams averaged a total of 6.2 rebounds per game and collected 22 percent of all rebounds available in that time. Per 36 minutes, Williams projected to average 10 rebounds per game, with 17.6 points to go along with them.

Like Holiday, Williams struggles with defense at times. He is also undersized for a power forward, at 6 feet, 8 inches, and doesn’t shoot the 3-pointer, making for poor floor spacing. Because of these factors, he wouldn’t start for the Lakers, but he would instantly be their best rebounder off the bench. Williams earned less than $1 million last season, and will be in Los Angeles’ price range.

The Lakers are a proud and storied franchise, so watching them struggle for so long comes as a surprise. There is a light at the end of the tunnel if George stays true to his word. In the meantime, Los Angeles should be making every move to ensure entertaining basketball. The rebuild may be over soon, so fans should sit back and enjoy the process until then.

Page 2 of 5 1 2 3 4 5