The World Series, Big Ten quarterbacks, Antonio Brown and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. Randy Arozarena is getting enough help to make this a series
Randy Arozarena and Manuel Morgot accounted for 15 of the Tampa Bay Rays’ 44 hits and seven of their 11 home runs in the ALCS. That combined with the Rays’ pitching was enough to squeak past the Houston Astros, but they were going to need other players to start hitting to have any hope of beating the Los Angeles Dodgers. Every time Los Angeles has taken a lead in the World Series, clutch performers seemingly pop up out of nowhere for the Rays.
In Game 2 it was Brandon Lowe and his two home runs. Brett Phillips was the hero in Game 4 with the single that led to the dramatic walk-off win. Nine different players have driven in a run for Tampa Bay through five games. Kevin Kiermaier has six hits, two home runs and three RBI. While the Rays find themselves trailing in the series yet again, they have survived three starts from Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw. If they can get through Game 6, the best Game 7 pitcher in baseball history is ready to take the mound. Tampa Bay can pull this off if Arozarena’s historic performance is supplemented the way it has been so far.
2. The Big Ten looks different thanks to improved quarterback play at Michigan and Wisconsin
Less than a month ago, Graham Mertz was preparing for a second season as Jack Coan’s backup for the Badgers. Then Coan got hurt, putting the redshirt freshman in control of Wisconsin’s offense. All he did was complete 20 of his 21 passes, throwing five touchdowns and no interceptions in a 45-7 victory over Illinois. Meanwhile, Joe Milton connected on 68.2% of his throws and guided the Wolverines to 481 total yards and 49 points against Minnesota, the most Michigan has scored on a ranked opponent in the Jim Harbaugh era.
Though Milton wasn’t nearly as impressive as Mertz, it was clear even in his first start the Wolverines’ offense has a different feel with him at the helm. Losses by Penn State and Iowa plus Michigan’s win over Minnesota leave the Badgers and Wolverines as the most serious threats to Ohio State. Neither team is on the Buckeyes’ level, but they might actually be explosive enough to keep pace with them now. At the very least, if Mertz and Milton continue to improve, things will be interesting next season when both guys return and Ohio State has to break in a new quarterback.
3. Somehow, the NFC East is the Philadelphia Eagles’ to lose
Carson Wentz’s touchdown to Boston Scott that capped off the Eagles’ comeback against the New York Giants might have saved Philadelphia’s season. It gave Doug Peterson’s team the division lead at 2-4-1 despite being severely short handed at every offensive position except quarterback. Andy Dalton left Washington’s win over Dallas following Jon Bostic’s dirty hit, ensuring the Eagles enter Week 8 with a half-game edge.
A nightmare season for Dallas is only getting worse and a loss to Philadelphia next weekend would all but end the Cowboys’ postseason hopes. Washington is also half a game back but faces five teams who are currently 3-4 or better and the Eagles on the road in their last six games. Wentz is playing better than he did at the start of the season, though he is still prone to a head-scratching moment or two per game. At this point, that is enough to come out on top of a historically bad division.
4. The Buccaneers are taking an unnecessary risk with Antonio Brown
The last time Antonio Brown appeared in multiple games was 2018 when he was still a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Since then, he has threatened to retire because his old helmet no longer met the league’s requirements, had a verbal confrontation with Las Vegas Raiders general manager Mike Mayock and got released twice. On July 31, the NFL suspended Brown for eight games after a variety of incidents including two women accusing him of sexual misconduct and him pleading no contest to felony battery charges for attacking a moving truck driver.
Undeterred by Brown’s downright terrifying behavior the past two years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed him to a one-year deal on Oct. 23. Brown is reunited with Bruce Arians, his former offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh who publicly criticized him last year. Tampa Bay is atop the NFC South at 5-2 with Pro Bowl wideouts Mike Evans and Chris Godwin battling injuries. The whole reason there was so much excitement around Tom Brady joining the Buccaneers was the weapons he had at his disposal. They’ve managed just fine without Evans and Godwin being close to 100%. Brown does not fill a gaping hole in Tampa Bay’s roster. He is an older version of the same player the Raiders and Patriots got, the one who never played for Jon Gruden and appeared in one game for Bill Belichick.
5. The Pacers and Pelicans followed a logical thought process in hiring their new coaches
By firing Nate McMillan after losing in the first round of the playoffs for the fifth year in a row, Indiana Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard made it clear just reaching the postseason isn’t good enough. The only way to improve on the 46 wins McMillan averaged in his four seasons was to bring in someone with a chance to elevate the Pacers’ ceiling. Aside from Mike D’Antoni, no one available with NBA head coaching experience fit that description. Nate Bjorkgren — who won championships with Nick Nurse in the G League and with the Toronto Raptors — does. Indiana is essentially hoping to find its own version of Nurse, so why not hire his close friend and longtime assistant who also served as a head coach in the G League?
The New Orleans Pelicans, on the other hand, need a strong veteran presence to guide their young roster, someone that demands respect. With a 48-43 postseason record in his three previous stops and a trip to the 2009 NBA Finals on his resume, Stan Van Gundy has taken teams where the Pelicans want to be. He possesses a level of gravitas Alvin Gentry did not and gives New Orleans a formidable coach/front office combination with vice president of basketball operations David Griffin. There is obviously no way to know if these hires will work out, but they make complete sense based on where the Pacers and Pelicans currently find themselves.
El Clasico was a perfect representation of where Real Madrid and Barcelona are at internally right now. Zinedine Zidane’s team remained calm after back-to-back bad losses and picked up a 3-1 victory while Barcelona’s senior players left 19-year-old Sergiño Dest to talk to the media after the game as their frustration keeps growing. It hasn’t been pretty at times for Real Madrid, but Zidane knows how to connect with and motivate his players.
Photo by Keith Allison / Wikimedia Commons