Penn State races past No. 24 Northwestern

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Penn State races past No. 24 Northwestern

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Quarterback Matt McGloin had the go-ahead score with a 5-yard touchdown run with 2:37 left and Penn State rallied from 11 points down in fourth quarter to beat No. 24 Northwestern 39-28 on Saturday.

The Nittany Lions scored three times in the final 9:49, starting with McGloin's 8-yard touchdown pass to Allen Robinson as the receiver dragged along the back line of the end zone. Michael Zordich had a 2-point conversion run to get within 28-25 before McGloin's scramble into the end zone sent the homecoming weekend crowd into a frenzy.

Penn State (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) then stuffed Northwestern's last-gasp drive after Trevor Siemian's pass for Kain Colter was tipped away on fourth down.

Things looked so good for Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) after Venric Mark's 75-yard punt return for a touchdown with 50 seconds left in the third quarter demoralized the blue-and-white faithful for a 28-17 lead.

Mark also ran for a score.

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Scheelhaase's performance not enough for Illini

MADISON, Wis. (AP) Joel Stave threw two touchdown passes and Wisconsin's running game showed signs of life as the Badgers defeated Illinois 31-14 on Saturday.

Stave threw for 254 yards for the Badgers (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten), who rushed for 173 yards - 96 in the fourth quarter.

The offensive struggles of the Illini (2-4, 0-2) continued, with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase the only positive. He finished with 178 yards passing and 84 rushing as Illinois gained 287 yards overall.

Scheelhaase ran for a 5-yard touchdown in the first quarter and threw for an 8-yard touchdown to Ryan Lankford to make it 24-14 late in the game.

But Jared Abberdaris fielded the ensuing onside kick, and Montee Ball scored his second touchdown of the game to snuff any hopes of an Illinois comeback.

Ball has 59 rushing TDs in his career, nine shy of the NCAA record. He finished with 19 carries for 116 yards.

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Lynch rallies NIU past Ball State

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) Jordan Lynch accounted for 402 yards and gave Northern Illinois the lead for good with a 54-yard touchdown pass to Akeem Daniels, and the Huskies defeated Ball State 35-23 on Saturday.

Northern Illinois (5-1, 2-0 Mid-American), which has won five straight after a season-opening loss to Iowa, trailed 23-14 after Keith Wenning's short TD run for the Cardinals (3-3, 1-2) in the third quarter. But Lynch, who ran for 207 yards on 29 carries, scored on a 12-yard run. With 4:58 to play, the TD pass to Daniels made it 28-23 Huskies. Lynch then sealed it with a 71-yard run, his third rushing TD, with 3:03 left.

Lynch was 16 of 23 for 195 yards and was not intercepted. Wenning attempted 71 passes for Ball State, completing 42, for 434 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Jamill Smith ran for 146 yards on just 14 attempts for the Cardinals.

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SIU spoils Illinois State's homecoming

NORMAL, Ill. (AP) Anthony Thompson returned a blocked punt for a touchdown, and Southern Illinois intercepted four passes en route to a 17-0 victory against Illinois State on Saturday.

The Salukis (3-3, 2-1 Missouri Valley), who had just 182 yards of offense, recorded their first shutout since 2009.

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Western holds off South Dakota

VERMILLION, S.D. (AP) Wil Lunt connected with Fredson Salomon on a 66-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter Saturday and Western Illinois held on to beat South Dakota 24-17.

The Leathernecks (3-2, 1-1 Missouri Valley) trailed 10-3 at halftime but Kieron James blocked a punt to set Western Illinois up in Coyotes territory, and Lunt threw a 25-yard TD pass to Salomon to tie it. Lunt later hit Charles Chestnut for 39 yards to the South Dakota 1 and Caulton Ray ran it in on the next play to make it 17-10 WIU late in the third quarter.

South Dakota (1-4, 0-2) tied it up quickly. After Jasper Sanders returned the kickoff 55 yards, three plays later Josh Vander Maten found Anthony Williams for 41 yards and the tying score. But Lunt and Salomon answered for the winning points with 7:40 left.

Nikko Watson ran for 138 yards for the Leathernecks.

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UT-Martin downs Eastern

MARTIN, Tenn. (AP) Derek Carr threw four touchdowns and Tennessee-Martin racked up 616 yards of total offense in the Skyhawks' 51-37 win over Eastern Illinois on Saturday.

UT Martin (4-2, 2-1 Ohio Valley Conference) struck first, returning the opening kick 93 yards for a touchdown. The Skyhawks extended their lead to 21-6 behind two touchdown passes from Carr.

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What pushed Theo Epstein over the edge in making Miguel Montero decision: ‘It screamed out’

What pushed Theo Epstein over the edge in making Miguel Montero decision: ‘It screamed out’

WASHINGTON – Cubs president Theo Epstein watched the Washington Nationals run wild on his iPad on Tuesday while visiting the Class-A Myrtle Beach affiliate. As Epstein did some work in his hotel room later that night, he got a text message from general manager Jed Hoyer alerting him to Miguel Montero’s explosive comments.  

Epstein’s management style is to not overreact or worry about the next day’s headlines. He generally believes in second chances, tries to keep an open mind and looks at the problem from every angle, occasionally to the point of paralysis by analysis.

But Epstein said it took “probably 10 seconds” before he realized the Cubs needed to designate Montero for assignment after the veteran catcher pointed the finger at Jake Arrieta – a Cy Young Award-winning, All-Star pitcher – for Washington’s seven stolen bases.    

“It screamed out as something that we should do,” Epstein said.     

As Montero’s rant caught fire on Twitter, Epstein called Hoyer and spoke to Montero on the phone, but he wanted to sleep on it and consult with some players before making Wednesday’s final decision, which could cost approximately $7 million. Epstein could not envision this as a team-building moment after Montero’s mea culpa and clearing the air with Arrieta.

“That was not my read on it, knowing the dynamics, present and past,” Epstein said. “This was not something that we would benefit from – trying to pursue a path of putting it all back together again.”

The Cubs pursued Aroldis Chapman after the New York Yankees closer began last season serving a 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy. The Cubs cautiously didn’t judge or unconditionally support Addison Russell after a third-party abuse accusation on social media triggered an MLB investigation this month. The Cubs tolerated Tommy La Stella’s refusal to report to Triple-A Iowa last summer, allowing him to chill out at home in New Jersey.

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But Montero doesn’t have a 100-mph fastball. Montero isn’t an All-Star shortstop. Montero isn’t being preserved for one hypothetical pinch-hit at-bat in the playoffs. The Cubs are hovering around .500 now – no longer the World Series favorite – and all those variables become part of the calculus.   

“I just came to the conclusion that now more than ever we really need to be a team,” Epstein said. “This was an example of someone being a bad teammate publicly, and that we’d be better off moving on and not standing for it, because we do hold our players to a higher standard than that.

“In our role as the front office, we can’t always be in the clubhouse and push the right buttons to help everyone come together as a team. But we certainly are in a position – when we see something that could fracture the group – to try to fix the situation and remove that issue.

“Miggy’s not to blame at all for the issues that we have as a team right now. He should not be a scapegoat for what’s going on. This was just an example of someone publicly not being a good teammate and making comments that weren’t accountable and weren’t supportive and weren’t in furtherance of the team concept. And we felt we had to act on it.”

There is a chicken-or-the-egg mystery to clubhouse cohesion. But Montero probably would have had a longer fuse – and the bosses would have had a longer leash – if the Cubs were 24 games above .500 the way they were at this time last year. Montero could also get away with a lot more when he was a two-time All-Star for the Arizona Diamondbacks and playing in a sleepy market. 

“Had we been in a spot where this group had already formed its identity and was clicking on all cylinders,” Epstein said, “and had already overcome adversity together and come together completely as a team and we’re rolling in those respects, maybe it could have been handled differently by the group without sort of action from above.

“But I think you have to factor in where the team is and what the team needs and how close we are to reaching our ideal and how close we are to living up to all the values that we have as an organization.”

The Cubs Way isn’t exactly making it up as they go along. But there are always double standards and rationalizations in a bottom-line business. It sounds like Epstein did his due diligence without giving it a second thought: Montero wasn’t worth the trouble anymore. 

“There aren’t that many opportunities for people out of uniform to positively impact the group or nudge it in the right direction,” Epstein said, “or underscore the importance of team or emphasize the values that we try to embody as a group.

“This was one that made sense, given the history, the group dynamics, all the factors involved.”

Can Leonard Floyd break out in 2017? The Bears like the early signs

Can Leonard Floyd break out in 2017? The Bears like the early signs

The Bears believe Leonard Floyd will make the leap from being a promising rookie to a breakout second-year player, the kind who can be a centerpiece of a defense as soon as this fall.  

The Bears in 2016 totaled 37 sacks —12th in the NFL — despite dealing with a rash of injuries and not having a standout player in terms of getting to the quarterback. Willie Young led the team with 7 1/2 sacks, which tied him for 31st in the league last year, while Floyd and Akiem Hicks each had seven. 

Sixteen players recorded double-digit sacks last year. That’s not the end-all benchmark for Floyd in 2017, but for a former top-10 pick with elite skills and, as his coaches and teammate said, the right mentality, it’s not out of the question. 

“With most players, you go from your freshman year to sophomore or rookie to second year, … it slows down, they understand it, they're not thinking, they're reacting,” coach John Fox said. “And so I'd expect that and I've seen that already even in the off-season.”

Floyd, earlier this month, talked about how much more comfortable he feels after a full year of practicing and playing at the NFL level. 

“Everything was just fast when I got here last year,” Floyd said. “This year’s it’s way slower and I feel like I’m doing pretty good this year.”

There are two issues with Floyd that won’t go away until he proves they’re not problems in the regular season, though: His weight and his concussions. 

The weight issue is one Floyd has heard for a while, joking with reporters during veteran minicamp that he was surprised it wasn’t the first thing he was asked during his session with the media. He said he “definitely gained some weight” without revealing how much he’s put on, only saying he feels like he’s in much better shape now than he was as a rookie.

“It’s like night and day compared to last year,” Floyd said. 

The concessions are a far more serious — and scary — issue given it took Floyd two months to fully recover from the second concussion he suffered in 2016. 

The Bears believe Floyd’s concussion issues are correctable, though, given they were the product of poor tackling form made worse by collisions with Hicks. The crown of Floyd’s helmet was too low, so he and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio worked with tackling dummies and sled machines in an effort to fix that issue. 

The hope is that Floyd can stay healthy and marry his skills with a better knowledge of the game to put together a breakout year in 2017. His teammates sounded confident during the offseason program that everything was falling into place for the former ninth overall pick. 

“He’s a great competitor,” Hicks said. “Great energy, fast, athletic, he’s everything you want in an outside linebacker, right? Nonstop motor — I can give you all the cliche terms, but I just feel like as far as the defensive line or an outside linebacker, another year under his belt is only going to make him better.”

Added linebacker Jerrell Freeman: “That guy is going to be good for a while.”