His hobby nonetheless might have stalled decades ago if he hadn’t connected with his best single box-score source, a kindred spirit who collected NBA stats for a living: Harvey Pollack. The Philadelphia 76ers’ director of statistical information has been working in pro basketball since before the NBA, debuting with the league’s forerunner, the Basketball Association of America, in 1946. The two men aren’t clear on when they began collaborating. Pfander said in a telephone interview he thinks it was 1956; Pollack, who is 92, recalled that they started working together when he expanded his annual NBA stats book in the 1970s. They met at most a few times, but they communicated at least a dozen times each year by phone and mail.Pollack, who has worked for the Sixers since the team’s first season in 1963-64, was also collecting box scores for every game, though his collection didn’t go back as far as Pfander’s. Pollack would send Pfander his book of box scores, and Pfander would send back results of his data analysis — tidbits such as when the league’s millionth point was scored. That archival work helped when the NBA marked later milestone league totals. “He’s the one who started with it,” Pollack said. “That was his idea. I’ve kept it alive ever since.”Pollack put many of these small discoveries in his annual books, always crediting Pfander, whose stats were meticulously calculated and, before he started using a computer, meticulously handwritten, with a fountain pen. “He has the best handwriting you have ever seen,” said his daughter Colleen Greff.Pfander said he used to check the box scores Pollack sent, to make sure the numbers added up. Then he would generate 33 or 34 different stats for Pollack in return. Pollack said his latest book includes at least 40 stats furnished by Pfander.Filling holes in the recordPart of the fun of sports is measuring today’s players and teams against their predecessors, and you can’t do that without a complete record of what past players did. Every sport’s fan base includes completists, people who feel unsettled by the lack of certainty in the records.Ten years ago, Justin Kubatko founded the website Basketball-Reference.com as a resource for fans who want to know every detail about basketball history. Seven years ago, he left his job teaching statistics at Ohio State University to work full time on basketball stats.Before he connected with Pfander, Kubatko had game-by-game data on his site going back only to the mid-1980s.“I’m a completist,” Kubatko said in a telephone interview. “It did kind of bug me. We had 40 years of information that was just not there. I was also a realist. I knew there was really no easy way to acquire that data.”Kubatko doesn’t recall when he first heard of Pfander’s box-score collection — perhaps from the discussion boards at the basketball analytics site APBR.org, where Pfander has been a frequent topic of discussion. “I got his contact information, we talked for a few weeks, we worked out a deal, and we bought what he had,” Kubatko said. “He is an extremely generous and extremely nice man.”By this time, Pfander had digitized his box scores, scanning and sorting them — meticulously, of course. The disk Kubatko received, in 2008, had folders for each year and subfolders for months and for days. Even so, the box scores were saved as images, not spreadsheets or databases, so it wasn’t easy to add them to a stats database.Kubatko sat on the trove for at least a year. “Then we said, ‘You know what, this is kind of silly,’” he recalled. “People are probably interested in what we have as it is.” He wrote a script to link the team abbreviations Pfander used with those on the site and to pair each scan with that game’s unique Basketball Reference ID. Then he fixed the mismatches that arose from errors in the box scores or in the site’s schedule data.In January 2012, Kubatko announced that Basketball Reference now had every box score for every NBA game. His blog post credited Pfander, “who did the lion’s share of the work for this project.” At Grantland a few days later, Robert Mays wrote about the pair and Pfander’s unlikely collection.Fans wouldn’t be able to work with the old stats, though, until Kubatko could get the games into the database. He found Sean Wrona, a champion competitive typist, who “keyed in all this stuff for us off the scans, and we paid him to do that,” Kubatko said. “He did the first several seasons we put out there. All I’ll say is I found a more efficient way to handle the other seasons.”Wrona said in an email1Presumably typed quickly: He’s been clocked above 250 words per minute. that each box score took him about 10 minutes, or just five when it was abbreviated and missing some statistical categories. “Accuracy is far more important than speed for archival work (unlike for competitive typing, where raw speed is far more important), so I don’t come close to my peak typing speed while archiving, but it still helps,” Wrona said. He continues to do data-entry work for Sports Reference, Basketball Reference’s parent company.Wrona’s typing was the fastest part of the project. To merit inclusion in the database, a box score had to make sense: Players’ numbers had to add up to team totals, for instance. Newspaper box scores are the first draft of basketball statistical history. Kubatko estimated that each season had about 100 errors. He could resolve most using online news databases. Kubatko also sought help from his readers, posting on the blog his “most wanted” list for box scores where the sum of players’ scores didn’t equal the team total.The NBA steps inKubatko’s effort to build a publicly accessible archive of the game’s history made slow but sure progress.2In October 2012, Kubatko announced partial box scores were available for the 1982-83 and 1983-84 seasons. In December, Basketball Reference’s database stretched to 1981-82. The next month, he’d added one more year. By March of last year, the database went back to 1976-77, the first year after the NBA merged with the American Basketball Association. Last March, he announced a big breakthrough: The database now went back to 1964-65.Since then, the work has stalled: Basketball Reference has added just one more year. One reason is that Kubatko left Sports Reference in August, citing “creative differences.”3He retains a stake in the company, and is, as of earlier this month, an NBA consultant, through his company, Statitudes LLC.Sports Reference’s founder and president, Sean Forman, says the work to fill in the remaining 18 years of box-score data continues, but it isn’t a priority. That’s because the NBA itself announced in February 2013 that it had posted the box score for every game, all the way back to 1946-47, to NBA.com. “We want to be first on things,” Forman said. “Now that the NBA already has that data up, it’s a little bit less of an impetus.”So where did the NBA get that data? It always had “thorough statistical records,” league spokesman John Acunto said, but hadn’t figured out how to best publish most of them online until partnering with SAP, the tech company that powers the NBA’s revamped stats site. Before the site relaunch last year, the NBA offered game-by-game stats online going back only to 2007, Acunto said.Pfander’s box-score archive was one source the league used to fill gaps. “We have acquired from Pfander and others additional references and sources to cross-reference and validate our information,” Acunto said.Pete Palmer, a veteran sports statistician, said he and Pfander collaborated on using the box-score collection to correct errors in the league’s records. Palmer said that Pfander also sold his box scores to the statisticians at the Elias Sports Bureau.4“As I remember it, some of the box scores were hard to read and Dick had to prepare typed files for Elias,” Palmer said by email.Steve Hirdt, a statistician at often-secretive Elias, declined to comment on whether the company worked with Pfander. “It’s just not something we discuss,” he said by phone.The legend retiresPfander is far from the only amateur completist to aid sports historians. Pollack, of the Sixers, credited regular contributions from other basketball enthusiasts in his book over the years. David W. Smith has led a team of volunteers in the ongoing, ambitious effort to fill the record of every Major League Baseball play. Wrona built an online auto-racing database for a dozen series. Forman cited the contribution of Ed Washuta, who entered minor league baseball stats over a century old. “Pfander is an exemplar in that he has produced such a tremendous set of data for the public,” Forman said.The work of filling and correcting the NBA statistical record goes on. Many of the older box scores contained only field goals made, free throws made and points scored for each player. And some box scores are missing players, such as these on NBA.com. Fans often write to the league to suggest corrections, which it makes when appropriate, Acunto said. Sports Reference similarly invites corrections from readers.Pfander, a user of the site, continued to help Sports Reference’s efforts after shipping his data. “Some of those older scans are really poor,” Kubatko said. “It was very hard to read some of them. He was trying to find replacements for those, and occasionally he would send us stuff that would give us a better scan.” Pfander also did some digitizing work himself, typing old box scores into Microsoft Word documents — Word tables were his instrument of choice for organizing his digital data. “He was committed, definitely,” Kubatko said.5Pfander also sent along his ABA box scores, and inputting those is another project waiting to be completed.The work could go on forever. “You’re never going to get a perfect set of box scores,” Kubatko said. “It’s just not going to happen.”Today, though, Pfander is no longer actively working on NBA statistics. In November 2012 — just as Basketball Reference’s effort to input his data was gaining momentum — Pfander had surgery for a brain aneurysm. Afterward, he was confused, “and he actually made the joke, something about, you should never have brain surgery during NBA season, because it just messes up all the statistics,” his daughter Colleen recalled.Later that month, on his 78th birthday, Pfander suffered a stroke. The stroke has affected his short-term memory, Pfander and his children say. They tell him that the speech he gave at his wife’s memorial service was the best they’ve ever heard, and he laments that there’s no recording for him to listen to and remind him of what he said.The stroke also has interrupted Pfander’s statistical work. He continues to watch the NBA from his current home at a care facility but, he said, “I’ve had some physical setbacks, and I just don’t do it anymore.” He added, “I started a couple of different times, and I guess I’d say I don’t have the interest in making all those copies of box scores and then filling in the blanks so that I can add ’em up and see strings of double-figure scoring and things like that.”His daughter Julaine has cleaned up his computer’s desktop so that it has just two folders, one of them labeled “basketball stats.” She’s also backed up his data onto an external hard drive. It’s all ready for him to dive back in. “He doesn’t seem to want to do that,” she said. “Part of me thinks he worries that if he doesn’t do it exactly right, he might mess something up. He knows he has all this great data out there, and the last thing he would want to do is not do it the way he used to do it.”“It’s so sad now,” Colleen said. “It was such a passion for him, oh my goodness, he could not bear to fall behind. Now the desire to do statistics is just not there.”If he never revisits basketball stats, Pfander’s legacy is secure, and that’s some comfort. “I think he was probably happy that all of this work he had done — because he had really done it for really personal reasons — he was happy that it would be able to reach a larger audience, and that other people would be able to benefit from the work he had done,” Kubatko said.Of his hobby’s role in completing the Basketball Reference database, Pfander said, “It makes me feel that it was useful.” Dick Pfander has spent most of his life collecting and analyzing box scores from every NBA game since the league’s founding. He did most of his work in solitude, by hand, before the age of personal computers. And he did it simply for his own pleasure, surrounded by supportive family members who cared neither about basketball nor statistics, let alone their intersection.Today, his analog hobby is paying digital dividends for stats-obsessed basketball fans. His work has helped fill gaps in the league’s statistical record for both its official website and the leading independent reference site. The project continues — but without Pfander.An all-consuming “job”Pfander started clipping box scores from newspapers as a teenager in Battle Creek, Michigan, in the late 1940s. He did it during high school, after his marriage to Colette Waterman, through jobs as a teacher and with the Defense Department, through the birth of his three children, and through Colette’s death, in 2009.On vacations, Dick and Colette would travel to places where “he thought there might be a newspaper of use to him” in the local library’s archive, his daughter Julaine Eddy said in a telephone interview. “She’d drop him off and go do things around town while he sat in front of the microfiche machine.”Pfander’s children say they and their mother didn’t share his passion for NBA stats, but they didn’t resent it. It was just one way he expressed his love for basketball and for statistics. He also refereed basketball games and compiled the stats for local youth baseball tournaments and swim meets. He didn’t mind that none of his children played basketball or got into stats.Most of all, he sat in front of the television, “going back and forth between watching the basketball and working on the stats,” said his son, Greg. “It never bothered me that he did it — it was his thing. It just seems like that’s my dad, that’s what he always did.”Julaine’s memory of her father working on his stats is vivid. “Dad had this huge desk at home, and it was him sitting at that desk. The TV was visible from that desk, and he sat there and worked,” she said. “And as a kid, you think, ‘That must be a job he’s doing.’”Why did he do it? Pfander, 79, isn’t expansive on the topic. “It was a hobby for me,” he said in an interview last week. “It was a fun thing for me to do.” He considered himself a statistician long before NBA teams started hiring statisticians. “I had always been interested in statistics,” Pfander said, and “I kind of liked doing statistical-type things.”He added, “I don’t think anybody would do all that unless they enjoyed it.” Dick Pfander Courtesy of Colleen Greff
Detroit Lions defensive tackle Detroit Lions’ Ndamukong Suh was on the losing side of an $100,000 appeal that he filed challenging the charge he received for blocking below the belt.Roosevelt Barnes, one of Suh’s agents, told the Associated Press he was notified Friday of the arbitrator’s decision.The Washington Post reported:“Suh was fined for a sixth time in his four-year career on Sept. 10, two days after making an illegal block on Vikings center John Sullivan. He apologized to Sullivan, and to teammates for negating an interception return for a touchdown in Detroit’s season-opening win.”Barnes played video of the tackle, frame by frame, in order to prove his client’s defense.“We’re disappointed that Ndamukong was fined at all and that it wasn’t reduced,” Barnes told The AP in a telephone interview Friday. “It is clear from the film, when you slow it down frame by frame, that Ndamukong was clearly in front of the player and that his head and shoulder, when he started off blocking him, were above the player’s waist. But because Ndamukong left his feet, he was going to hit the ground and was going to get tangled on the lower part of the player’s body.”Suh has officially become the first football player in history to receive a fine of $100,000 and has been fined six times, suspended for two games for a total of $342,794.
The Carolina Panthers on Thursday released Steve Smith, the franchise’s all-time leading receiver, and he was snapped up Friday by the Baltimore Ravens — so it’s a good time to take stock of his career. The numbers say Smith is one of the best, and most underrated, wideouts of all time.As my former colleague Chase Stuart has repeatedly noted, Smith’s raw numbers have always understated his worth because of an unfortunate combination of injuries, a mediocre supporting cast at quarterback and receiver, and the team’s run-heavy strategy. But when Smith was healthy, he was as valuable as any pass-catcher.After the 2012 season — and before the 2013 season, when it became clear Smith had exited his prime years — Stuart found that Smith rated as the sixth-best receiver ever in two important yet under-the-radar stats: individual percentage of team receiving yards and receiving yards per team passing attempt. Neither metric is the final word on a receiver, but both reflect aspects that are central to the position.A player’s share of his team’s receiving yards is important because it represents a receiver’s market share of available statistics. As Pro-Football-Reference.com founder Doug Drinen once pointed out, receivers are the only players in football who directly compete with their own teammates for touches. (Other positions have their skirmishes, but they rarely battle while on the field at the same time.) So it really means something when a team funnels so many of its passes to one guy.Yards per passing attempt is also crucial. It accounts for how much a team throws the ball. Stuart and I conducted research last summer suggesting that when a team increases its passing attempts by 2 percent, its receivers will see about a 1 percent boost in production — a factor that can really add up at the extremes. Smith’s numbers were stunted relative to his peers because he played in rush-focused offenses that passed about 8 percent less than the NFL average over the course of his career.After we account for these handicaps, Smith looks like an all-time great. His 2005 campaign ranks extremely high in the aforementioned metrics, and his performance in 2008 stands out as one of the most commanding ever by a receiver. That year, Smith led the NFL in receiving yards per game despite the Panthers attempting the fewest passes in the league — the only time that’s happened since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.Smith’s numbers have dropped off in recent years (no surprise; he’ll turn 35 in May), so it’s not clear how much production he’ll bring to Baltimore in 2014. But when he was at his peak, few receivers ever dominated their team’s passing game more.
2015-16Miami5.0– 2008-09Miami3.1– 2016-17Chicago3.1%– The percentage of Wade’s offense that came from cuts to the basket basically doubled during the years he teamed with LeBron and then dropped back to its original level as soon as James went back to Cleveland. Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group Utah Jazz23461238.2 After being bought out by the Chicago Bulls, 12-time All-Star Dwyane Wade had a handful of solid options to consider when deciding which team to sign with.There was the fairy-tale possibility of rejoining the Heat, the franchise he was drafted by and where he won three titles. The suddenly fortified Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs — the team that effectively ended Miami’s Big Three era back in 2014 by winning the title that year — were also suitors. But as enticing as those teams might have been, none of them have LeBron James.So it isn’t surprising that Wade is choosing to sign in Cleveland, where he not only has a great chance at reaching the NBA Finals again but also gets to reunite with one of his closest friends. But if we only examine those two factors, we might be overlooking the biggest incentive Wade has in all this: LeBron and the Cavs may be a fountain of youth for the 35-year-old.James makes life easier for everyone he plays with (well, Mario Chalmers might disagree), and Wade was no exception while the two were in Miami. Wade logged career bests in effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage during that four-year run, from his age-29 to age-32 seasons. His stark improvement as an off-ball threat — specifically as a cutter who would make his break toward the basket while defenses were preoccupied with James — helped take the Heat’s offense to another level. 2007-08Miami3.0– 2012-13Miami11.4– TEAMMAKESATTEMPTSSHARE So depending on how quickly the duo jells (or re-jells), Wade may get far easier shots than he got last season in Chicago, when he generated just 3 percent of his offense from cuts to the basket and took his average shot attempt from more than 12 feet away, tied for the longest average shot distance of his 14-year career.Some will question whether Wade — and to a greater extent, Derrick Rose — is a good enough jump shooter to keep defenses honest while James is running the show and probing for driving lanes. But a closer evaluation of Wade’s game suggests that he can more than hold his own as an off-ball threat if used properly.Wade has shown himself to be a competent 3-point shooter when stationed in the corner, shooting almost 38 percent138 of 101. from the corner in the seven seasons since James signed with Miami in 2010 — considerably better than his 27 percent2147 of 550. on all other 3-point tries over that same span. That’s particularly meaningful for Cleveland, which led the NBA in corner 3-point makes and attempts by a huge margin, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Cavs launch far more corner triples when James — one of the best passers in the sport — is on the court compared to when he’s on the bench.) Wade cut to the basket far more when playing with LeBron CORNER 3S 2013-14Miami9.4– 2014-15Miami4.3– Cleveland Cavaliers35385041.5% Boston Celtics25362340.6 2009-10Miami4.6– 2011-12Miami8.6– SEASONTEAMSHARE OF OFFENSE THAT STEMS FROM CUTTING TO THE BASKET 2010-11Miami6.5– The years in bold highlight seasons in which Dwyane Wade was teammates with LeBron James.Source: Synergy Sports Technology Houston Rockets26769038.7 Miami Heat27769040.1 The Cavs take (and make) more corner 3s than anyone elseFor the 2016-17 regular season One variable that figures to be vital is how much Wade is being asked to do; especially in an offense that already features LeBron, Rose, the oft-forgotten Kevin Love and, at some point after the new year, Isaiah Thomas, who was acquired in the Kyrie Irving deal. It’s not hard to imagine Wade frequently handling the ball to give James a rest, though his game and Rose’s are similar in that both can develop tunnel vision when they’re driving to the basket.It would be wise for Cleveland to take a conservative approach that helps maintain Wade’s aging body for the postseason. J.R. Smith is seemingly a better fit for the Cavs’ starting lineup, thanks to both his size and his superior outside shooting.None of this is meant to suggest that Wade will be a perfect fit with the Cavs, as there are a handful of things that James and Wade simply won’t be able to replicate this many years after their first partnership. Chief among them: The swarming, blitzing defense the Heat used to trap pick-and-rolls. (Chris Bosh was truly special defensively with those teams.) In fact, a defense featuring the two of them might be a half-step slow now.However, even if Wade performs more fluidly during the regular season, it’s possible that, given his age, he and his body may not be totally dependable come playoff time, no matter how the Cavs manage his minutes. The 2014 Finals, in which the Heat got blasted by San Antonio four games to one, were a prime example.But if there’s one thing we’ve seen with Wade’s game in the past, it’s that James’s presence — as it has done for many others — will lessen the physical toll on Wade and possibly help offset the effects of Father Time. And that means the Cavaliers have little to lose with this signing.
Percentage of plays for zero or negative yards25.6%26.6 Notre Dame6940 The Sooners have gotten better under MurrayOklahoma’s offensive production in 2018, with Kyler Murray at quarterback, vs. 2017, with Baker Mayfield at quarterback Oklahoma12854 TeamOffensive SnapsDefensive Snaps 20075.05373.8224.522.626.4 20106.96444.12188.8.131.52 20166.47455.3210.321.031.9 20095.96403.0187.920.630.1 Percentage of first downs or TDs per play41.0%37.6 One year ago, the Oklahoma Sooners fielded the worst defense to ever qualify for the College Football Playoff. Under first-year head coach Lincoln Riley, and behind Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma took a 17-point lead on Georgia, the eventual national runner-up, before losing in the Rose Bowl semifinal. Twelve months later, Riley has another Heisman-winning quarterback in Kyler Murray and has piloted another one-dimensional Sooners team to a playoff berth.The reward — a date with Alabama, college football’s lead power broker — seems more like a punishment. The Tide, long a defensive force under coach Nick Saban, now boast what’s likely the best offense in program history. Las Vegas oddsmakers cared not for Oklahoma’s three-game winning streak against the Tide and opened with Alabama as two-touchdown favorites. According to FiveThirtyEight’s college football prediction model, Alabama has a 41 percent probability of winning the national title. Oklahoma faces much taller odds, with an 11 percent probability of winning it all.Here’s what to look for the when the two programs meet in the Orange Bowl semifinal Saturday at 8 p.m. Eastern.Will Tua Tagovailoa or Kyler Murray win the QB showdown?Seldom do a Heisman winner and his runner-up meet after the winner is crowned. Even given that rarity, this may be the best postseason clash of college quarterbacks we’ve ever seen. Both are coming off of historic regular seasons, with each in line to trump the record for Total Quarterback Rating, which ESPN has tracked since 2004 and is measured on a scale of 0 to 100. Bama rarely plays from behindTotal first-half snaps when trailing for this year’s playoff participants This is Saban’s most dominant Alabama offenseAlabama’s offense by season under head coach Nick Saban 20085.52355.8171.118.825.6 SeasonYardsYardsPassingYards1st DownsOffensive Points Per playPer Game Clemson6324 Metric20182017 20137.15454.1248.523.234.2 As if spring-loaded, Murray’s legs have minced opposing defenses. On a 75-yard touchdown run against Kansas, a broadcaster declared, “You’re not going to catch him,” before Murray had passed the 40-yard line. The junior is the country’s pre-eminent dual-threat wizard, whose 892 rushing yards place him seventh among all Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks this year.At the same time, Tagovailoa has been the figurehead of the Tide’s offensive ascension since replacing Jalen Hurts in last season’s national championship game. Saban has been in Tuscaloosa since 2007, and this year’s offense has been his best in terms of, well, everything. 20126.95445.5218.021.637.2 20116.46429.6215.221.632.1 But it’s not just the quarterbacks. In terms of offensive efficiency, this is the best matchup since the playoff began in 2014. Oddsmakers have taken notice, setting a points over/under total that’s unprecedented in the playoff era.It seemed logical that the departure of Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL draft, would abate Oklahoma’s offensive horsepower. That 2017 team had the most efficient offense ever tracked, according to the ESPN Stats & Information Group.1It has measured efficiency since 2005. But in Murray’s first full season as a starting college quarterback, the Sooners’ offense has actually improved. “Kyler Murray has accomplished more in one season and had more impact on the Sooners’ tradition in one season than any other player in our history,” former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer told The Athletic. “He’s broke all the damn records.” Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group Yards per play8.88.3 20187.92527.6325.524.643.9 20176.59444.1193.422.236.1 Both Murray and Tagovailoa are having little difficulty stretching the field. If they keep up this pace during the playoffs, each would rank in the top three among all QBs since 2004 in single-season passing yards per attempt, with Murray’s current 11.92 mark in line to set the all-time record.They won’t, however, be competing against equally proficient defensive units. Murray will be staring down a top-flight fortress that spent the past few months razing offensive lines and leveling quarterbacks. The Crimson Tide rank second in defensive efficiency, behind Clemson, and they lead the country in adjusted defensive quarterback rating, which accounts for the strength of the opposing quarterback. The Tide ranks among the 15 best teams in opponent completion percentage (51.8 percent) and yards allowed per pass attempt (5.86).Tagovailoa will have the luxury of playing against a defense that might seem as though it’s providing Alabama an escort to the end zone. Oklahoma ranks 92nd in defensive efficiency, unseating last year’s squad as the new worst defense to make it to the playoff; the Sooners have allowed 56 touchdowns this year, 13 more than Alabama has allowed since the beginning of the 2017 season. Uninspired performances led to the midseason firing of defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. But the unit’s play hasn’t improved. After giving up 39 first downs to Oklahoma State, the most allowed by any FBS team this season, interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill found room to praise his team for making “critical stops.”Pass defense, in particular, has been ghastly for the Sooners. No FBS team allows more passing yards per game (291.4), and only five allow more completions (22.3). The Sooners love to give up the long play, having allowed 56 passing plays of 20-plus yards, the fourth-most by any team.It’s unlikely that the turnover margin will favor the Sooners — even though Tagovailoa threw as many interceptions in his last outing as he did the rest of the season total. Oklahoma has generated 11 takeaways all season, the fewest of any qualifying team in the playoff era. Alabama has forced 11 since the beginning of October — and 21 in total.On the opening drive of the SEC championship game, Tagovailoa suffered a high ankle injury, which required surgery the following day. The sophomore has said that he’ll be unencumbered come game time, and given how little he rushes — generating just the 89th-most rushing yards among QBs — he won’t need much mobility. Even a pocket-locked Tagovailoa can still shred an opposing defense.Can Oklahoma survive Alabama’s first-half avalanche to win the second half?Players come and go, and each season carries idiosyncrasies, but the narrative arcs of the Sooners’ two previous playoff appearances were seemingly penned by the same author. In both, a lead evaporated and a dominant first half gave way to a second-half dud.In those appearances — in the 2015-16 Orange Bowl and the 2017-18 Rose Bowl — the Sooners outscored opponents 48 to 33 in the first half and were pummeled 49 to 14 in the second.2Excluding the overtime periods against Georgia in last season’s Rose Bowl. Those losses, Riley said,3Riley was Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator during the 2015-16 season. could be traced to physical opponents and conservative play-calling.Rewriting the script, then, will be paramount this time around for Oklahoma.Offensively, the Sooners seem to have the first half covered. No team puts up more first-half yardage than Oklahoma, which averages 313.4 yards a game. The team racks up 9.5 yards per first-half play — nearly a first down on each play. Riley’s offense is outscoring opponents by an average of 11.3 points in first halves this season, the eighth-best mark in the country.Of course, what separates Alabama from Oklahoma is its defense. The Tide allow 7.9 points per game in first halves, 12th-fewest in the nation and 7.9 fewer points than the Sooners. Alabama doesn’t just shut the door on its opponents in the opening 30 minutes — it packs their bags, shuttles them to the airport and ushers them through TSA. Remember when the Tide turned Tiger Stadium into a morgue by the third quarter of November’s top-five showdown with LSU? Or when the Tide took a trip to Oxford, watched Ole Miss score on its opening play and then blitzed the Rebels with 62 unanswered points, including 49 in the first half?4Alabama was playing a third-string quarterback in the third quarter of that one.LSU and Ole Miss aren’t alone. Saban’s squad is outscoring opponents 388 to 103 in first halves this season. On average, the Crimson Tide enter the locker room at halftime with a 21.9-point lead, the second-biggest margin by any team since at least 2004, the first year for which data is available.5The best mark over that stretch belongs to the 2010 Boise State Broncos, with an average 24.2-point halftime lead. Ninety-three teams have scored fewer total touchdowns than Alabama has scored in first halves. Only four teams in the past 15 seasons have scored more first-half touchdowns than the Tide’s 53.These lopsided first halves mean that the Tide hardly ever fall behind on the scoreboard. The average college football team this season played 178.6 first-half offensive snaps when trailing. Alabama played 18 — 32 fewer than the next-closest team. Offensive points per game47.043.6 Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group Alabama1812 Percentage of first downs or TDs per pass attempt51.1%49.4 20146.66484.5277.924.336.3 20155.89427.1227.121.930.1 National average177129 Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group Coming into the SEC title game, teams had run a combined 388 first-half plays against the Tide defense. They didn’t have the lead on any of them. Georgia finally broke through in the SEC championship; the Bulldogs ran 43 first-half offensive plays against the Tide and led for 12 of them.The nightmare doesn’t end for Alabama opponents in second halves: Then they’re outscored by a touchdown and a half, on average. In second halves, teams score 0.92 touchdowns per game against the Tide, tied for the sixth-fewest.Conversely, Oklahoma’s dominance tapers off considerably in the final two quarters, when it outscores opponents by only 5.2 points, which ranks 24th nationally.Little if any of that decline is attributable to the offense, which roars from start to finish. But defensively, the bottom seems to fall out for the Sooners after halftime, as they allow an average of 2.23 touchdowns per game in second halves, the most by any team in the Big 12 and tied for the 20th-most nationally. Riley’s defense has allowed 29 second-half touchdowns, the most by an Oklahoma defense since at least 2004.However, should Oklahoma keep the game close down the stretch, it has a peerless crunch-time quarterback in Murray. The Sooners have played seven games decided by 14 or fewer points, while Alabama has played only one. In the fourth quarter, when the scoring margin is within 14 points, Murray has a nation-leading quarterback rating of 99 — that’s on a 1-to-100 scale, mind you.There’s an argument to be made that Oklahoma is better equipped — certainly more experienced — to handle high-leverage situations.6Before the SEC title game, Tagovailoa had played three snaps the entire season in which his team was trailing. But Alabama has been so dominant that it simply hasn’t mattered.
Brian Rolle started the 2009 season trying to fill the shoes of former Ohio State All-American linebacker James Laurinaitis. Heading into 2010, Rolle, a senior from Immokalee, Fla., has taken on his own leadership role during spring practices. “I take it to heart that the coaches feel I can lead this team,” Rolle said. “I majored in sociology, so I like to help people now that the coaches have given me a role to help guys more, being that I’m an older guy.” Rolle, who wears the No. 36 that Buckeye linebacker legend Chris Spielman did, started for the first time in 2009. He had an immediate impact with a crucial interception in the Buckeyes’ season-opening 31-27 victory over Navy. However, Rolle felt he could have had a better season. “Personally, I would say it was average because I feel I could do so much better,” Rolle said. “I’m kind of tough on myself and most people say it was a good year for a first-year starter.” This season, Rolle will be sharing the leadership reins with fellow senior linebacker Ross Homan, who will be a third-year starter for the Buckeyes. “We’ve grown, we were great friends throughout the years, kind of helping each other out and coming up the ranks,” Homan said. One of the things Rolle said he takes to heart is watching younger players working hard in practice, especially fellow linebackers and other defensive players. “I’m doing a great job at letting the guys know what they need to do to get better,” Rolle said. One of the young players Rolle spoke highly of was junior linebacker Etienne Sabino from Miami, Fla., who is competing for a starting position. “I look at him as a situation I was in, behind guys who were really good and really talented,” Rolle said of Sabino. “And now he’s in a role where he’s got to play because we don’t really have anybody more experienced than him.” Linebacker coach Luke Fickell has coached Rolle throughout his four seasons at OSU, and is proud of the growth Rolle has shown as a leader. “B-Rolle has shown a natural ability to do it, and he is an outgoing kid,” Fickell said. “That is kind of something that you try to push guys to do.”
The Ohio State Buckeyes lit up the scoreboard as they pushed their record to 4-0 Saturday, defeating the Florida A&M Rattlers 76-0.The Buckeyes started out fast, scoring early and often against the Rattlers. After throwing an interception on the first drive of the game, redshirt-senior quarterback Kenny Guiton recovered and threw four touchdown passes before the end of the first quarter, spreading the ball around in the process.Junior tight end Jeff Heuerman, junior wide receivers Evan Spencer and Devin Smith and senior running back Carlos Hyde all caught passes for scores from Guiton, helping OSU jump to a 34-0 lead.Guiton’s success this season in Miller’s absence is a result of how much he has pushed himself and developed, according to OSU coach Urban Meyer.“He pushed himself academically, and he’s an exceptional guy,” Meyer said of Guiton. “He’s an efficient player right now, he’s an incredible manager, coach on the field so, you know, his time came. It’s not because he had the buckeye in his pocket or his lucky T-shirt; it’s because he worked hard with the position coach to get ready for his opportunity and boy did he.”It was Hyde’s first action of the season after being suspended by Meyer for his involvement in an incident at a Columbus bar in July. Hyde finished the game with 41 yards on five carries to go along with his touchdown catch.With his return, one of the game’s story lines was how he was going to fit into the offensive system moving forward. Meyer addressed that following the game.“I think you have three (running backs) that are above the others right now, you have Jordan Hall, Rod Smith and Carlos Hyde are the top three backs,” Meyer said. “(Redshirt-senior running back) Jordan Hall gives you flexibility, too. I’m evaluating what to do.”OSU continued to pile it on in the second quarter, as Hall scored his second touchdown of the game on an 18-yard scamper to give his team a 41-0 lead.Guiton set the OSU record for touchdown passes in a game just before halftime, when he connected with Spencer in the back of the end zone for his sixth scoring toss. That score gave the Buckeyes a 55-0 lead at the break. Guiton completed 24 of 34 passes for 215 yards with six touchdowns and one interception, and said it was “a lot of fun” setting a record like that.“It’s a blessing. Like I said, thank God, thank the O-linemen. I had all day,” Guiton said. “The coaches wanted to come out throwing the ball around, I thank them for the trust they put in me to be able to do that, and I just trust the receivers and make plays.”With the game in hand, OSU’s backups started the second half and played the rest of the game. Freshman running back Ezekiel Elliot found the end zone for the first time in his OSU career in the third quarter on a 16-yard run. He scored again later in the quarter on a 13-yard run, as the Buckeyes took a 69-0 lead into the fourth quarter.Redshirt-freshman quarterback Cardale Jones ran 10 yards for a touchdown late in the game to make the final score 76-0.Starting redshirt-junior cornerback Bradley Roby said the defense’s goal was to not allow FAMU to score any points, and that it felt good to achieve that goal.“As a defense we shut them out,” Roby said. “That was our goal and we were able to accomplish that, so that’s always a good feeling, leaving a game with a goose egg.”A moment of silence was taken before the game to honor Maria Tiberi, an OSU student who was killed in a car accident Sept. 17. Meyer said they presented the Tiberi family with an OSU football helmet.“Once again with a heavy heart and sympathy and prayers for (the Tiberi) family,” Meyer said. “We gave them a helmet, and you wish you could do more for that family.”OSU is scheduled to start Big Ten play next Saturday against Wisconsin at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.
OSU coach Urban Meyer removes his headset on the sideline during The Game Nov. 30 at Michigan Stadium. OSU won, 42-41.Credit: Ritika Shah / Asst. photo editorOhio State football coach Urban Meyer was less than pleased when he took to the podium at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center following the completion of yet another spring practice.The eighth practice — the midpoint of the spring season for OSU — was one Meyer categorized as “Bad Day Tuesday.”“It was a bad day. And what is today — Tuesday? Bad Day Tuesday,” Meyer said. “Gotta make sure there’s not Bad Day Thursday.”On top of the poor practice effort, the injury bug bit the Buckeyes again, as senior tight end Jeff Heuerman underwent surgery Monday to repair what Meyer called a “sprain” in his foot.Meyer, who expects Heuerman back in June, said he is not too worried about the senior’s injury.“Jeff’s going to be fine. I think it’s probably right with the normal number of injuries,” Meyer said, referring to the team as a whole despite the injuries.With Heuerman out, Meyer said he is still confident in the remaining tight ends left on the roster, despite a less than stellar practice.“(Redshirt-junior) Nick Vannett’s done very well and one of our most improved players,” Meyer said. “And (redshirt-freshman) Marcus Baugh actually has had some good days, today not being one of them.”The loss of Heuerman for the remainder of the spring is just another hit to a Buckeye team that has already lost senior quarterback Braxton Miller, sophomore safety Vonn Bell and sophomore H-back Jalin Marshall to injury.The loss of Marshall however, is the one that hurts the most, Meyer said.“Jalin’s the one. Because he was really making a move and he got hurt,” Meyer said. “He was making a move…”With Miller out, redshirt-sophomore Cardale Jones had been receiving the bulk of the first team reps in spring practice and had been progressing well until Tuesday, Meyer said.“Cardale was bad today. And when I say bad, real bad,” Meyer said. “But to the point coming up till today, he was one of our most improved players on our team. It’s spring ball. You’re going to have a bad day. We gotta get that out before next fall, but he’s clearly the No. 2.”One positive of practice Tuesday was what Meyer had to say about junior linebacker Joshua Perry, who is looking to fill the shoes of departed First Team All-Big Ten and All American performer Ryan Shazier.“Josh Perry’s turned into an Ohio State linebacker … about. He’s not there yet,” Meyer said.An area of concern for Buckeye coaches and fans has been the lack of experience on the offensive line, as OSU lost four of five starters up front to graduation following the 2013-14 season. Junior offensive lineman Taylor Decker, the lone remaining starter, will be looked to as a leader on the team next season Meyer said, but he also took a step back on Tuesday.“Taylor was part of the bad day syndrome. But up to that point, very impressed with what he’s done,” Meyer said. “Leadership, toughness and doing all the things that previous group did, but today was not a good day.”With less than two weeks left of spring practice — which concludes with the Spring Game April 12 at Ohio Stadium — Meyer said his team cannot afford another poor practice.The Buckeyes are scheduled to start the 2014 campaign when they take on Navy Aug. 30 at noon at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
The pathologist said Mr Buchanan-Browne died from multiple stab wounds to his head and neck from a small-bladed weapon, such as a penknife.His ankle was also broken and may have been stamped on.There were reports at the time that his laptop was open and his briefcase had been damaged.He had booked into the hotel on September 27th, 2014, and was seen having dinner with two women.CCTV later showed two women approaching his hotel bedroom on September 28, just minutes before he also went to his room.The women emerged about 40 minutes later and left the hotel by a rear entrance.A medical card was found in the room belonging to Diana Manu-Kesia, a woman he knew from an earlier visit to Sierra Leone and whom he had contacted to say he would be visiting Ghana.The Ghanaian police were confident she was one of the women who entered his apartment, but she has since returned to Sierra Leone.Interpol has issued an international warrant for her arrest in relation to the death. The other woman has not been identified.The coroner heard evidence from Detective Chief Inspector Nick Gossett, of Kent Police, who relayed the findings of the Ghanaian police.Mr Buchanan-Brown’s wife Binta Ishaku and daughter Amanda attended the inquest in Maidstone, but refused to comment.His LinkedIn account said he had worked in Africa for 34 years and had “substantial experience in temperate/tropical agriculture and rural development”.A student at the former Wye Agricltural College, he was a senior partner with organic fair-trade co-operative Africulture:Transfarming Africa. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. The hotel room where Adrian Buchanan-Browne was found deadCredit:ALAMY A British businessman seen having dinner with two women in Ghana who later went to his bedroom was found stripped naked and stabbed to death.Belfast-born farming expert Adrian Buchanan-Browne’s legs were tied together and he was lying in a pool of blood when a cleaner found him in his apartment at the Paloma Hotel in Accra, the capital of Ghana.An agricultural consultant, father-of-two Mr Buchanan-Browne, 59, of Wye, near Canterbury, Kent, was in Africa on business for the Market Development Programme.Now Kent coroner Patricia Harding has decided that he was unlawfully killed after hearing that the results of a post mortem by Dr David Rouse after the body was flown back to the UK.
Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. Aerial footage shows huge traffic tailbacks after a truck struck an overpass and collapsed a pedestrian bridge onto one of England’s busiest motorways, the M20.