The differences here are pretty depressingly drastic for punt haters. In the 2002 and 2003 seasons, the average punt from 60 to 90 yards out (the part of the field where end zone locations don’t come into play) netted 37.3 yards, while in the 2014 and 2015 seasons those punts netted an average of 42.7 yards. That’s a 5-plus-yard difference on every punt!So perhaps punt coverage has gotten worse? Nope. If you look at raw punt distance, punts have gotten 4.7 yards longer on average (47.8 vs. 43.1). Although 2015 punters set records at virtually every distance, the absolute margins are smaller when you get closer to the goal. For kicks 30 to 60 yards from the end zone, the gain has been 2.4 yards — but those yards may mean more if they help trap an opponent in dangerous territory. (The value of a single yard only really spikes at both end zones and the outer reaches of field-goal range.)Note that I have not fully modeled punting improvement’s impact on fourth-down decisions as I have with kicking8Mostly because it’s more complicated. When you’re at the 40, the difference between 30 net yards and 32 net yards is greater because trapping an opponent close to its goal line is valuable (which, of course, is yet another reason why kicking a field goal and fourth and goal at the 1 is one of the worst plays in sports). Expected points models may help clear this up, but in some ways using the current models begs the question, since these models make assumptions about punting. — yet — but it’s bound to be significant. Factoring in 10 years of kicking improvement was enough to swing many borderline fourth-down decisions in favor of kicking. Of the 40 situations I looked at, 11 had differences of less than two-tenths of a point — which is probably about the amount that midfield punts have improved. If a fourth-down model doesn’t adequately account for these highly predictable improvements, it could be getting many “go or no” calls wrong.The punting expectation curve is relatively easy to model with a polynomial linear regression, which means we can find the expected distance of each punt and then compare a punter’s results with that expectation.The punter of the year isn’t even a close call. The 6-foot-5, 236-pound Johnny Hekker of the St. Louis Rams led the league with a 47.9-yard average punt and netted his team 271 yards relative to expectation in the process.On the other end of the spectrum, the Jets’ Ryan Quigley averaged 43.8 yards per kick and lost his team 297 yards relative to expectation.Football player of the year (who actually uses feet)If we convert those punting yards into points as we did with kickoffs above, we can get down to business and calculate each kicker’s complete value added from kicks.Note that some punters also kick off and some kickers kick off, but there are (presently) no kickers who also punt. So for this chart I’ve plotted value gained from kickoffs vs. value gained from punting and kicking combined. Bubble sizes correspond to the total value the player added or cost his team, in expected points: The average attempt distance has seen a steady increase, which might logically result in a decrease in efficiency, but the continued improvement of kickers has outpaced the increase in distance.This includes them making 65 percent of their kicks from 50+ yards — second only to the 2013 kickers — despite taking a record 160 such attempts. Here’s how they performed over each distance category:The 2015 kickers struggled a little bit from middle distances of 40 to 50 yards. And by “struggled,” I mean they had top-five all-time seasons but didn’t set records.From 55 to 59 yards, they made 13 of 19 attempts, or 68 percent — the best rate of all time for that range. In the four seasons from 2002 through 2005 (the first four years of the data shown above) they made 13 of 42 such attempts, or 31 percent.To better compare seasons, I’ve created an adjusted field-goal percentage that accounts for the distances of each kick and gives us that season’s expected make percentage for a baseline kick from the 30-yard line (about a 48-yard attempt):4The average kick is much shorter than that, but that’s about the sweet spot for a distance with lots of attempts where performance over time varies the most. It’s also a spot that requires both distance and accuracy and is around the area of the field where kicker improvement has the biggest impact on fourth-down decisions. Over time, athletes get stronger and faster, come from a broader talent pool, are better trained, and benefit from ever-growing institutional knowledge of their chosen art. This is most readily apparent with such individual skills as swimming, running and jumping — or kicking a football.One of the biggest stories of the 2016 NFL wild-card round is how the Minnesota Vikings almost toppled the two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks, only to see their hopes dashed when kicker Blair Walsh shanked an easy 27-yard field-goal attempt that would have given the Vikings the lead with 22 seconds left in the game. The aftermath was dramatic, and once again, the NFL kicking game was thrust into the spotlight for pretty much the only reason it ever is: A kicker screwed up. Perhaps lost in the hubbub is that this was the only field goal missed all weekend.1Kickers made 24 of 26 attempts, including extra points (which are no longer gimmes). Such is the plight of the NFL kicker: They do their jobs remarkably well week in and week out, but get attention for it only when something goes horribly wrong.But not at FiveThirtyEight! We will acknowledge greatness in its many forms.Last year around this time, we published “Kickers Are Forever,” my ode to NFL kickers and the eerily steady progress they have made over the past 80-plus years. In that article, I showed how the kicking improvement has been reliable and has changed things like the fourth-down math. In the offseason, the NFL decided to make kickers’ jobs harder by moving the extra point back from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line.Predictably, this led to some missed extra points. This combined with a down week or two early in the season, and the notion started to emerge that kickers were having a bad year, sucking in some prominent commentators. We debunked the idea of a “Kick-pocalypse” at the time, but given my interest in everything kickers, I’ve once again taken a dive into the numbers to see if the kicking train has actually been in reverse, or stopped, or even slowed.Spoiler: It has not. Indeed, not only was field-goal kicking in the 2015 regular season almost exactly as good as we said it would be, but kickers were the best they’ve ever been at kicking off and punting — with dramatic effects on the game.2These are not as athletically “pure” as field-goal attempts — meaning the results of a kickoff or punt will also depend on a number of factors not in the kicker’s control (such as special teams units). One thing that I mentioned in my previous article is that — with no natural offset like defense to offense — the improvement in kicking has played a central role in the offensive increase we’ve seen over the past decades. However, it seems like the natural offsets are actually kickoffs and punts, which have somewhat counterbalanced the improvement in kickoffs by giving offenses longer fields. I’ve also identified the best players at the different aspects of the kicking game, and I have some awards to hand out to the best of the best.Field-goal kickers have improved almost exactly as predictedYes, field-goal kickers missed 71 extra points this season, after missing only eight last season. This 94.2 percent is the lowest since 1979. No, this is in no way bad or unexpected. Historically, it is quite high for 33-yard attempts — though for kicking, “historical” is not always a good frame for comparison. So to be clear, it is perfectly in line with projections for 2015 kickers.Kickers also made 84.5 percent of their non-extra-point kick attempts — essentially tied for the second-best all time.3This season finishes a hair behind 2008, when kickers made 84.5 percent exactly; in 2015 they made 84.4985 percent — about 1/100th of a single made kick behind. This, despite the fact that they attempted longer kicks than ever. Here’s a plot of field-goal percentage vs. attempt distance over the past 14 seasons: The rate of touchbacks has been increasing pretty steadily, both before and after the rule change, reaching an all-time high of 57.4 percent in 2015 (not counting onside kick attempts). The average starting field position has clearly flattened, as we would expect, though 2015 still set a record: The average opponent starting position was 21.7 yards from the team’s own end zone, beating last season’s previous best of 22.0.Still, those couple of yards here and there on kickoffs add up. For example, the Colts��� Pat McAfee (aka “The Boomstick”) had touchbacks on 67 of 74 (non-onside kick) kickoffs (91 percent). That’s close to 25 more touchbacks than we would expect from an average kicker. As a rule of thumb, a typical touchback is worth about 4 yards,5This season, the average non-touchback return came out to the 24-yard line. meaning McAfee’s touchbacks alone were likely worth in the neighborhood of 100 yards, or the equivalent of 6 to 8 points over the season. That may not sound like much, but any player (especially a non-QB) who can get his team half a point or so above average per game is doing great.To get a clearer picture of which kickers are most valuable, we can compare each kickoff to league expectation to find total yards saved and then convert those yards saved to point equivalents.6Using a rough conversion of 15 yards per point. (The full results are in the table below.) If you combine kickoff value with field-goal value, Gostkowski’s lead as place-kicking champion widens: Add in the 11.6 points the Patriots earned on kickoffs (not counting onside attempts, which would help Gostkowski even more as the Patriots recovered both of their attempts this season), and Gostkowski earned 23.8 points for them above expectation. Second place is Buffalo kickoff specialist Jordan Gay with 10.8 points above expectation (all from kickoffs).Don’t look now, but punters are also changing the gameFinally, let’s turn to the most reviled of all football plays: the punt. Why teams voluntarily give up possession all the time instead of fighting tooth and nail to keep the ball — particularly with good field position — is an ongoing mystery. But they are getting better at it. Indeed, in recent years, the improvement in punting is perhaps even more marked and consistent than it has been with kicking.7Unlike with field-goal kicking, this rate of improvement seems to be more recent. The average yards per punt appears to have hovered around 40 from the ’50s through the ’80s. In a big surprise to me — and a big loss for those of us who despise the punting game — punters and kickers seem to affect the game similarly. They each claim five of the 10 players with the highest value added this season,9Gay has been both a punter and kicker (and is identified as both by Pro-Football-Reference.com) but handles only kickoffs in the NFL. with punters taking four of the top five spots. Although most coaches are probably costing their teams points by punting too much instead of going for it, the ones with better punters are costing their teams less.That doesn’t mean punters have quite caught up to their place-kicking counterparts, at least at the very top. Johnny Hekker — the league’s most valuable punter, as well as a guy who admits he’s more comfortable with his Pokémon deck than he is tackling people — falls 3.3 points short of Gostkowski as the most valuable overall. Therefore Stephen Gostkowski of the New England Patriots is our 2015 NFL Football Player10Who actually uses his feet. of the Year.Finally, here, for your perusal, is a sortable table of value added by all punters and kickers this season: By this metric, kickers had their second-best season of all time (trailing only their miraculous 2013 campaign) and were within a fraction of a percentage point of their projections — well within the margin of error.Using our field goal expected value model, we can see what kickers scored the most and fewest points relative to expectation. I’ve included the results for all players below. Our champion for 2015 was the New England Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski, who ran 12.2 points above expectation by making 33 of 36 field-goal tries (for 9.2 points above expectation) and all 52 extra points (for 3.0 points above expectation). Under the new rules this year, 30 NFL kickers missed extra points; Gostkowski still hasn’t missed one since 2006 — his rookie season.The worst kicker was Tampa Bay rookie Kyle Brindza, who missed six of 12 field-goal attempts and two of eight extra points before being cut in October. He ran 12.0 points below expectation on just 20 kicks overall.Touchbacks are the new blackAnother area where kickers can provide significant value, and where we also see creepily constant improvement, is in kickoffs. Of course, kickoff results depend somewhat on special teams kick coverage (though hang time and location matter as well), but one mostly objective metric we can track is frequency of touchbacks (note that the large shift from 2010 to 2011 is a result of the NFL moving the kickoff spot up to the 35): Source: ESPNCORRECTION (Jan. 13, 7 p.m.): The original version of this post contained several points that were based on a critical calculation error discovered by a reader, Jason Hahn. In determining the best kickers of 2015, we attempted to exclude onside kicks, but because of an error in how we filtered our data, onside kick recoveries by the kicking team were treated as a touchdown instead of being ignored. After a recalculation, Stephen Gostkowski of the Patriots becomes the most valuable kicker, not Johnny Hekker of the Rams, who moves to second place. In earning kickoff points above expectation, Jordan Gay of the Bills takes second place, not Mike Nugent of the Bengals. The touchbacks kicked by Pat McAfee of the Colts were worth 6 to 8 points over the season, not 8 to 10 points. The rate of all touchbacks reached a high of 57.4 percent in 2015, not 56 percent. The Patriots earned 11.6 points on kickoffs, not 7.7 points. These and other smaller errors have been corrected in the text of the article and in the charts and tables.
The family former All-Pro linebacker Junior Seau has donated some of his brain tissue for research amid questions about whether damage from his football career contributed to his decision to commit suicide, officials said today.The San Diego County medical examiner’s office recently released preserved brain tissue to the National Institutes of Health, coroner’s spokeswoman Sarah Gordon said.“We have no information about the type of study that will be done,” she said.The tissue was released at the request of Seau’s family, she added. She declined to disclose whether Seau’s entire brain was released.The 43-year-old former star mostly with the San Diego Chargers shot himself in the chest at his Oceanside home in May, less than 2½ years after ending his Pro Bowl career.Seau’s death echoed last year’s suicide of former Chicago Bearsdefensive back Dave Duerson, who left a note asking for his brain to be studied for signs of brain trauma. That raised anew questions about whether brain damage from repeated concussions on the field lead to long-term problems such as depression.To date, however, no link has been found between Seau’s death and his football days. Although his death was ruled a suicide, a final autopsy report and results of drug-screening tests are pending.
Sloane Stephens, 19, continues to show a champion’s mettle in her rise to prominence in women’s tennis. What she overcame in beating Bojana Jovanovski to advance to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open told a lot about her growth.In defeating Jovanovski 6-1, 3-6, 7-5, Stephens overcame temperatures in the 90s, Jovaovski’s incessant grunting on every shot and the pressure that comes with playing in a Grand Slam event.“I just had to find a way,” Stephens said. “I think mentally it was pretty tough. I was thinking, ‘Oh, my God, this is for the quarters of a Grand Slam and I’m completely just like not here right now.’ I was like, ‘I need to refocus.’ I was playing my own self, I guess you could say. But I managed to get through, so that was good.”Here’s the even more fun-interesting-symbolic part: If Serena Williams defeats Maria Kirilenko, as expected, she and Stephens will face each other to get to the semifinal. Williams (and her sister Venus) inspired Stephens as an African-American young woman to take up the sport. Serena Williams has shared bits of wisdom with Stephens as she continues to climb the ATP rankings.“Obviously every match is a learning experience,” Stephens said, who lost to Serena Williams, 6-4, 6-3 in their only match. “But, I mean, you’ve just got to go and treat it like another match. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, my God, I played Serena, I’m going to be so great at all these other things because she just taught me so much.’ It was just another match, regular match. Little things that you just take and move on.”The 29th-seeded Stephens displayed veteran aplomb in her cruise-control first set against Jovanovski, but dropped a notch in energy and aggression as her opponent adjusted and began dictating the points. She dropped three service games in the second set and clearly was battling her own passivity as well as Jovanovski’s laudable groundstrokes. When Stephens cracked a volley winner in the late going — her seventh net point in as many tries — it raised the question of why she wasn’t coming in more.“I was going cross court on all my shots,” Stephens said. “That was safe. Can’t lose with that. She was going down the line on every shot … She’s hitting it with everything she has, every muscle in her body, and hitting it unbelievably.“I couldn’t find a rhythm, couldn’t find anything. But sometimes you just kind of got to stick it out, and hopefully she comes down off her throne.”
DeSean Jackson, one of the most explosive receivers in the NFL, was released by the Philadelphia Eagles, a stunning move that is about more than football.According to ESPN, the Eagles cut ties with one of the most electrifying players in club history. This comes after they uncovered their own information on Jackson’s off-field connections and activities. In addition, they decided to release Jackson, rather than trade him to another team that might be unaware.“After careful consideration over this offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles have decided to part ways with DeSean Jackson. The team informed him of his release today,” the team said in a statement.Earlier Friday, a report by NJ.com stated the Eagles had become increasingly concerned about Jackson’s off-the-field issues and his reputed ties to Los Angeles street gang members.NFL teams have become more cautious since last summer when former New England Patriots Aaron Hernandez, who also reportedly had gang ties, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.Jackson was due to make $10.5 million in 2014 and was owed $30.5 million over the remainder of his deal, but none of that money was guaranteed.Recent reports surfaced that the Eagles were looking to trade Jackson. There also had been rumors that Jackson was not a fit in the locker room culture that coach Chip Kelly was trying to cultivate.At the NFL owners meetings on Wednesday, Kelly said he liked Jackson, but would not commit to him for 2014, saying the Eagles would do “what’s best for the football team.”There may have been warning signs earlier this season that the Eagles may have been looking to move on from Jackson. The team moved quickly in free agency to get new deals done with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper.Jackson, 27, excelled in Kelly’s fast-paced offense, setting career highs in receptions (82) and yards (1,332), while also amassing nine touchdowns. His 6,177 receiving yards are second in franchise history and his four punt-return scores are tops in club history.
Not all the numbers work out so neatly, however. Another bin contains all those favorites with win probabilities in the 50s (anywhere from 50.0 percent to 59.9 percent). These teams were supposed to win about 55 percent of the time. In fact, they’ve won 38 of 63 games, or 60.3 percent of the time. So the teams performed a little better than expected in these games.By contrast, teams with win probabilities in the 60s (from 60.0 percent to 69.9 percent) have won 35 of their 60 games, or 58.3 percent. That’s a bit worse than expected.What’s going on here? How are the somewhat heavier favorites, with win probabilities in the 60s, performing worse than those teams whose win probabilities were in the 50s? Are the heavier favorites getting cocky? Is there something wrong with the model?Probably not. Instead, these differences are well within the ranges that might result from random chance. This is easier to explain visually, as in the following graphic, which portrays the results of games from each bin along with their confidence intervals. Our NCAA tournament forecasts are probabilistic. You could say that FiveThirtyEight is “calling” for Michigan State to defeat Virginia on Friday, but it isn’t much of a call. Our model gives Michigan State a 50.7 percent chance of winning, and Virginia a 49.3 percent chance. For all intents and purposes, it’s a toss-up.Other times, of course, one team has a much clearer edge. Duke was a 92.9 percent favorite against Mercer last week, but Mercer won.Still, upsets like these are supposed to happen some of the time. The question in evaluating a probabilistic forecast is whether the underdogs are winning substantially more or less often than expected. The technical term for this is calibration. But you might think of it more as truth in advertising. Over the long run, out of all the times when we say a team is a 75 percent favorite, is it really winning about 75 percent of the time?FiveThirtyEight’s NCAA tournament projections have been published each year since 2011. The formula has changed very little over that period. (The only substantive change has been adding a fifth computer power rating, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, this season.) That gives us a reasonable baseline for evaluation: a total of 254 games, counting the 52 played so far this year. (These totals include “play-in” games.)You can find a file containing our past predictions here. It’s important to emphasize that these predictions were published at The New York Times or ESPN versions of FiveThirtyEight in advance of each game — these are actual predictions and not hindcasts.Overall, FiveThirtyEight’s favorite won 70.0 percent of the time. How often was the favorite supposed to win? According to our model, 72.1 percent of the time. So at a macro level, the forecasts have been pretty well calibrated (70.0 percent is well within the 95 percent confidence interval drawn by simulating the results 100,000 times).But that doesn’t tell us everything. It’s also important that the heavier favorites, like Duke in its game against Mercer, win more often than the slim favorites, like Michigan State against Virginia.To evaluate this, we can break the 254 games down into bins. The most intuitive way is to use five bins based on the first digit of the favorite’s win probability. For example, one bin contains the 40 games in which the favorite’s win probability was somewhere in the 90s (that is, anywhere from 90.0 percent to 99.99999 percent; in practice, the heaviest favorite in our database is Ohio State, which had a 99.7 percent chance of beating the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2011.)We’d expect the favorite to win about 95 percent of these games. In fact, the favorite won 38 out of 40, or exactly 95 percent of the time. The exceptions were Duke this year and Missouri in 2012, which lost to Norfolk State despite being a 97.2 percent favorite. Each result is within its respective confidence interval. The calibration is not perfect. But the deviations from perfect calibration are not statistically significant. We encourage you to check our work, and let us know if you think there’s a better way to judge our results. But overall, the tournament’s results have been reasonably true to the FiveThirtyEight probabilities. Just don’t tell that to your buddy who had Duke winning it all this year.Correction: Speaking of checking our work: a reader, D.K., discovered that our database incorrectly listed Kentucky as the winner of its 2011 national semifinal against Connecticut. The chart, table and text have now been changed to reflect the correct result. We appreciate D.K.’s assistance and apologize for the error.
Then-freshman OSU quarterback Braxton Miller (5) is tackled during a game against Illinois Oct. 15, 2011. OSU won, 17-7.Credit: Lantern file photoJunior quarterback Braxton Miller was thrown to the wolves in his freshman season with the Ohio State football team.Miller was the starter at quarterback in each of the final 10 games of 2011, including the Buckeyes last game at Illinois’ Memorial Stadium, Oct. 15, 2011.In that game OSU pulled off a 17-7 victory, although Miller only completed a single pass.“I was thrown in there early. I don’t think I was ready at that time, but I did what I had to do,” Miller said after practice Wednesday. “It was kind of a big stage at that time, so I had to prepare and it was kind of tough and I didn’t expect to play as a freshman.”Now the No. 3 Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0), will return to Memorial Stadium Saturday, looking to extend the nation’s longest winning streak to 22 games.Coach Urban Meyer, who took over the Buckeyes following the 2011 season, said Miller has come a long way since that game.“I can assure you that (he’s) in a much different place than he was two years ago,” Meyer said Monday.It was a career-low in completions and passing yards for Miller, who has since developed into one of the top quarterbacks in the country. He was named a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien award Nov. 4.Junior wide receiver Evan Spencer said the game in 2011 was a difficult situation because of Miller’s inexperience.“His freshman year, it was kind of a unique situation for all of us really and we were trying to win games (OSU finished the year 6-7), whatever it took to win a game,” Spencer said after practice Monday. “So now that he has really developed as a passer and he’s gotten better at reading what he has to do, we flow so much better.”Redshirt-senior left tackle Jack Mewhort said in hindsight, it’s hard to believe the Buckeyes only completed one pass during that game.“Looking back, that’s crazy to me just because our passing game has evolved so much now and so many different guys can score touchdowns for us now,” Mewhort said Monday. “One pass, that’s kind of unreal to think about, and Braxton and the skill guys have come so far.”In his freshman season, Miller averaged 96.6 yards passing yards per contest. This season, Miller has almost doubled his weekly output from two seasons ago, throwing for an average of 188 yards per game.Spencer said Miller’s development as a passer has helped the offense become more balanced this season.“It definitely changes the dynamic. We’re putting up 40-some points a game, so it’s working pretty well for us and his development,” Spencer said. “It’s coming along great … He’s playing really well right now and us as receivers, we’re executing pretty well for him.”Mewhort added that even compared to last year, Miller has become a better passer, helping the Buckeye running game in the process.“Last year, there were some games where teams played us real heavy in the box because we couldn’t do as much with our passing game, but this year, it’s a lot different. There’s not eight or nine guys in the box because this offseason Braxton, the wide receivers, the running backs and the skill guys got together and decided, ‘We’re going to be really good this year,’” Mewhort said. “I think they’ve done that so far, they’ve gotten better every game and that makes it easier on the (offensive line) and the running game, knowing that there are other threats.”In 2012, the Buckeyes beat Illinois, 52-22, with Miller throwing for 226 yards and two touchdowns on 12 completions.Meyer said having a quarterback and leader like redshirt-senior Kenny Guiton to look up to has been a boost for Miller this season – something he did not have the luxury of his first year on the job.“I think the way these two quarterbacks are now preparing, with all due respect to when Braxton was a freshman, he really didn’t have anyone to look up to to say, ‘This is the way to prepare for a college football game.’ And certainly last year, we were just still trying to teach Kenny because Kenny didn’t really know, because neither one of them really played,” Meyer said. “Now they’re both operating at a very high level, they’ve practiced very hard, they prepare very hard, much different than a year ago, so I think Kenny had a lot to do with it and it’s a direct result of the way he prepares, the way he practices.”His relationship with Guiton has been really important in his time at Ohio State, Miller said.“I look up to him as a big brother, I’ve talked to him ever since I was being recruited,” Miller said.Miller hopes to improve on his last trip to Champaign, Ill., Saturday at noon when the Buckeyes are scheduled to take on the Fighting Illini (3-6, 0-5).
Sophomore attackman Jack Jasinski heads for the goal in the fourth quarter during the first round of the NCAA tournament against Loyola Maryland on May 14, 2017. Credit: Sheridan Hendrix | Oller ReporterIn Saturday’s NCAA semifinal between the No. 3 Ohio State men’s lacrosse team and Towson, defense will be the name of the game.And if the early season matchup between these two teams is any indicator, it could be one of the lowest scoring games of the tournament.When the Buckeyes traveled to Towson, Maryland, earlier this year to take on the Tigers, redshirt senior goalie Tom Carey made eight saves and allowed just three goals in a 6-3 OSU victory.That emphasis on defense can be found in the NCAA leaderboards, where Towson can be found sitting at third for fewest goals allowed on average per game, sporting a miniscule 7.44 number. Of course, the Buckeyes haven’t been too shabby on defense either, sitting only six spots behind the Tigers, allowing just an average of 8.26 goals per game. But for OSU to find success, they will need to head into the matchup with an aggressive game plan like the Buckeyes applied in their matchup against Duke. In that game, players like senior attackman Eric Fannell were able to bully their way through the defense to put shots on net from just outside the crease.Part of Towson’s strength this season has been displaying an ability to box out and keep that opposing offense from getting in close. Despite ranking as one of the stingiest defenses for allowing goals this season, Towson’s goalies wound up averaging the fewest saves per game of any Division I goaltending unit in 2017.However, when the Tigers need their goalie to step up, they have been able to count on consistently strong performances from senior goalie Matt Hoy, who has allowed just 15 goals, while saving 21 shots on goal in upset victories over No. 8 Penn State in the first round and No. 2 Syracuse in the quarterfinals.Hoy did not begin the season as the starter, but has thrived in the role since taking over on April 1, posting a 7-1 record in games he started with only 6.99 goals against average and a .536 save percentage.That defense of Towson will certainly be tested against a Buckeye offense that had little trouble putting up 16 goals against a team that at the time ranked fifth in fewest goals allowed on average.The Buckeyes frequently found themselves in the front of the net, and were able to capitalize on nearly every opportunity, scoring on 51.6 percent of shots taken in the game. This ability to make the most of every shot has been a trend for the Scarlet and Gray this season as the team ranks eighth in shot percentage (.340).But the biggest test for the Tigers could come in finding enough offense to win the game. Though they have put up 22 goals in their two games thus far in the NCAA tournament, their offense currently ranks 46th among all Division I schools, averaging only 9.50 goals per game this season. While the Buckeyes will send out a pair of dynamic goal-scorers in freshman attackman Tre Leclaire – who was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year with a team-best 45 goals – and Fannell (34 goals), the Tigers have only one 30-plus goal scorer on the season – senior attackman Joe Seider. Seider had shortcomings against top-20 defenses this season as he has averaged just one goal per game in five contests. Three of those five goals for Seider came in just one game, against the No. 14 defensive unit in Hofstra.His team follows a similar trend of struggling against top-tier defensive teams, averaging just 7.8 goals per game and managing only a 2-3 record against such opponents. OSU, on the other hand, does not appear to lose a step against top-20 defenses, averaging 11.22 goals per game — less than half a goal below their season average — in nine contests against the nation’s best defensive teams.Given not only more experience against highly-ranked defensive units, but more success against them, the Buckeyes might appear to have a slight edge on paper. But the Tigers have overcome worse odds in the past, as evidenced by their wins over Penn State and Syracuse as the underdog on their way to their second-ever NCAA semifinal matchup.And for this pair of dynamic defensive units, it could simply just come down to who can score the last goal. The winner of the Towson-OSU game will face the winner of the matchup between No. 1 Maryland and No. 5 Denver on Monday at 1 p.m. in Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
Ohio State sophomore infielder Conner Pohl (39) takes a swing at a pitch in the fourth inning of the game against Ohio University in April 10. Ohio State won 4-0. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorThe final game of the midweek series between Ohio State and Campbell on Wednesday afternoon started eerily similar to the first game on Tuesday. With sophomore right-handed pitcher Jake Vance on the mound, the second straight game with an underclassman starting pitcher, the Buckeyes allowed Campbell to score early, with three runs in the first three innings.But, despite a comeback attempt with a three-run eighth inning, junior right-handed pitcher Ryan Feltner allowed five runs in the ninth, giving up a grand slam to second baseman Christian Jones, with Ohio State (31-16, 11-7) dropping the second game to Campbell (27-20, 17-4) 13-8 on Wednesday. With Feltner coming in for his first relief appearance of the season, Ohio State head coach Greg Beals said the usual starting pitcher, who had started 12 games this season for the Buckeyes, held their best shot to continue the momentum his team put up in the bottom of the eighth. “We scored the runs to get within two and I felt like, ‘Man, let’s bring Feltner in there and put another zero up and give ourselves a really good shot here in the ninth inning,’” Beals said. “That certainly didn’t work out.” Beals said the 6-foot-4, 195-pound pitcher was overthrowing, uncorking two wild pitches and hitting two batters, and not pitching for location in his 0.1 innings of work. He walked one batter and gave up two hits.The Buckeyes came in with more of an aggressive approach offensively. After walking 12 times in Tuesday’s contest, Ohio State walked five times and recorded 11 hits, but left seven runners on base. Sophomore third baseman Connor Pohl, who had three hits in five at-bats including a two-run home run, said he saw Campbell pitchers attack the Ohio State offense more. “Yesterday, they were really going away, away, away for me, going fastball away and curveball down and away,” Pohl said. “Today, they were trying to go inside a little bit too, so they were trying to attack hitters more.” On the mound, the Ohio State pitching staff struggled with control. With six walks, including four walks by Vance, the Buckeyes hit eight Fighting Camel batters, the most the staff has hit in a single game this season. Command issues were widespread among Ohio State’s pitchers in Wednesday’s loss. “They didn’t command the baseball, 14 free bases” Beals said. “I don’t know if there’s any explanation for it mechanically because it was not just one guy, it was everybody. I don’t know if the wind blowing out, they are trying to be too fine, trying to do too much with the ball, not trusting their stuff.” Vance could not get a groove going in his start, allowing his fourth home run of the season in the first inning. He left after three innings of work, giving up three earned runs on three hits. Unlike Tuesday in which the Ohio State bullpen saved the game with seven scoreless innings, Thomas Waning and Curtiss Irving did not have the same success. Both pitchers combined to give up five earned runs on six hits in four innings. With a three-run deficit in the fourth inning, sophomore left fielder Tyler Cowles hit his fifth home run of the season, cutting Campbell’s lead down to two. He finished the day with two hits in five at-bats, adding on a double and a run in the sixth inning. Stopping play due to a 35-minute lightning delay, the Ohio State offense showed a little bit of life in the eighth inning, loading the bases with one out. The Buckeyes scored three runs to bring the game to within two runs. Even with the two-run home run in the ninth inning, the deficit for Ohio State proved to be too much, falling to the Fighting Camels by five runs. The Buckeyes will begin a three-game series with Purdue at Bill Davis Stadium at 6:35 p.m. Friday.
Choudary’s incarceration will also create a headache for the authorities who are desperate to prevent him radicalising other inmates while in prison.Currently on remand, he will likely be held at Belmarsh maximum security in prison in south east London, which already holds a large number of convicted terrorists.The prison has previously been described as a “jihadi training camp” but human rights legislation means he can only be held in solitary confinement with the permission of the Justice Secretary.His conviction was warmly welcomed by Scotland Yard last night, who believe Choudary can be linked in some way every major terror plot unearthed in this country in recent years.However his influence has also been felt further afield with jihadists in other countries, including France and Belgium being inspired by his online rantings and through links to ALM. For almost two decades Choudary, as leader of the now banned al-Muhajiroun (ALM) Islamist group, goaded the authorities with inflammatory comments and deliberately provocative statements. He refused to condemn the 7/7 bombings, demanded the imposition of Sharia across Britain and once called for the Queen to wear a burka.But using his legal training and forensic understanding of terrorism legislation he always managed to stay just right side of the law and avoid prosecution.Police finally got their chance when they discovered material online in which he praised the murderous Isil regime.Choudary used social media to promote his extremist views, but during his trial it emerged that companies including Twitter and YouTube had repeatedly refused to remove controversial posts, even after it was arrested.The father of five, who is a qualified solicitor, could be jailed for up to ten years when he is sentenced next month. Mohammed Rahman was convicted alongside ChoudaryCredit:PA Lord Carlisle, the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, called for the law to be clarified in order to ensure those guilty of promoting terrorism were held to account.He said: “This conviction shows the sometimes long march of the law. Whilst those remote from terrorist crime should be prosecuted with caution, there should be greater legal clarity to enable the prosecution of those whose clear aim is to exhort terrorism and the destruction of our way of life.”Keith Vaz, the Labour chair of the Home Affairs Committee, also said anti-terror legislation ought to be reviewed.He said: “It is deeply worrying to see the extent of his activities. While congratulating the police in bringing this case to a successful conclusion we now need to look again at the law to ensure that it allows no gaps that permit preachers of hate to undertake their activities under the cloak of freedom of speech exercised in a democracy. “In future we need to show zero tolerance to those who act and behave in this way.” Choudary led the now banned al Muhajiroun groupCredit:Ian Jones Describing how he had finally been brought to justice, Commander Haydon said: “His mistake was pledging an oath of allegiance. That was the key piece of evidence that tipped him over the line for a terrorist offence.”Former Metropolitan Police anti-terror officer David Vidicette said: “This conviction is very good news for the police, the security services and the country.”Every time the police investigated a plot he was either directly linked or only a hop away and it has taken far too long to bring him to justice.” Anti-terror cops examined 20-years’ worth of material following his arrest in September 2014 before charging Choudary and Rahman in August last year. British born Choudary and one of his followers, Mohammad Mizanur Rahman, 33, were convicted last month following a four week trial at the Old Bailey.But details were only made public on Tuesday when a judge lifted reporting restrictions that had been imposed during a similar case featuring some of his associates. He is currently in Belmarsh prison awaiting sentence.Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: “These dangerous individuals were recruiting sergeants for Daesh. They poisoned the minds of vulnerable people and their warped and twisted propaganda offered support and succour to a murderous and barbaric terrorist organisation.“The Government is clear. We will continue to confront those who promote hate and threaten our way of life. Together we will protect communities from extremism and defeat this toxic ideology.” Choudary (centre) on a march in east London in 2008Credit:Anthony Upton During his trial Choudary and Rahman claimed their support for the Islamic caliphate was theological and had nothing to do with the terrorist organisation that had adopted the name Islamic State.But the jury of six men and six women found him guilty on July 28 of inviting support for a proscribed organisation. Anjem Choudary with one of Lee Rigby’s killers, Michael AdebolajoCredit:BBC News Commander Dean Haydon, head of the Met’s counter terrorism command described Choudary as a “very dangerous and clever individual” who had played a key role in recruiting some of the 850 Britons who are currently fighting for Isil.He said: “These men have stayed just within the law for many years, but there is no one within the counter terrorism world that has any doubts of the influence that they have had, the hate they have spread and the people that they have encouraged to join terrorist organisations.“Over and over again we have seen people on trial for the most serious offences who have attended lectures or speeches given by these men.He added: “You can go back over history and find an awful lot of terrorists linked to ALM, Islamic State or both. 7/7, Lee Rigby, there was a whole host of other cases which are linked back to ALM and Islamic State.” 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. Britain’s anti-terror laws are under scrutiny following the belated conviction of the hate preacher Anjem Choudary almost 20 years after his terrorism links first emerged.Choudary is finally behind bars as police revealed he has links to 500 British jihadists fighting with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) in Syria.The 49-year-old, who has spent two decades radicalising a generation of would-be terrorists, was convicted after swearing an oath of allegiance to Isil.But there remain questions over why it took so long to bring a successful prosecution against Choudary after it emerged he has links to 15 terror plots since 2000.And how he was able to use social media to promote his extremists views without being censored.
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. A teacher who described herself as a “snob” and said a member of her ex-husband’s family spoke “Geordie” and lived on a “grotty” estate has lost a court fight over the care of her two children.Judge Rachel Hudson has decided that the youngsters, who are eight and nine, should live with their father. She said they could have supervised contact with their mother once a fortnight.Detail of the case has emerged in a written ruling by Judge Hudson following a family court hearing in Newcastle upon Tyne. The local authority evidence records that (the woman) was disparaging about (the aunt) and said that she had a speech impediment. When that was clarified, (the mother) said, ‘she says er and speaks Geordie’Judge Hudson The judge, who said the woman taught at a college, ruled that no-one involved could be identified. Judge Hudson said family court litigation had started several years ago.The judge told of a “volatile” marriage and said the woman and her ex-husband had a “highly negative” view of eachother.She indicated that the children had lived with their mother following the marriage breakdown.The woman had accused her ex-husband of sexually abusing the children. Judge Hudson said she had found “no reliable evidence” of sexual abuse.A psychologist had raised a number of concerns about the woman – saying she seemed to have a “complex unbalanced personality”.The woman said a council social worker had “waged a vindictive campaign against her to try and drive her to insanity”.Social services staff wanted the children to move to live with their father. Judge Hudson concluded such a move would be in the children’s “welfare interests”.Social workers had told the judge how the woman had been “disparaging” about one of the children’s paternal aunts.”The local authority evidence records that (the woman) was disparaging about (the aunt) and said that she had a speech impediment,” said Judge Hudson in her ruling.”When that was clarified, (the mother) said, ‘she says er and speaks Geordie’.”Judge Hudson said the woman had been questioned about her attitude to the aunt – and the aunt’s partner – during the hearing.The judge added: “I found her initially evasive but (she) then retorted that she is a snob and lives in one of the best areas in the locality … whereas the (aunt and uncle) live in an ex-council estate which she described as ‘scruffy and grotty’.”