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Last year, Oklahoma wasn’t fully focused on Kansas State.

After the Sooners left Manhattan with a stunning loss that nearly cost them a shot at the College Football Playoff, there will be no such problem this year. Third-ranked Oklahoma will host the Wildcats on Saturday in the Big 12 opener for both teams.

“I think the concern stems from me turning on the film from a year ago and watching us get completely outplayed by that program,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “And so, it took all of one game to earn complete respect for that coaching staff and how they play.”

Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler remembers how the Sooners fell behind by 18 points and rallied before losing 48-41.

“That was a tough game for us,” Rattler said. “We went in there, we didn’t execute on all the levels we wanted to but … so what, now what? We’ve got to move on, improve on what we had to improve on. And so we’re getting ready to get a shot at them again this year.”

Two weeks ago, Rattler passed for 290 yards and four touchdowns in his first career start to help Oklahoma beat Missouri State. He left an impression on Kansas State coach Chris Klieman.

“He does a great job of reading defenses, looking people off and knowing where he’s going with the football,” Klieman said. “He’s an extremely good athlete. They didn’t run him or need to run him much against Missouri State, but I know from doing some research that he can beat you with his feet as well as his arm. I know he’s a young player, but I’ve been so impressed with his skillset.”

Kansas State’s season got off to a rough start — Arkansas State scored with less than a minute remaining to shock the Wildcats two weeks ago. So as big an upset as last year’s win over Oklahoma was for Kansas State, doing it this year would be an even bigger surprise.

“They’re a really good football team, and we, after one game, showed that we have a long way to go, so that makes sense to me,” Klieman said. “You still have to line up and play. We have to not worry about who the opponent is, and we know who it is, and more focus on us getting better at all areas offensively and defensively.”

THOMPSON’S INJURY

Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson suffered an undisclosed injury against Arkansas State, but Klieman said he should be available.

“He didn’t do anything last week other than rehab and things,” Klieman said. “He did practice yesterday, and I thought he felt really good. So, I’m confident that, with a week of practice, that he’ll be at full strength for Saturday.”

Thompson passed for 213 yards and rushed for four touchdowns in last year’s game against the Sooners.

BATTLING COVID-19

Both teams nearly weren’t able to play their openers.

Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley confirmed after the Missouri State game that the game was in jeopardy because of the team’s COVID-19 cases.

Klieman said Kansas State’s game against Arkansas State game was in doubt, too.

“It was Friday at five o’clock where we finally got the go ahead to play because we were one player at one position from having to cancel that game. And we’re not the only ones, there’s a lot of people.”

RUNNING GAME

Oklahoma gained just 124 yards on 35 carries in the opener.

The Sooners were missing running back T.J. Pledger and several offensive linemen against Missouri State. Anton Harrison, a true freshman who was slated to start at left tackle against Missouri State, did not play.

Riley said the offensive line should be getting closer to normal this week.

“Hope to have a few more options and guys available, and even the potential to play multiple guys throughout the game, which is something that when at full strength we’d like to be able to do,” he said. “Obviously that’s going to depend on week to week and how these guys perform and certainly how these COVID tests go.”

ANOTHER WIN

Klieman acknowledges that last year’s win over Oklahoma was significant, but he has been a winner for years — he won four national titles in five years at FCS power North Dakota State before taking over at Kansas State last season.

“It was obviously a big win because it was a home win, it was on Homecoming and those things,” he said. “I guess I don’t ever really look at that as far as where it ranks. I don’t have a tally on my wall or anything of where things are at. I kind of just play it year-by-year and game-by-game.”

SOONER DEFENSE

Oklahoma’s defense has been criticized for years. For now, it ranks among the nation’s best.

That’s in part because the Sooners have only played one game — against FCS program Missouri State.

But numbers are numbers, and they look good so far for the Sooners under Grinch. The Sooners lead the nation in scoring defense and total defense, rank second in pass defense and are fourth in rushing defense.



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NZ vs WI 2020-21, 1st Test

At the end of a 15-wicket day in Hamilton, New Zealand are all but sure of taking a 1-0 lead in the two-Test series. Tim Southee started the carnage, sending back John Campbell on his way to returns of 4 for 35 in the first West Indies innings, as the visitors went from 53 for no loss to 138 all out, before following on and ending the third day on 196 for 6, still 185 behind. And for Southee, the difference was that New Zealand “knew where we had to be for longer periods of time”.

Campbell and Kraigg Brathwaite had taken West Indies to a safe 49 for no loss in reply to New Zealand’s 519 for 7 declared when play ended on the second day, but more swing with the older ball and the westerly breeze at Seddon Park, Southee said, had an effect.

“It was nice, this is one of the few grounds that favours the outswing. But we assessed through it last night and we weren’t far off,” he said in a press interaction. “We knew where we had to be for longer periods of time, and managed to get a couple early and get the ball rolling.”

While Southee has so far picked up five wickets, Neil Wagner (four) and Kyle Jamieson (three) have been among the wickets too, and the towering Jamieson, who also scored an unbeaten 51 earlier, came in for special praise from Southee.

“He’s been a great addition at the back end of last summer, and he’s shown again here with both bat and ball,” Southee said of Jamieson, who made his Test debut against India last summer as a replacement for Lockie Ferguson, and has played in all three of New Zealand’s Tests since. “So he’s been a great asset to the side and adds another variation as well. Obviously you’ve got myself and Trent [Boult], left- and right-arm to swing it. Wags [Wagner] does his thing and then you’ve got a tall guy in him [Jamieson], who hits some challenging areas.”

Southee is currently on 289 Test wickets, and though he is focused on winning the Test, and the series, against West Indies, he said he was aware of the 300-wicket milestone.

“[You] probably don’t chase [such milestones],” he said. “It’s something that when you play for long enough, those things happen. But yeah, it’ll be something special if I can get there.

“At the moment, it’s about coming back tomorrow and taking the remaining wickets. It’s just nice to contribute… and it’ll be a lot of hard work between now and then.”

In what has been a dominant performance by Kane Williamson’s team, a few fielding lapses have hrt them. Both unbeaten batsmen, Jermaine Blackwood and Alzarri Joseph, were dropped one each, and Jason Holder had been reprieved twice, in two balls.

“We aren’t disappointed, we would have taken this position going into this morning,” he said. “Anytime you have a side follow on, you know you’ve obviously played pretty well at some stage. So although we weren’t quite at our best in the last hour, you’ve got to give a little bit of credit to Joseph and Blackwood – the way they took an attacking approach to it and had a little bit of luck along the way.

“But they played positive cricket and we were a little bit off in that last session as well. So [we need to] restart and have another go tomorrow.”

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Errol Spence Jr. vs. Danny Garcia: Fight prediction, undercard, odds, expert picks, date

spence garcia staredown

It seems the only person associated with the welterweight title bout on Saturday who isn’t pondering whether unified champion Errol Spence Jr. will still be the same some 14 months removed from a scary car accident is his opponent. 

Danny Garcia (36-2, 21 KOs), a former two-division champion, is very much expecting to see the best of Spence (26-0, 21 KOs) when the two face off inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (Fox PPV, 9 p.m. ET). Instead, he has spent his time figuring out how to beat Spence and believes there was something to learn from his opponent’s last outing.

Just two weeks before he rolled his Ferrari and was thrown from the vehicle while driving drunk at high speeds in Dallas, the 30-year-old Spence unified his IBF title with Shawn Porter’s WBC belt in a thrilling split-decision win that contended for fight of the year honors. The fight was action packed throughout and Garcia believes that Porter ultimately exposed flaws in Spence’s game.

“[Spence] was getting hit a lot and his defense [was exposed],” Garcia told “Morning Kombat” last week. [Porter] forced him into a tough fight. 

“I have a different style than [Porter] but I’m also more dangerous than him. He has that awkward timing and rushes you and tries to throw you off your game but I’m more of a dangerous fighter with better counter punching and better skills.”

Garcia, 32, has only lost twice as a professional and both have been disputed decisions against Keith Thurman in 2017 and the following year against Porter. Garcia proved able to discipline Thurman over the second half of their unification bout by using his power to lower his opponent’s output, which is something he proved unable to do against Porter, whose jerky-jerky style gave the flat-footed Garcia fits. 

Still, Garcia believes his one-punch knockout power — something Porter hasn’t shown — will be the difference against Spence. And when you are talking about Garcia’s power, the conversation typically centers around his finishing blow — the “no look” left hook that’s set up beautifully by a right hand to the body before the finishing punch comes looping through.

“No one can take the no look left hook because you can’t take what you don’t see,” Garcia said. 

Although Spence knows full well the threat Garcia brings to the table, he was anything but shaken when the topic of the “no look” left hook was presented to him on “Morning Kombat” last week.

Can’t get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news, including a complete preview and prediction for Spence vs. Garcia this weekend.

“Of course you have respect for a punch but I don’t react to it,” Spence said. “It is what it is. You can throw it all you want but you have to land it. We will see. He’s coming in to win and it just makes me train harder and stay focused.”

Spence also confidently revealed that the Porter was only as close as it was because he allowed it to be while hoping to make a statement. 

“Basically, I already knew [it would be close]. My game plan was to come forward and fight him and it was going to be what it was going to be,” Spence said “I already knew that was his game plan, but it was mine too. My coach wanted me to box but I wanted to fight and that’s what happened.”

Garcia wouldn’t budge when asked to commit to whether they felt this weekend’s bout would be more of a boxing match or slugfest. He said it came down to the type of adjustments both make and that he’s ready for either result. 

Spence, on the other hand, expects the bout’s identity to change as the rounds progress.

“It might start out with us feeling each other out but later on when we both get warmed up it’s going to be an all-out fight,” Spence said. “I expect a great fight with back and forth action and him bringing his all. I expect him trying to win. 

“I want this to be one-sided, either a massacre or an easy win.”

Fight card, odds

Odds via William Hill Sportsbook

Errol Spence Jr. (c) -450

Danny Garcia +350

Unified welterweight titles

Sebastian Fundora -1100

Habib Ahmed +700

Super welterweights

Josesito Lopez -330

Francisco Santana +260

Welterweights

Eduardo Ramirez -440Miguel Flores +340Featherweights

Prediction 

If Spence proves to be compromised, either physically or mentally, from the fallout of his life-threatening accident, Garcia is all kinds of wrong for him as a poised and patient counter puncher with fight-ending power and enough technical prowess to adjust. 

But what about if Spence is still Spence? What happens then?

The bad news for Garcia is that everything he does well, Spence can do just as good or better. Not to mention that Spence also has a great chin and willingness to walk through fire in order to win a fight. 

When Spence chooses to box from the outside, like he did against Mikey Garcia is yet another fight in which he was dead set on proving a point, he did so with ease given his length, speed and elite fight IQ. And it lends credence to the idea that should he have to do the same against Danny Garcia he could, even though Spence’s love for walking down and finishing fighters got him into quite a duel against Porter. 

Garcia’s Achilles heel has long been his lack of elite foot speed as a heavy puncher who sits down on his power shots. Everyone from Thurman and Porter to Mauricio Herrera and Lamont Peterson have been able to use that to their advantage. Spence should be no different in the early going until he feels comfortable enough to step up his volume and close space. 

The danger with Garcia is that you can never get too comfortable given his power. Yet it’s in that mid-range game where the southpaw Spence does his best work of volume to disarm his opponents with heavy combinations. 

No matter which way the fight goes, Garcia is experienced and tough enough to make sure he never gets dominated and should be stubborn enough to make Spence have to work for everything he earns. But is Garcia dynamic enough to win a fight he isn’t supposed to against someone more talented on paper? The jury remains out on this one. 

Pick: Spence via unanimous decision



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Bangabandhu T20 Cup – Zakir Hasan leads Gemcon Khulna to victory over Fortune Barishal

Gemcon Khulna 173 for 6 (Zakir 63, Imrul 37, Rabbi 3-33) beat Fortune Barishal 125 (Hridoy 33, Tamim 32, Shahidul 2-16) by 48 runs

Scorecard

Gemcon Khulna rose to the second spot on the points table after a 48-run win over Fortune Barishal in Friday’s first game, left-handed opening batsman Zakir Hasan leading the way for them by storming the Barishal attack with ten fours in his 42-ball 63.

Barishal sent Khulna in to bat, and even got an early breakthrough when Jahurul Islam fell for two in the third over. But Zakir, playing his first game since Covid-19 stopped cricket in the country in March, added 90 runs for the second wicket with Imrul Kayes, who made 37 off 34 balls with two fours and a six.

Mahmudullah later struck four boundaries in his 14-ball 24 while Shakib Al Hasan added 14 runs in ten balls, which took Khulna to a competitive 176 for 5. Paceman Kamrul Islam Rabbi took three wickets while Taskin Ahmed took two wickets for Barishal.

Barishal started well with a 57-run opening stand between captain Tamim Iqbal and Parvez Hossain Emon. Tamim hit four fours and a six in his 32 off 21 balls, while Emon took a bit of time, scoring 19 off 26 balls with just one six.

Still, all wickets in hand must have given them confidence, but in the eighth over, Shuvagata Hom removed both openers. Only Towhid Hridoy made 33 among the rest of the batsmen as Barishal crumbled against Khulna’s big total. Hasan Mahmud also took two wickets later in the innings.

Gazi Group Chattogram currently lead the table with eight points, while Khulna have six points. Barishal are one off the bottom but only on net run-rate, as they are tied on two points with Beximco Dhaka.

More to follow…

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