Saturday, November 29, 2008

Avalanche of 1st Period Goals Bury Lightning

By JC De La Torre

Another game, another bad 1st period for the Bolts. Tampa Bay continued their tendancy for slow starts and this time it cost them, as they were outshot 10-5 and they allowed 3 goals putting them behind the 8-ball for the rest of the game. To their credit, the Lightning continued fighting and made the Colorado Avalanche sweat a little before finally succumbing 4-3.

Jordan Leopold scored on the power play at the 15:20 mark of the first period to give Colorado an early 1-0 lead. Then, Wojtek Wolski scored twice in 1:36 to give the Avalanche a commanding 3-0 lead going into intermission. Olaf Kolzig was lifted for Mike Smith and Vincent Lecavalier scored the only goal in the second period to cut the lead to a two goal deficit. At the beginning of the third, David Jones scored his second goal of the season for Colorado to make it 4-1. Midway through the final stanza, Tyler Arnason got called for hooking Steven Stamkos and the Lightning cashed in with Ryan Malone's 4th goal in as many games (7th overall) to cut it back to two with 10:21 left in the game. Cody McCormick would get a double minor for high sticking Vincent Lecavalier at the 12:35 mark of the third and Lecavalier would make the Avalanche pay on the second half of the double minor, feeding Steven Stamkos for a power play goal, cutting the lead to 1 at 4-3. Unfortunately the Lightning could not find the final equalizer and ended up with another frustrating loss.

Tampa Bay eagerly ends November with a 6-10-7 record and they have fallen into the cellar of the Southeast division, stuck on 19 points.

Gators Devour Noles at Drenched Doak

By JC De La Torre

After Florida dominated their cross state rivals in rainy Doak Campbell Stadium, concerns were focused on the injured Percy Harvin, who slid awkardly on a muddy field and had an FSU defenseman fall on his right ankle. The injury's severity was not made public but it may force Harvin to miss the SEC Championship game next week in Atlanta against #1 ranked Alabama. It would be the only bad news for Florida, as the Gators crushed Florida State 45-15 for their fifth straight victory in the series.
Percy Harvin opened the scoring, capping Florida's opening 9 play 65 yd drive with a 9 yd run to give Florida a 7-0 advantage just 4:08 into the ballgame. Michael Garvin returned the ensuing kickoff 63 yds to the Florida 24 yd line but the stingy Gator defense forced Florida State to settle for a 37 yd field goal by Graham Gano to cut the lead to 7-3 with 9:20 left in the first quarter.

After a rare 3-and-out by the Florida offense, FSU QB Christian Ponder was intercepted on a pass that was tipped by Florida CB Janoris Jenkins then nabbed midair by Major Wright deep in Gator territory. Jeff Demps ripped off a 44 yd run that would lead to a Tebow to Aaron Hernandez 7 yd touchdown as time expired in the first quarter, the Gators led after 1 quarter of play 14-3. After a short kickoff trying to avoid Garvin set up the Noles at their own 45, Ponder could do nothing with the football and FSU punted back to the Gators. Florida's running back Jeff Demps would cough up the football on the Gators' own 14 yd line, setting up the Noles at point blank range. Two incompletions and a 1 yd scramble later, Florida State settled for their second field goal from Gano and a 14-6 deficit.

After a penalty set the Florida offense back at their own 14 yd line, Florida would march the length of the field against the staunch Noles defense, highlighted by a 28 yd Tebow to David Nelson pass and a pass interference penalty on FSU's Tony Carter. On a 1st and 10 from the FSU 13, Harvin darted for 5 yds but during the play was rolled up on by two Florida State defenders. Harvin grabbed his right ankle in obvious pain. Florida State fans cheered the injury, and ticked off Tebow.

"That kind of irritated me," Tebow told the Associated Press, "I told the coach to give me the ball because I really wanted to hit somebody."

Coach Urban Meyer obliged and Tebow pounded it up the middle with a little help from his offensive line surged into the endzone for a 4 yd score to increase the Florida lead to 21-6.

Florida State got the ball back at the 40 yd line thanks to Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis kicking the ensuing kickoff out of bounds. Ponder took advantage of the field position, driving the Noles 46 yds in 9 plays but once again, Florida State had to settle for only three points, this time 32 yds for Gano and the lead was 21-9 2:04 left in the first half. That would be too much time for the potent Gator offense. Ignoring the driving rain, Tebow hit on passes of 13, 8, 26, and finally a 24 yd touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez for the second time in the game to give the Gators a commanding 28-9 lead.

Garvin would burn the Florida kick coverage again, returning it 28 yds to the FSU 46 with 0:57 left. It would be enough time for Ponder to move the Seminoles into field goal range, but instead of taking the points, FSU Head Coach Bobby Bowden called for some chicanery, faking the field goal and tossing it to the kicker Gano who promptly slipped and fell in the muck of the field, tackling himself and ending a dismal half for Florida State.

The second half would start no better. After Sturgis set up the Noles at their own 40 with another out of bounds kickoff, the very first play from scrimmage saw Ponder intercepted by Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes, who returned it 26 yds to the 20 of Florida State. Tebow would make the Noles pay for the turnover, connecting with Louis Murphy in the back of the endzone for a 23 yd score and a 35-9 advantage.

Ponder's work was done for the day and an old Gator friend, Drew Weatherford, took over at quarterback for the Seminoles. Weatherford's first effort wouldn't do much as they would go three and out. The Gators took over at their own 26 yd line - but wouldn't stay there for long as on 1st down, running back Chris Rainey ripped off a 62 yd run, finally being dropped at the FSU 12 yd line. Florida State's defense stiffened and the Gators had to settle for a 29 yd Jonathan Davis field goal and a 38-9 lead. FSU would answer with their finest drive of the ballgame, an 8 play, 58 yd drive that was capped by Jermaine Thomas' 4 yd score to cut the lead to 38-15. Gano's extra point was blocked by the Gators.

It would stay that way until the 13:09 mark of the 4th quarter, when Janoris Jenkins stepped in front of a D'Vontrey Richardson pass at the Florida State 38 yd line. Florida ran the ball in from there, Jeff Demps plunging in from 2 yds out on the option to give the Gators their final margin 45-15.

"It was a good tail-whipping," FSU Coach Bobby Bowden told the AP, "I didn't think they would beat us like that here. The last time we had a beating like that was last year against them."

So there's one game left for Florida before they know their bowl fate, the big one versus Alabama. The Tide looked good today as well, demolishing their big rival Auburn 36-0. It should be a good one next week, Gator fans. We wanted a playoff - well, basically the Gators are in the semi-finals facing Alabama and whoever wins will move on the BCS Championship game.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Matinee No Better for Bolts

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Lightning had a rare midday matinee performance against the Minnesota Wild. Unfortunately for the Bolts, it ended pretty much the same way most of the games in November have, in a 4-2 defeat. Perhaps no team in the NHL will be more happy to see the month of November come to a close as the Lightning, who finish up the month at Colorado tomorrow night. Tampa Bay is now 3-6-4 in November.

The Lightning were competitive from the drop of the puck for a change. The first typically is the worst for Tampa Bay but in this one they were only outshot 11-8, controlling play most of the period. Tampa Bay killed off a 5-on-3 man advantage early in the first period after questionable call on Steven Stamkos for boarding. and an additional penalty to the Lightning bench for "Abuse of an Official". Tampa Bay went right on the power play with a call the Wild's Antti Miettinen for tripping. The Lightning got several chances but failed to cash in, the last as the power play expired, Vaclav Prospal clanked one off the goalposts. Minnesota would open up the scoring at the 12:07 mark of the first when a shot by Owen Nolan deflected of Lightning goalie Mike Smith and into the net. In the closing seconds of the period, the Lightning back on the power play, Radim Vrbata would redirect a Steven Stamkos slap shot into the net to tie the game with 0:40 left in the first.

The second period has been the Bolts strongest all season and today was no different, Tampa Bay controlled play in the second, outshooting the Wild 10-8 and cashing in on Ryan Malone's 3rd goal in as many games. his 6th of the season. After two, Tampa Bay led 2-1.

The Lightning played extremely well in the 3rd period, outshooting Minnesota 19-14, but the bounces just seemed to not go their way. Wild Center James Sheppard, who game into the game with 5 career goals in 98 NHL games tapped in a Marc-Andre Bergeron slapper to tie the game at 2. Then at the 6:10 mark of the Third, Bergeron would set up Mikko Koivu on the eventual game winner on his backhand, giving the Wild a 3-2 lead. Tampa Bay did get a golden opportunity to tie the game when Nick Schultz got called for highsticking with 3:55 left in the game. A frustrated Mikko Koivu got called for unsportsmanlike conduct and the Lightning had a full two man advantage. Tampa Bay peppered Wild Goaltender Niklas Backstrom with six shots, mostly from long range but could not find the back of the net. Eric Belanger would score the empty netter sealing the win for Minnesota.

Tampa Bay falls to 6-9-7 on the season and has lost eight of their last nine (including shoot out losses). The Lightning remain with 19pts, good for 3rd place in the Southeast division and 8 points behind the Washington Capitals.

Bucs Start the Big 3 Slate

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have begun the 2008 season winning 8 of their first 11 ball games. At home they're undefeated and on the road they've won two straight. The Bucs currently sit as the #2 seed in the NFC and in position to win the NFC South title. None of that matters now. All that matters for the Buccaneers and their hopes to become the first team in NFL history to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium are the next three games beginning Sunday with the hated New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium, followed by the final two road trips of the year to Carolina and Atlanta.

Take two out of 3 games, and the Bucs are in good position to stay in the race. Win all three and the race is all but over with the Bucs on there way to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the Super Bowl year. Lose 2 out of 3 or all 3 and the Bucs are in deep trouble, not only in the division race but the playoffs overall. The easiest of the three (if there is an easiest) is this week's New Orleans game. Of course, New Orleans has won two straight and just beat the Green Bay Packers 51-29 shellacking on Monday Night Football.

So let's take a look at this match up a little more in depth -

Tampa Bay's Offense vs. New Orleans' Defense

Tampa Bay has the NFL's 12th ranked offense (13th rushing, 11th passing) and is averaging 23.4 points per game. The Saints defense is once again in the lower half of the league, ranked 22nd overall (18th against the run, 24th against the pass) and gives up an average of 25 pts a game. The Bucs will be without the services of their leading rusher Earnest Graham who is out for the season but is easing former NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Carnell "Cadillac" Williams back into the rotation. The Bucs will go primarily with Warrick Dunn at running back. As for their passing offense, Jeff Garcia continues to be steady but not spectacular at QB, while receivers Antonio Bryant and Ike Hilliard and tight ends Alex Smith and Jeramy Stevens have propelled the passing attack. Missing in action is Joey Galloway, who hasn't seen significant playing time since Week 1 against the Saints.

The running attack and short passing game is going to be crucial to Tampa Bay, as will be protecting the football. Playing keep away while sustaining drives, controlling time of possession and keeping the ball out of the hands of the New Orleans offense is just as crucial as scoring points when the opportunity presents itself. This week would be a great time for head coach Jon Gruden to take the the mothballs off of Joey Galloway.

New Orleans' Offense vs. Tampa Bay's Defense

The Saints offense comes in red hot, leading the league in total offense and scoring 51 points against a decent Green Bay Packers defense. New Orleans is #3 in scoring, #1 Passing, but #27 rushing. The Saints will be getting running back\wide receiver Reggie Bush back just in time to face the Bucs #4 ranked defense. The Bucs 2nd ranked pass defense will get its stiffest test since meeting the Saints in the opener, while the 13th ranked rush defense will need to contain Bush, Pierre Thomas and their old nemesis, Deuce McCallister. The Bucs defense is 3rd in the NFL in scoring defense and looks like they'll be getting a boost with starting strong safety Jermaine Phillips returning to the lineup.

Tampa Bay's Special Teams vs. New Orleans' Special Teams

Returner Clifton Smith has breathed life into an anemic Buccaneer return game. Thanks to Smith's heroics, the Bucs rank 3rd in the NFL in kick return yardage, and have risen to 16th in punt return yardage after spending most of the season dead last. The Bucs have a kickoff return and punt return for touchdowns (both by Smith) in the same season for the first time in team history. The Saints have had their share of heroics as well, getting three punt returns for touchdowns and leading the league in punt return average. The Saints kickoff and punt return coverage are a little suspect as they rank 21st and 26th respectively. The Bucs boast solid coverage play ranking 5th on kickoff coverage and are 17th in punt coverage. Bucs Punter Josh Bidwell ranks 10th in the NFL in punt average, while the Saints Ben Graham ranks 23rd. The Saints are on their third kicker this season, Garrett Hartley, who has made all six field goal tries since coming aboard, including a 44 yder. The Bucs Matt Bryant has been solid for Tampa Bay, making 86% of his field goals with a long of 49.


Jon Gruden is the winningest coach in Buccaneer history and has the Bucs in contention for their 4th division championship in the 7 years of the NFC South. Sean Payton is one of the most innovative offensive head coaches in the NFL and his passing attack is feared through out the league.


The Bucs have won 4 of the last 7 meetings with the Saints and 2 of the last 3 in Tampa. Brees has had trouble finding his rhythm on the road as he has thrown five touchdown passes and seven interceptions in five road games compared to 17 TD passes and four picks in five home games. The Saints have also struggled on the road, as they opened the season with four straight road losses before a 30-20 win at Kansas City on Nov. 16. The New Orleans defense gives up an average of 29.7 points on the road. The Bucs are 5-0 at home this season, winning by an average of 13 points. New Orleans won the last meeting in Week 1 24-20, holding off a last minute drive by Jeff Garcia and the Buccaneers with a late interception.

Final Prediction

Its an irresistible force meeting the immovable object. Frankly, the Saints offense vs. the Bucs defense isn't what will decide this ballgame - the two will battle to a stalemate. I think what will be the difference is whether or not the Bucs offense can score on a Saints defense that gives up an average of 29 points a game on the road, whether they can control the ball, thus the clock limiting the cracks Drew Brees has at the Bucs secondary. The Bucs offense must also avoid the costly turnover and short field for the Saints. Don't help them. A few nice returns by Clifton Smith certainly wouldn't hurt things. The Bucs have it all ahead of them starting this week. I think they get the job done against a tough New Orleans team coming off an emotional win on national television.

Final Score: Tampa Bay 27, New Orleans 20.

Gators vs. Noles - We Don't Like Them, They Don't Like Us

By JC De La Torre

I'm a Florida Gator fan. I never attended the University of Florida but most of my family did. My uncle coached the offensive line for the Gators in the 1980's during the Charley Pell-Galen Hall years, most of my cousins went to UF. I was the black sheep, deciding to stay close to home and go to school here in Tampa (not that I could have got into UF. My rambunctious childhood was more in tune for FSU, but I digress). I grew up raised a Gator and when I was very little was taught to love the Orange and Blue and hate anything Garnet and Gold.

Sure, Florida has plenty of rivals – Miami, Tennessee, and Georgia come quickly to mind - but no school seems to pull the hatred out of me like the Seminoles. Perhaps its simply the arrogance of their fans, the “dadgumit” nature of their coach, that annoying-assed Seminole War Chant, or the erector set they call a stadium – for whatever the reason there's no hate like the one for Florida State. (I do admit that when playing EA Sports NCAA 09, I have added the Seminole War Chant and other music for the Noles into the game, so when I go on the road at Florida State – it feels like I’m really there).

Keep that in mind as we break down the UF-FSU matchup that could decide who takes this year’s Governor’s Cup. Interestingly enough, if Florida wins, it would be the first time they earned the Seminole War Canoe (for beating Miami) and the Governor’s Cup (for beating Florida State) in the same season since 1985.

The Series

Florida leads the overall series 31-19-2 and has won 4 straight against Florida State, including last year’s 45-12 woodshed whuppin’. Florida coach Urban Meyer has never lost to Florida State 3-0. Before Meyer, Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles won 13 of 16 contests with 1 tie (the infamous Choke at Doak).

Florida’s Offense vs. Florida State’s defense

By now you know Florida’s cavalcade of stars. Tebow, Harvin, the triple headed monster at running back (Rainey, Demps, Moody). Florida’s #3 in the country in scoring, #5 in passing, 18th in total yds and 11th in rushing. However, the strength of the Florida State football team is their defense. While they’re 19th in scoring defense, FSU is 7th in the nation in yds allowed, 20th against the run but 4th against the pass. Florida State is tied for 61st in the nation with turnover margin of 0.

For the Seminoles to have a chance, their defense will need to slow the Gators down and force turnovers. In the Gators only loss this season, Florida turned the ball over three times in their upset loss to Mississippi. It allowed the Rebels to stay in the game and steal it at the end. This is where FSU needs to be. Keep the Gator offensive machine in check, stay in the game, take a lead late. Florida is 0-5 when trailing in the second half with Tim Tebow at QB.

Since the loss to Mississippi, Florida has outscored their opponents 369-82. Florida has outscored its opponents 122-0 in the first quarter of its past six games. Florida State has fallen behind in the opening quarter in four of its past six, usually by double digits, weathering the early barrage by the Gators and staying in the game early will be paramount for Florida State.

Florida State’s Offense vs. Florida’s Defense

While the Noles lack the firepower of the Florida offense, they can score. FSU 22nd in the Nation in scoring, averaging 34.3 points per game. The Noles are 47th in total offense, 30th in rushing and a dreadful 85th in passing. Those numbers must improve if the Noles hope to win this football game. Florida State needs to hold on the to football and limit the Gators opportunities with the ball. Unfortunately for the Seminoles, the Florida defense is the best is been in quite some time and the most improved part of the football team under the direction of Coach Charlie Strong. The Gators are 3rd in the nation in scoring defense, 9th in total yds allowed, 13th against the run, 20th against the pass. What really makes this Gator defense go are the splash plays. The Gators are 3rd in the nation in interceptions, and #1 in the nation at turnover ratio as a +10. Florida also leads the nation with 5 interception returns for touchdowns.

The Seminoles offense will need to protect the football, grind out yards on the ground and find some big plays from Antone Smith and Jermaine Thomas at the running back position.

Florida’s Special Teams vs. Florida State’s Special Teams

Both teams return kickoffs and cover kick returns fairly well, but the difference may be in the punt return game. Florida is 6th in the nation in return yardage for punt returns, including 2 touchdown returns by Florida’s Brandon James (Florida State ranks 59th in punt return yardage). Florida is also 4th in the nation in punt coverage while the Noles struggle at 59th in coverage. The Gators are also 3rd in the nation with 7 blocked kicks/punts this season. Florida State is 45th with 2.


Urban Meyer has the Gators primed for another National championship run, while Bobby Bowden appears to be winding down his career at Florida State. Bowden’s Seminoles definitely are a better squad this season then they’ve been the last few years but they are not an elite level program that they were in Bowden’s heyday in the 90’s. Jimbo Fisher has been named the successor-in-waiting for Florida State but Bobby seems to be hanging on as long as he can, hoping to outlast Penn State’s Joe Paterno and take the most victories mantel. That’s not going to better FSU as a program and that’s not going to help them out recruit Urban Meyer.

The Spread

Urban Meyer knows that Florida football alumni enjoy their small term investments and Florida is typically a very good bet to cover. Most betting services have Florida favored by 16.5-17 pts.

Final Score Prediction

In rivalries, you never know what you’re going to get. Many times you can simply throw out the records as they don’t matter in these types of games. However, adrenalin and intensity because you’re playing your hated rival will only get you so far – you have to have the talent to be able to compete. Florida State is on the upswing, they’re definitely getting better – but they are not in Florida’s class right now. I think the Noles will have plenty of fight in them but in the end the Gators will be just too much.

My Pick: Florida 42, Florida State 24

I will say this, though, Florida State fans sure know how to remind you they were once an all girls school!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving from the TBSB!

By JC De La Torre

Greetings folks! We at the Tampa Bay Sports Blog would like to extend our best wishes for a safe and enjoyable holiday! We'll be signing off for today but rest assured there's much more Tampa Bay content to come.

  • A Florida-Florida State preview is definitely in the works

  • Bucs take the first of a three game gauntlet, will give you previews and reviews of that one

  • We'll have extended coverage of the race for the NFC post-season and where the Bucs fit in it.

  • The USF Bulls continue their quest to get into a better bowl

  • The Lightning are still trying to find their stride.

  • Any new Rays tidbits from the hot stove league

  • Plus anything else we can bring!

So have a happy, enjoyable Thanksgiving, we'll talk again soon!


Lightning Show toughness, Still Can't Beat the Rangers

By JC De La Torre

Before Wednesday night's game against the top team in the Eastern Conference, the New York Rangers, interim head coach Rick Tocchet made it clear that the effort against the New Jersey Devils was unacceptable and gave the edict of get tougher or get out. The Bolts were definitely tougher against the powerful Rangers, but the results were still the same - a 3-2 shootout loss.

"This is for everybody," Tocchet told the St. Petersburg Times before the game, "If the results aren't there, I don't care who it is, you're not going to play. I don't know if we're at that time yet, but it's getting close. We're going to have to get a little bit of urgency. We thought we had some baby steps, but then New Jersey happened. Was Jersey something that just happened or is it something that we have problems, we're going to start getting rid of people here?"

The message was sent and the Bolts responded in a scoreless first period where rookie Steven Stamkos got into his first NHL fight, while Evgeny Artyukhin and Colton Orr exchange pleasantries at the end of the first.

The second period opened with the teams trading goals, New York's Markus Naslund opened the scoring at 2:40 of the second and two minutes later Ryan Malone answered on the power play. Finally, with 7:23 left in the 2nd period and the game tied at one the heavyweight bought everyone was waiting for took place. Lightning toughman David Koci versus Rangers Enforcer Colton Orr.

Orr got loose on a few blasts early in the fight, but Koci connected with a right hand to the snoz of Orr and rocked him, dominating the rest of the battle until Orr turtled.

Late in the Period, with Ryan Malone off for hooking Scott Gomez, the Rangers took the lead on the power play with a Naslund blast from the point. New York took a 2-1 into the second intermission.

The lead would hold until late in the third period when with 0:50 left in the game, Mark Recchi redirected a Martin St. Louis shot past Henrik Lundqvist to tie it at 2.

After the scoreless overtime period, we went to the Lightning's dread - the shootout. Vrbata and Jussi Jokinen would miss their chances, Markus Naslund and Nikolai Zherdev wouldn't and there's your hockey game.

Tocchet seemed pleased with the Lightning's effort but graded their net presence a B-. "We're just having a tough time scoring goals. We've got to roll up our sleeves and keep going to work," the interim head coach told the Times, "It was an intense game, and that's going to happen. The intensity I'm talking about is coming up with loose pucks, going to the net. It's still a work in progress. Overall, the guys worked hard."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

USF Bulls Basketball Update - Week of Nov. 26th

By JC De La Torre

There was a time back in the day when the start of the USF Basketball season would greeted with great fanfare. With the decline of the program and the rise of the football program, the Bulls basketball team has pretty much been second fiddle. It's understandable considering the Bulls performance since joining the powerhouse Big East.

Until the football season is over, we won't really be focusing too much on Bulls basketball. Truth be told, even when football season is over - we might not. Oh, we'll chronicle the bigger games of the Bulls schedule - but let's face it - covering a 30 point blowout to one of the Big East powers isn't exactly exciting reading (unless you're a fan of said Big East power). We all hope the Bulls will be competitive this year in the Big East and we do think they'll be better, but realistically an NIT bid may be the highest aspiration if you're a Bulls fan. Then again, who knows? Many said that the Rays could never compete in the AL East and they found their way - maybe South Florida will, too.

In any event, let's give you some thumbnails of the season thus far -

South Florida 60, Southern Methodist 46
Jesus Verdejo scored 18 points and Mobolaji Ajay nabbed 11 rebounds to lead the way for South Florida over the SMU Mustangs. The Bulls were strong defensively, limiting the Mustangs to only 28% shooting and out rebounding the Mustangs 43-39.

Virgina 77, South Florida 75
USF lost a heartbreaker on the road as Virginia's Slyven Landesberg scored with 13 seconds left and sank a free throw with six seconds to go to seal the game for the Cavaliers. Landesberg scored 21 pts in the game, while Jamil Tucker tossed in another fifteen points and seven rebounds for Virginia. The Bulls were solid defensively again, holding Virginia to only 40% shooting from the floor. The Bulls Dominique Jones drove the hoop and put USF up 74-73 will 1:11 left in the game, but their upset bid would fall short in a competitive game that saw 19 lead changes and 14 ties. Jesus Verdejo went over 500 points for his career as he poured in career high 22 points.

South Florida 59, High Point 46
The Bulls rebounded from the loss in Virgina with a victory over High Point, but South Florida had to rally from a half time deficit to do so. USF's Aris Williams triggered a 17-4 run by scoring 8 straigh points, while Chris Howard and Jesus Verdejo added 14 and 12. The Bulls got a quick glimpse of the future as Freshman Eladio Espinosa pulled down a career high ten boards.

Up Next for the Bulls -
Next week, the Bulls play host to Northeastern University before heading on the road to face old Conference USA rivals UAB and UCF.

Gator Basketball Update - Wk of Nov. 26th

By JC De La Torre

Until the football season comes to an end, the Florida Gators basketball team is typically on the backburner in the minds of Gator fans and this blogger. That will change in January-March, when Florida basketball gets into their SEC schedule and really start to get going.

In the meantime, I'll give you these quick hit Gator Basketball updates every week to let you know how they're doing. I'll of course focus on some of the bigger matchups like the Florida State game on December 7th (I'm a little disappointed its not this weekend, I had begun to enjoy the basketball-football doubleheaders) but for now, let's just get caught up to where we are.

Florida has already played 5 games this season, mostly against Wimama Tech type teams -

Florida 80, Toledo 58
The Gators beat up on the overmatched Rockets getting 19 pts from Dan Werner and shooting 52% from the floor. Nick Calathes led with 7 assists and 3 steals. Florida won their season opener for the 18th consecutive season.

Florida 81, Bradley 58

Walter Hodge scored 17 points and the Gators actually shot better from the 3pt line (43%) than from the field overall (41%) as they pounded Bradley. Chandler Parsons led with 10 rebounds while Nick Calathes led in assists (6) and steals (4). Bradley snapped a seven-game win streak vs. teams from the state of Florida.

Florida 64, Southern Utah 50

The Gators essentially sleptwalked through this one. The Gators struggled to find the bottom of the net, going 1-for-16 from three point land, missing ten free throws and shooting only 46% overall. Southern Utah's Davis Baker led all scorers with 23 points, while the Gators Nick Calathes led the way for Florida in points (18), rebounds (7), and assists (4).

CBE Classic Semi-Finals: Syracuse 89, Florida 83
In the Gators first major test of the season, they failed as the fell in the CBE Classic to the Syracuse Orange of the Big East, 89-83. Paul Harris had 18 pts and 11 rebounds, while Johnny Flynn tossed another 18 in for the Orange. Syracuse pretty much led throughout, get ahead by as much as 12 points at one point. The Gators stayed within 6 the majority of the way but never seemed to be able to get that big stop on defense or key field goal to bridge the divide. Florida was outrebounded 53-42. Florida's young sophomore Alex Tyus scored 24 points in a losing effort.

"We scored 64 points against Southern Utah, but we held them to 50," Florida coach Billy Donovan told the Associated Press, "I know Southern Utah talent level isn't at where Syracuse is, but I think when you start to start playing the type of teams like Syracuse, it's very difficult to expect to try to win giving up 89 points."

CBE Consolation Game: Florida 86, Washington 84
The Gators withstood a furious Huskie rally in the final five minutes to hold on and beat Washington by 2. Florida led by 10 points with less than 5 minutes left in the game, but held on as Washington's Jon Brockman's rebound tip clanked off the rim as time expired. The Gators played a pretty good ball game, shooting 52% from the floor and hitting 11-of-22 from the three point line. Nick Calathes led the way for Florida with 21 points and 8 assists, while Brockman scored 22 and had 11 rebounds for the Huskies.

Up Next Week -
Florida returns to the creampuff circuit facing UMCK (University of Missouri-Kansas City) Roos on November 30th.

A message to other Bloggers

By JC De La Torre

I don't pretend to be god's gift to blogging. In fact, I'm a newb nobody that is just trying to get my readership up and trying to establish a following. I like that there are some out there who dig my work and want to reference it on their own sites. I welcome that with one little caveat.

If you are going to use any of my work - you MUST link back to the original article. Not only is it blogging etiquette, its the right thing to do. Whenever I use someone else's info or work - I've ALWAYS linked back. I take time in crafting the way I want to say things, sometimes I'm a little to rough on our local teams, sometimes I try to be funny (occassionally I succeed), sometimes I can be very opinionated and provide that to you, sometimes I do hours of research on a topic and try to provide you some good analysis, other times its just straight news reporting from the wires or the local papers.

Whatever it is, if I use someone else's work - I post a link back to the source. Now, there's been a lot of folks who have done that in the past and I thank you for reading and for caring enough to link back to me. There have been other bloggers who blatantly have stolen my work and for that I cannot stand idly by. At the bottom of this blog there's a copyright and I will defend my copyright. If I find that you have used my work on your blog with out a link back or my expressed permission to do so - your ISP will be contacted and you better starting looking for a good attorney.

While I don't make a lot of money doing this - and honestly its not a money making venture for me, its more of a fun diversion from the everyday - its still MY intellectual property we're playing with here.

Please - save us both some grief. If you dig something I write - cool, I'm thrilled about that. Just link back. It takes two seconds to post a linkback, its not brain surgery and I'd do it for you.

Lightning Bring Back Sully and other Bolts of Info

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Lightning brought back one of the members of the old regime, Mike Sullivan, to return to the role of associate coach with the hockey club. Sullivan was head coach in Boston and was a key member of John Tortorella's staff last season. Sullivan was already being paid the balance of his contract by the Lightning, so it made natural sense to management to bring him back.

"He has the same philosophy," Tocchet told the St. Petersburg Times, "He wants to play a high-tempo game and practice at a really high tempo. He wants guys to be more aggressive on the puck."

"It's easier when you have established relationships," Sullivan explained to the Times, "I went through the process with Brian Lawton and Tocc, and wanted to make sure it was the right fit for both of them. It's important coaches share the same philosophy. It was a fairly smooth process, and here I am."

Sullivan is expected to work on the defense and share some power play coaching duties. Assistant Coach Cap Reader has been re-focused on goaltending and will also contribute in other unspecified capacities throughout the organization.

In other Lightning news, Tampa Bay appears to be getting healthy again. Karri Ramo was sent back to Norfolk, a clear indication that Mike Smith is ready to at least dress. The Times also reports that D Lukas Krajicek may be able to play tonight against the Rangers.

Finally, when watching tonight's game, keep an eye on the Bolts presence in front of the net. Head Coach Rick Tocchet will - in fact, he'll be grading the players on their time in front of the net. He calls it "net presence" and each player will get a rating on how often and how well they created chaos in front of the opposing goaltender. The prevailing belief is those who do well with Net Presence will get more time on the ice. Tocchet is a strong believer in that most goals in the National Hockey League are scored by players standing near, infront of, or by the goaltender.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Bucs Fan Thanksgiving Primer

By JC De La Torre

Wow, its amazing isn’t it? Turkey day is upon us already and we have our annual excuse to gorge ourselves on fowl, corn, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and all the other fixings that are traditional for your family. There’s one other meal that this certain Thursday on the calendar fulfills and that’s our appetite for NFL Football.

For Buc fans, Thursday will matter a little bit. Tampa Bay is currently 8-3, tied for first place in the NFC South. If the playoffs were to begin today, the Bucs would have a 1st round bye. The Bucs desperately want to hold on to the division title and that bye. It’s a lot easier to reach the Super Bowl by winning two games than three. Certainly, there’s been cases where the eventual Super Bowl Champions made it there by going through the wildcard round (our current champions are prime example), but its certainly an easier road to battle your way through a tough divisional fight, then get a week off, play a home playoff game – win it – and then play for the right to go to the Super Bowl. That’s the formula that worked so well in 2002 for Tampa Bay.

In fact, if you think about it, the similarities between 2002 and this season are uncanny.
  1. The Bucs lost the season opener to New Orleans 02 and this year.
  2. If the Bucs win the division and earn a bye, Atlanta has a darn good shot at making the playoffs as a wildcard. The Falcons were a wildcard in 2002 as well.
  3. With a win over Carolina on the road in two weeks, the Bucs will sweep the season series with the Panthers. The last time that happened? You guessed it – 2002.
  4. If the Bucs and Giants advance to the NFC Championship game, the Bucs will face a team in the playoffs that eliminated them the year before. The last time that happened? Yep. 2002.
  5. With a victory over the New Orleans Saints this week, the Buccaneers will improve to 9-3 after 12 games. The last time the Bucs stood 9-3 after 12 games? 2002.
  6. In 2002 the Buccaneers defense was a Top 5 unit but weren’t number one. The Bucs defense this year is a Top 5 unit – but they aren’t number one.
  7. This year Buccaneers faced their old rivals in the NFC North and swept them. The last time the Bucs swept the NFC North? 2002.
It’s like that horrible Jim Carey Movie, the Number 23, but you get the idea. To keep the good vibes rolling for the Buccaneers, they will be taking a keen interest in the goings on this Thursday.

Tennessee at Detroit 12:30pm EST– This game is essentially meaningless to the Buccaneers, other than hoping that our former buddies Rod Marinelli, Joe Barry, Jimmy Lake, Ryan Nece, Brian Kelly, Dewayne White, Kalvin Pearson, and the other Buccaneer alumni get off the snide and find a victory. On the other hand, the Lions inch closer to replacing the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the last team to go winless in a non strike year. Plus, if the Lions go 0-16 this year, they only need to start 0-10 next year to break the Buccaneers record of 26 straight losses.

Bucs fans should root for: Detroit, Rod’s to great a coach and guy to live in oh-mortality

Seattle at Dallas 4:00pm EST – Well, in a perfect world, the Bucs would win the NFC South and not have to worry about wildcard tie-breakers but we all know the Bucs have a tough slate down the stretch and could very well be concerned about wildcard positioning. A loss by Dallas to Seattle would help the Bucs chances significantly.

Bucs fans should root for: Seattle, another loss for Dallas gives the Bucs a bit more cushion between them and America’s team.

Arizona at Philadelphia 8pm EST – Buccaneer fans will find themselves in the unenviable position of rooting for the Eagles Thursday night. With the NFC North’s Chicago Bears a full two games back, the Arizona Cardinals (along with the teams in the Bucs’ own division) are the primary competition for Tampa Bay achieving a first round bye.

Bucs fans should root for: Philadelphia, Yes Buc fans, I know it’s difficult for us to find a way to root for success for any team from Philadelphia – but on Thursday night, we’ll need to do it. A loss by the Cards would give the Bucs a two game buffer for the bye week, saddle Arizona with another conference loss and allow Tampa Bay to simply concentrate on taking care of business within the NFC South, also giving the Bucs a little wiggle room if they stub their toe in one of the remaining divisional games.

New Threads, Same Old Garbage On the Ice for Bolts

By JC De La Torre

You can take the jersey off the team, but you can't take the team out of the jersey. With apologies to those god-awful NHL Network commercials, the Tampa Bay Lightning introduced their spiffy new alternate jersey Sunday evening but saw yet another lackluster effort in a 7-3 embarrassment against the New Jersey Devils. The Lightning were beaten in every phase of the game as New Jersey showed Tampa Bay the gulf between playoff contender and sub par team.

In the Bolts defense, they were a little shorthanded in this game. Stellar goalie Mike Smith was out of this one with a "nagging" lower body injury, defenseman Lukas Krajicek was out with a body injury and forwards Chris Gratton and Gary Roberts were placed on the 7 day injured reserve list, creating room for Goalie Karri Ramo and defenseman Jamie Heward to be called up from Norfolk.

Still, the Lightning maintained their m.o. of slow starts, getting outshot 15-6 while Mike Rupp and Zach Parise scored to make it 2-0 after one. As typical for the Bolts, Tampa Bay came out fighting in the second period, but goaltender Olaf Kolzig did not, as he gave up another three goals, two to Danais Zubrus, to begin the second period and allow the Devils to take an insurmountable 5-0 lead. Kolzig would be lifted for Karri Ramo after giving up 5 goals on 28 shots. To Tampa Bay's credit, they didn't quit. The Lightning scored three goals in less than three minutes in the final five minutes of the second period. Vrbata and St. Louis scored within less than a minute of each other, then Ryan Malone was taken down on a breakaway and scored on the ensuing penalty shot to close the gap to 5-3.

The Devils would reestablish their dominance in the third as at the 7:12 mark Danais Zubrus would put the game out of reach with a breakaway goal to complete a hat trick. Zubrus would add another midway through the third, giving him a team record tying four goals for the contest.

In the aftermath, the Lightning coaches and players admitted that this performance was a setback in the progression of the team.

"That's a couple of steps back," coach Rick Tocchet told the St. Petersburg Times, "(Due to the lack of hustle) The trainers won't be passing out ice bags to the players. It was a pretty bad effort."

Martin St. Louis was even more succinct, telling the Times, ""We took a huge step back. This is nowhere near the effort we need, the desperation. We were second on the puck all night long, weren't supporting each other. … It's just really disappointing when you take some great strides forward and then you take a dump like that."

The Lightning fall to 6-8-6 (18 pts) on the season, 3rd in the Southeast Division and remain 4 points out of a playoffs spot in the Eastern Conference.

Bulls Hold On Against UConn to Snap Skid

By JC De La Torre

The USF Bulls will be watching with the rest of the country when the better teams take the field on New Year's Day, but they moved a step closer to going bowling themselves with a big victory over the UConn Huskies 17-13 to improve to 7-4 on the season, snapping a four game skid and finally getting their second conference victory of the season during the school's first ever Sunday contest.

In the process, the Bulls contained the nation's leading rusher, Donald Brown, holding him to 96 yds on 28 carries, his lowest average of the season (3.4 yds per carry) and no scores.

Things started out well for USF as Dontavia Bogan took the opening kickoff 64 yds to the UConn 30 yd line. From there, QB Matt Grothe drove the Bulls down to the 3 yd line where Benjamin Williams cashed it in for a 3 yd score and a quick 7-0 lead. South Florida would extend its lead in the second quarter, capping an 11 play 73 yd drive with a 29 yd Maikon Bonani 29 field goal. The score was set up by a nice 32 yd Grothe to Mark Edwards pass to the UConn 13 yd line.

UConn would get on the board after stopping the Bulls on a 4th and 1 at their own 45 yard line (why the Bulls went for it in that situation remains a mystery), as the Huskies pounded Tyler Lorenzen and Donald Brown all the way to the USF 4 yd line before settling for a 21 yd Dave Teggart field goal with 0:28 left in the half. After two quarters of play, USF led 10-3.

UConn would tie the game on a brilliant 12 play 87 yd drive that came mostly on the ground. With a first and 10 at the South Florida 43, the Huskies QB Lorenzen showed he could throw the ball in addition to being a runner, rainbowing the ball 43 yds to Ellis Gaulden for the tying touchdown. USF would go three and out, as would UConn on their next drive. As the 3rd quarter expired, UConn punter Desi Cullen shanked his 4th down punt, having it travel only 24 yds and giving the Bulls a short field at the Connecticut 48.

Grothe would rush three consecutive plays for 17 yds, then hit Jessie Hester for another 6 to the UConn 25. Running back Jamar Taylor would take it from there, slicing 25 yds for the score, giving the Bulls a 17-10 advantage with 12:38 left in the game. UConn would answer with a 47 yd drive, but had to settle for a 35 yd Tegget field goal, cutting the Bulls advantage to 4 with 9:19 left.

After another South Florida 3-and-out, UConn began to march downfield getting all the way to the USF 39 yd line. UConn QB Tyler Lorenzen would attempt to run, gaining 8 yds before fumbling, allowing the Bulls to hold on to the lead with 5:38 left to play. UConn would get one more shot late, but failed to convert a 4th and 20, allowing South Florida to run out the clock.

The Bulls victory keeps their bowl hopes very much alive. Right now South Florida has been mentioned for the Texas Bowl and Meineke Car Care Bowl as potential post-season destinations, although a strong finish by the Bulls could garner them consideration for something a little more prominent.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

OH THE HUMANITY! Bucs Survive Motown Scare

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have gotten this rally thing down pat. Now let's not see it anymore. Tampa Bay fell behind 17-0 to the putrid Detroit Lions, then rallied with a 21 point 2nd quarter and two more scores in the 3rd to subdue to plucky Lions 38-20. The victory, combined with Atlanta butt kicking of the Carolina Panthers move the Bucs into a 1st place tie in the NFC South. If the playoffs ended today, the Buccaneers would have their third division title in four years and a first round bye.

The Bucs began this game as a team that looked anything but a team in playoff contention. After the teams exchanged punts on their opening series, the Lions drove 71 yds in 7 plays with new Lions QB Daunte Culpepper hitting the monster WR Calvin Johnson for a 41 yd strike to the Tampa Bay 17 yd line, then found Johnson again in the endzone for a 15 yd score and a 7-0 lead.

The Bucs got the ball back at the 29. Garcia hit Jerramy Stevens for a 5 yd gain, then WR Antonio Bryant for 17 to the Lions 49. Then disaster struck. Head Coach Jon Gruden inserted running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams for his first action of the 2008 season - showed. Garcia had the inclination to play action to Williams and go for Antonio Bryant deep, unfortunately Garcia and Williams collided in the backfield, knocking the ball loose and Detroit safety Daniel Bullocks picked up the fumble and rumbled 49 yds for a score. The stunned Buccaneers trailed 14-0.

Tampa Bay would go three and out, then normally reliable punter Josh Bidwell shanked a punt 34 yds, setting the Lions up in superb field position, allowing them to drive it 36 yds to set up a 38 yd Jason Hanson field goal with 0:15 left in a nightmare first quarter for the Buccaneers. After one quarter of play, it was the Lions 17, the Buccaneers 0.

Then the second quarter began and things changed. A terrific kick return by Clifton Smith set the Bucs at midfield. From there, Garcia would drive the Bucs 50 yds in 7 plays, setting up a whirling derbish touchdown run by the ageless Warrick Dunn, cutting the Detroit advantage to 10. After a 3-and-out by the Lions, Garcia marched the Bucs back down the field again, driving Tampa Bay all the way down to the Lions 36. On 3rd and 13, Garcia scrambled, then found WR Ike Hilliard wide open for a 36 yd score, suddenly the daunting lead of the Lions had been shaved to only 3.

In typical Lions fashion, Detroit would set the Bucs up in prime field postion, as Daunte Culpepper's short pass that was intended for Shaun McDonald ended up in the hands of Bucs CB Ronde Barber, setting the Buccaneer offense at the Detroit 24 yd line. The Bucs would take advantage immediately, in almost a carbon copy of their last score Garcia found a quarrantined Jerramy Stevens all alone for a 24 yd touchdown. Shocker reversed - Tampa Bay led at the half 21-17.

In the 3rd quarter, the both teams would punt on their opening drive - but Tampa Bay's Clifton Smith would return the Detroit punt 70 yds for a touchdown. Clifton Smith became the first Buccaneer in team history to have a kick return and punt return for a touchdown in the same season. If Smith can ever figure out how to not lose the pigskin (he fumbled for the fourth straight game today), he might become a special teams superstar in the vein of Devin Hester or Dante Hall. This guy has the chance to break it each time he touches the ball. Smith is an undrafted rookie free agent out of Fresno State - what a find by the Buccaneer scouting department.

With 9:33 left in the third quarter and the Bucs driving, Jeff Garcia was hit from behind and fumbled the football. The Bucs challenged the call and replays appeared to clearly show Garcia down, but inexplicably, referee Bill Corollo decided there wasn't enough evidence to overturn the call. The Lions had the football at the Tampa Bay 45, then promptly threw it away. Daunte Culpepper telegraphed an out intended for Shaun McDonald and Barber, as he's done so many times before, stepped in front for his second pick of the game and raced 65 yd for the score, putting the Bucs up 38-17.

Jeff Hanson would take advantage of a muffed punt by Ike Hilliard to pound in a 40 yd field goal to pull the Lions within 18 but they would get no closer. Drew Stanton would briefly make an appearance for the Lions going 2 for 6 for 13 yds before being knocked cuukoo and out of the game. The benched Culpepper would re-enter the ballgame and basically not do much. Someone who did get a chance to do a lot was Carnell "Cadillac" Williams. The Bucs rested Warrick Dunn in the 4th quarter, allowing Williams to get a good feel for the game. Williams at one point carried the ball eight straight times, finishing with 27 yds on 16 carries. Sure the average isn't much, but Williams got an opportunity to get a feel for the speed of the game, got to cut on the fieldturf, got hit, and survived, feeling sore but great. No ill effects from the knee injury and it appeared that he still had that speed and power that was a trademark of Williams game. It will take some time, but Cadillac definitely showed some glimpses of why the Bucs were so proud of the miraculous comeback he has made.

Tampa Bay improved to 8-3, tied for 1st in the NFC South and head back home to host the struggling New Orleans Saints in a big time revenge game for the Buccaneers. The Lions fell to 0-11, and their bid for OH-mortality remains intact.

Gators Take it Easy on the Citadel, Only put up 70

By JC De La Torre

For a lot of the Gator players, this homecoming game will be the final memory of Florida Field as a football player. Some will move on to the Pros, others will find careers in business, science, or law. All of them will remember this was the day that the Gators were charitable, calling off the dogs and even letting their opponent get a couple cheapo touchdowns against the waterboy. The Gators dominated the Citadel Bulldogs 70-19. They could have easily scored 100.

Urban Meyer understood the fine line between making it look good for the pollsters and just being downright cruel. When the Gators pulled Tim Tebow and the starters midway through the 2nd quarter, it was 42-0. Tebow attempted only 11 passes, but had 201 yds passing and 3 touchdowns. Chris Rainey carried the ball just 7 times, but had 143 yds and a score. Percy Harvin touched it just 5 times, yet had 125 yds and a touchdown (his 13th straight game with a score). Before unloading the bench on defense, the Citadel's offensive possessions consisted of four punts and two interceptions.

Eight different Gators scored, and they scored 70 points for the first time since 2001. Florida totaled 706 yards of total offense -- the third most in school history. Gators running backs Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody each went over 100 yards on the ground, the second time in seven games Florida has had two 100-yard rushers (previously they hadn't done it since 1997). During their 7 game winning streak, Florida has outscored their opponents 369-82.

Even the ultra-focused Urban Meyer admitted that at halftime he was already thinking about Florida State next week.

So what does this do for the Gators in the polls? Honestly, not much. Despite putting a 70-burger on the Bulldogs and continuing to destroy every opponent they face, the Citadel game actually hurt Florida's strength of schedule. It didn't help that Ole Miss, the bug of the SEC, took down LSU - who is gaspiping the end of this season and hurting the Florida strength of schedule. It does help Florida in that the team that beat them nearly beat #1 Alabama (losing by 4), beat Florida, and now took down a ranked team in LSU. Ole Miss may actually be a ranked team by next week, making the Gator upset all the more legitimate. Florida was also helped by Florida State's dominant victory over a ranked Maryland team, which may allow the Noles to climb back into to top 25 before the Gators head to Tallahassee. Of course, Oklahoma's demolition of #2 Texas Tech has sent the Big 12 in to disarray, it will be interesting to see how the BCS rankings realign. Will Oklahoma jump both Florida and Texas? Will Texas, who had a bye week, move up to #2, Oklahoma #3, and Florida staying at #4? Or will it be #1 Alabama, #2 Florida, #3 Oklahoma, #4 Texas? As I said, its going to be interesting. One thing is certain, the BCS will not have a non-conference champion play for the BCS title. So you will see the champion of the Big 12 face the Champion of the SEC...barring some awful chicanery that may cause a congressional investigation into the BCS.

In any event, no Gator fan cares about anything this week but making Florida State look like the Citadel on Saturday.

Friday, November 21, 2008

VICTORY! Tampa Bay gets Tocchet His First Victory

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Lightning got two goals from Vincent Lecavalier, 3 assists from Ryan Malone, and 34 saves from Mike Smith as they pounded the Nashville Predators 4-1 to give interim Head Coach Rick Tocchet his first coaching victory.

The Lightning wasted little time jumping on Preds goalie Dan Ellis as at the 4:57 mark of the first, Lecavalier connected on an open net rebound for a power play goal. A couple minutes later, Lecavalier was back on the ice, found a loose puck and ripped a slapper past Ellis to stake Tampa Bay to a 2-0 advantage. Jordin Tootoo got the Preds on the board at the 10:40 mark of the first with his 3rd goal of the season, a seeing-eye blast from the glass. Two minutes later, Recchi would reestablish Tampa Bay's two goal lead with a tip in off a scrum, his 4th of the season. It was 3-1 Bolts after one period.

In the second period, Prospal found a rebound after a scrum, depositing it for his 4th of the season to stake Tampa Bay to a 4-1 advantage. The Lightning defense killed 7 Nashville power plays as Mike Smith continued his sensational play, especially in the second period where he made 15 of his 34 saves.

The Lightning improve to 6-7-6, 18 pts, snapping a 5 game winless streak. The Lightning move into third place in the Southeast division and 11th in the conference (3 points out of a playoff spot).

Bolts Goaltending Dramatically Improved

By JC De La Torre

From the Rink's James Mirtle wrote a very interesting article on comparing this year's goaltending to last. It seems, your Tampa Bay Lightning have made the largest improvement of any team in the league, despite suffering with one of the worst defenses in the league.

Tampa Bay's tandem of Mike Smith and Olaf Kolzig have made a 3.81% improvement in save percentage over the immortal trio of Holmqvist/Denis/Ramo good for best improvement in the NHL. This, despite allowing the most shot per game (35.4) than any other team in the NHL.

Here is the top 5 of From the Rink's List-
Source: From the Rink

It just goes to show you if the Lightning could get their offense and forecheck going, this team could be viable for a playoff spot THIS YEAR. With the high shot total, Tampa Bay is about middle-of-the-pack when it comes to goal against (2.72 GAA, good for 13th in the league). That, coupled with the surprising league worst goals for (2.11 GPG) and averaging nearly 14 penalty minutes a game (13.8) have put the Lightning at their current predicament of 5-7-6.

Sooner or later, the myriad of Tampa Bay superstar forwards of Lecavalier, St. Louis, Malone, Stamkos, and Vrbata are going to start lighting the lamp. The Lightning, under new Head Coach Rick Tocchet, are already showing that they are doing a better job at taking care of their end and applying pressure on the opponent.

Lightning fans can take heart in the fact that they appear to finally have the goaltending in place to be a contender again, now the offense and defense need to show up.

2009 Pro Bowl - AFC vs. The Washington Redskins?

By JC De La Torre

In a nearly inconceivably laughable circumstance and brilliant campaigning by the Washington Redskins, 20 members of the 6-4 Washington Redskins are leading in fan voting for their respective positions for the Pro Bowl. The Redskins have had an aggressive Obama-styled get out the vote campaign that has led to the Redskins leading the NFC ballots in 16 of 19 positions, eight of the 11 NFC starters on both offense and defense would be Redskins, plus all four special teams players. Shawn Springs who has missed six games with injuries, is the leading vote-getter at cornerback.

None of the 7-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers or 8-2 Carolina Panthers are leading in any position and only Justin Tuck of the 9-1 New York Giants is leading at his position. Basically, the Redskin fans have made a mockery of the Pro Bowl. However, they are not to blame, nor is the Redskin organization. The National Football League invited this kind of sham with the "Vote Again" option. If you had the stamina and the where-with-all to do so - you could vote a million times for the same player and "stuff the ballot box". The NFL invited this type of silliness.

This is not to say that when the Pro Bowl kicks off in February that 20 of the 22 positions will have Redskins as starters. Fan voting is just one third of the complicated equation that the NFL uses to decide who earns a trip to Honolulu. Some players, like Fullback Mike Sellers, has such a substantial lead in voting that even votes from the players and coaches vote for others it will not matter.

Needless to say, its likely because of the chicanery of the Redskin fans that the Buccaneers and perhaps the majority of the second best division in football, the NFC South, will be shut out of the Pro Bowl proving what a farce this game really has become. How not one player from three teams with a combine record of 21-9 .700 (Tampa, Carolina, Atlanta) goes to the Pro Bowl is proof enough that the game needs to be done away with and league all-star honors should be issued by players, coaches, and beat writers. Fans should not be included when deciding player's bonuses and hall of fame credentials.

Ironically, most NFL players have incentives for making the Pro Bowl in their contracts. If all 20 players made the Pro Bowl, not only would Daniel Snyder get drilled in the pocket book, it could have damaging ramifications to the team's salary cap for next year. Redskin fans could be hurting their team's ability to compete in 2009.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cowardly About the Lions - Bucs Must Beware the Oh

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers take their show on the road Sunday to Detroit, where they face the Bizarro-Patriots, the Detroit Lions. The Lions are 0-10 and making a run to become the first team since the 1976 expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers to go winless for an entire non-strike shortened NFL season (the Indianapolis Colts finished 1982 strike year 0-8-1). While playoff favorite Tampa Bay should dominate the Lions, history suggests that the Bucs should be worried about facing a winless team this deep into the season. Not including the 82 strike season, since the Expansion Bucs achieved the Oh, thirteen NFL teams have started 0-10 or worse, five of those teams found victory in their 11th game. Guess which game is the 11th for the winless Lions?

Here are the worst starts since the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers -

The 1977 Tampa Bay Buccaneers continued the NFL's longest losing streak for 12 more games (26 straight losses total, still a record today), before finally getting the franchise's first victory in New Orleans in Week 13, beating the Saints 33-14.

The 1980 New Orleans Saints came the closest in the quest for Oh, going 0-14 before finally beating the New York Jets 21-20.

The 1983 Houston Oilers lost their first 10 games before finally breaking through against the Detroit Lions 27-17

The Oilers loved the quest for Oh so much in 83, they decided to try for it again in 1984, starting once again 0-10 before beating the Kansas City Chiefs 17-16.

1984 was apparently a banner year for bad as the Buffalo Bills started 0-11 before upsetting the Dallas Cowboys 14-3.

The 1986 Indianapolis Colts went 13 weeks without a win, before finally beating Atlanta 28-23. The Colts went on to win their final 3 games to finish 3-13.

The 1991 Indianapolis Colts would try once more, going into Week 11 before finding victory against the New York Jets 28-27 .

The 1993 Cincinnati Bengals under David Shula started 0-10, before finally beating the Los Angeles Raiders 16-10.

The 1997 Indianapolis Colts took another stab at "Oh-mortality" starting off the 97 campaign 0-10. The Colts shocked the eventual NFC Champion Green Bay Packers 41-38.

The 2000 San Diego Chargers went 0-11 before finally getting their first win against the Kansas City Chiefs 17-16.

The 2001 Detroit Lions started 0-12 before beating the Minnesota Vikings 27-24.

The 2007 Miami Dolphins went 0-13 until finding victory for the 1st time, getting the Baltimore Ravens in overtime - 22-16.

The eggheads at say, "When the NFL was formed in 1920, winless seasons were not uncommon. In fact, for the first ten years, from 1920-29, there was always at least one team which went winless. Between 1930 and World War II, only the 1934 Cincinnati Reds went winless. The Reds were 0-8-0 when they folded with three games remaining in the season. A new team, called the St. Louis Gunners, was formed. The Gunners had been an independent team operating in the area and they went 1-2 in the remaining three games.

World War II saw a fewer players available for NFL action and, as a result, some teams suffered more than others. The 1942 Detroit Lions went 0-11; the 1943 Chicago Cardinals went 0-10 and the combined Card-Pitt team of 1944 went 0-10.

Since World War II, only the expansion Dallas Cowboys of 1960 (0-11-1), the expansion Tampa Bay Bucs of 1976 (0-14), and the 1982 Baltimore Colts (0-8-1 in a strike-shortened season) have gone winless. "

Winless Teams in the NFL history are -
1934 Cincinnati Reds (0-8)
1942 Detroit Lions (0-11)
1943 Chicago Cardinals (0-10)
1944 "Carpets" (Chicago Cards-Pittsburgh Steelers merged team) (0-10)
1960 Dallas Cowboys (0-11-1)
1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14)
1982 Colts (0-8-1) (strike-shortened season)
source: AllExperts

The Buccaneers have never lost to a team that was 0-10 or worse, but they definitely do not want to join that dubious list. Four of the Lions last six games were decided by a touchdown or less and we all saw what the Bucs did in Kansas City. The Buccaneers have the propensity to play down to their opponents.After the Bucs, the Lions host Tennessee on Thanksgiving in the NFL's first ever 11-0 vs. 0-11 matchup. Then Detroit hosts Minnesota before going to Indianapolis, coming home for the Saints, then ending the year in Green Bay.

Tampa Bay may be the Lions last real shot at victory in 2008. The Bucs must end those thoughts quickly with a good start in Detroit.

Rally Falls Short, But Bolts Are Turning it Around

By JC De La Torre

Under former Head Coach Barry Melrose, the Tampa Bay Lightning looked like dead men skating. Under new interim Head Coach Rick Tocchet, the team showed passion, guts, and determination in blistering a Lightning team record 52 shots on goal and rallying from a 3 goal deficit before finally falling to their hated rival Florida Panthers in their albatross - the shootout.

Tampa Bay outshot their opponent in each of the 3 periods for the first time this season, but in the 1st it got them little, as the Panthers Bryan McCabe and David Booth found the back the net for a 2-0 lead. McCabe scored again in the 2nd period on the power play to stake Florida to a 3-0 advantage and seemingly insurmountable lead with stellar Panthers Goalie Tomas Vokoun between the pipes but midway through the 2nd, the game turned. Steven Stamkos, who played a career high 17:55 alternating between the top two lines and leading all Lightning players with 9 shots on the night, drove toward the net, setting up a scoring chance for the snakebit Radim Vrbata. Vrbata finally broke through, depositing the puck to cut the Panthers advantage to 3-1.

The goal energized the Lightning, who dominated the game from that point on. Tampa Bay drew within one on a Gretzky-esque play behind the net, feeding a charging Evgeny Artyukhin who jammed it in to cut the Panthers lead to 1. Defenseman Steve Eminger, acquired in the Matt Carle Philly deal, completed a 3 point night with his first goal as a member of the Tampa Bay Lighting and ended a goal drought of 63 games, tying the game at 3 with a blast from the point with only 2:51 left in the game.

That goal got the Bolts a point in the standings after being blown out (at least on the scoreboard) through the first half of the game. Tomas Vokoun may have been the only reason the Panthers emerged from this one victorious for Florida. Vokoun was outstanding, making 49 saves, including a stick check of Vaclav Prospal who was charging to the net, stopping a last second shot by Mark Recchi wide with a stick. Vokoun also benefited from a little luck, as with three second left in overtime, Paul Ranger's slapper went off the glove of a spralling Panthers defenseman and trickled wide.

Many of Steven Stamkos' minutes were spent alternating between Center and Right Wing on the number one line with Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.

"I felt like I was in the game," Stamkos told the St. Petersburg Times, "I had a ton of shots and felt great. We dominated them tonight, outshot them and outplayed them in their end. When you're not winning, these games slip by you."

Tocchet agreed but still believed there was a lot to work on, "There were so many good things," Tocchet said, "(On the penalty kill that failed twice against the league's worst power play) We have to start boxing out a little better, The defense has to start taking sticks."

As for their sixth shootout loss, Vokoun was again the difference. After Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier and Jussi Jokinen and Florida's Stephen Weiss failed, Nathan Horton - Lightning Killer extraordinare, deked and found the back of the net past Lightning goalie Mike Smith. Martin St. Louis was stoned on his last chance, giving the Panthers the victory.

Tocchet took responsibility for another failed shootout for the Bolts, telling the Times, "It's probably our fault, we have not practiced penalty shots much this year. It's on my list, trust me, on the top."

"Tocch", as he's called by his players, better hurry as the shootout right now is the difference between Tampa Bay being near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and contending for a playoff spot. If Tampa Bay had just taken 3 of the 6 shootouts they have lost, they would be 8th in the Eastern Conference right now instead of 13th.

Monday, November 17, 2008

#47 Retires

By JC De La Torre

John Lynch has officially retired from the NFL...

Check out Lynch's speech from One Buc Palace here on

This was the man hall of famer Barry Sanders said hit him the hardest. This was the man who destroyed his own brother-in-law on a sideline route, knocking him out of the game. This was a man who was the brains and unquestioned leader of the Buccaneer defense during its heyday of the late nineties and early 00's. He, along with Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber and Hardy Nickerson created what is now known today as BUC BALL.

And here is a great video package that shows why all Buccaneer fans love John the Lynch Mob!

Good luck in your future endeavours #47. We love ya, man!

Bucs RB Earnest Graham's Season May Be Over

By JC De La Torre

In his Monday Press Conference, Jon Gruden told the media that starting halfback Earnest Graham's season may be over.

"Earnest Graham's ankle looks to be a serious injury," Gruden said, "and his status for the rest of the season is very much in question right now."

If Graham is finished, the Bucs will have to lean on Warrick Dunn and Cadillac Williams a little more than they intended. Dunn has advanced in age and he cannot absorb the pounding he once could. Every Buc fan knows the story of Cadillac Williams, whose patella tendon blew up 14 months ago and he's made a miraculous recovery to become eligible to play. The question is - can Cadillac handle the pounding of an NFL stretch run?

"We brought Cadillac up with the understanding he was ready to go," Gruden said Monday.

The Bucs may also lean on rookie free agent Clifton Smith, but Smith's propensity to put the ball on the turf is a concern.

Special teamer\linebacker Geno Hayes may also be lost for the season with a knee injury.

Signs of Life but still a Loss for Bolts, Melrose whines to HNIC

By JC De La Torre

While former head coach Barry Melrose whined to Hockey Night in Canada, the Tampa Bay Lightning definitely looked feisty and more passionate in the debut of new interim Head Coach Rick Tocchet, unfortunately, the results were the same as Tampa Bay fell to the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in a shootout. Tocchet's shorter shifts and reuniting of the MVP (Marty, Vinny, Prospal) line allowed for more scoring chances and kept the Bolts fresh for the 3rd period where they outshot Carolina 8-1, a dramatic turnaround from previous third period performances.

Tampa Bay's scorers were frustrated with their inability to convert on their scoring chances. Three Lightning shots hit goalposts and they were 1-for-6 on the power play including a 4-on-3 power play in overtime in which they had a man advantage for nearly two minutes.

"You get a 4-on-3, you need to score a goal, because then it can to a shootout, and then who knows," Martin St. Louis told the Associated Press, "I take full responsibility. I'm the guy that's out there, and I've got to get the job done, and I didn't."

Tampa Bay jumped to a 2-0 with a goal in the 1st by St. Louis and a power play goal in the 2nd period by Vincent Lecavalier. Carolina came to life in the second half of the 2nd period, getting goals from Wade Brookbank and Rod Brind'Amour. After a scoreless third period and overtime - the game went to a shoot out where Carolina shooters Tuomo Ruutu and Rod Brind'Amour scored on their attempts but Vincent Lecavalier was stoned and Jussi Jokinen hit the post to end it in favor of the Hurricanes.

"It's a step in the right direction," Tocchet said, "I thought the guys played well, I think they're really starting to get what we're trying to do here."

Meanwhile, former Head Coach Barry Melrose did the whine and cheese circuit over the weekend, getting interviewed by Hockey Night in Canada where he complained about the Lightning players not wanting to play for him and controlling the power in the organization.

According to an article in the St. Petersburg Times, Melrose told HNIC, "I think the players didn't want to play for me. I'm not a guy who sings Kumbaya around the fire. I'll let you know if I'm not happy with you.

"And obviously, a lot of guys didn't like to be held accountable with this team, and obviously, they went to (owners) Oren (Koules) and Len (Barrie) and said they don't like this style of coaching and 'would you get rid of him.' I don't think there was any secret about that."

True enough, there are rumors to that effect, which we discussed last week when we covered the dismissal of Melrose. But Melrose took it to the extreme, stating "the players have the power in the organization" and that they "exercised that power" with his firing.

"Now they can play who they want and how much they want and when they want and (not) demand a lot of them," he said. "Everybody's happy in Tampa right now."

This has not been mentioned in the rumors behind the termination of Melrose. While the players, it appears, definitely went to management asking for Melrose's head - its ultimately the owners Koules and Barry as well as Brian Lawton who ultimately made that call. I don't think there's any doubt who's in charge of the hockey organization and its not the players - as evidenced by the revolving door at the St. Pete Times forum.

For the record, Koules texted the St. Pete Times stating that Melrose comments were "absolutely not true".

So while one overmatched coach whines on National Television, there were glimmers of hope that the Lightning in the Tocchet era could be much more passionate and competitive than they were under Melrose. Now if only they'd stop hitting goalposts...