Saturday, October 31, 2020

Trick Or Treat

 BY SCOTT MORGANROTH 

I’ve been covering sports for 40 years and today I discovered a first.

This can only happen in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The FAU Owls (1-1) played host to the UTSA Roadrunners (4-3) and considering the contest is being played on Halloween, the famous words, “Trick or Treat” brought on an entirely new meaning.

UTSA has played five more games than FAU at this stage of the 2020 Season. This is totally unheard of. But as I mentioned welcome to 2020.

Because of COVID-19 the only question I wondered was what to expect out of the Owls?

FAU won its season opener with a 21-17 triumph over Charlotte on October 3rd.

The Owls played again on October 24 as they lost to Marshall 20-9 in Huntington, WV.

Judging by the first quarter, FAU looked good as the Owls jumped out to a 10-0 lead. 

QB Nick Tronti was 6-9 for 63 yards and had a touchdown pass. 

RB Malcolm Davidson had eight carries for 65 yards, one of those was a 28-yard run. FAU dominated time of possession 10:16-4:44.

FAU put together a late first half drive that was highlighted by a 36-yard pass from Tronti to TJ Chase where the receiver went high and hauled in the reception. Tronti proceeded to score from two yards out. FAU led 17-3. 

UTSA’s lone points came from a 49-yard field goal by Hunter Duplessis.

There would be some rain in the second half as the field started to get slippery.

The Owls added a late score with 2:35 left in the game and came away with a 24-3 win.

FAU’s defense recorded seven sacks and limited UTSA to 230 total yards. FAU improved it’s overall record to 2-1 while UTSA dropped to 4-4. 

The Owls offense was balanced. The running game produced 196 yards while they gained 136 in the air leading to 332 total yards. Davidson finished with 115 yards on the ground. His longest gain of the afternoon was 30 yards.

When the contest was over, Coach Willie Taggart was pleased that his defense did an excellent job keeping UTSA out of the end zone.

“This was a great win for us and I’m excited about the way our defense played,” he said. Our defense played lights out. Our offense just has to catch up. This was a much needed win for us.”

I asked Taggart about the game differential between his squad and his opponent. He said, “They knew more about their team than we did. It was great to play back to back games. For us, it’s important to learn about our team and we made improvement from the Marshall game.

“We have to be smart, mask-up and continue to play well. We’ll continue to get better as the season goes on getting the kinks out. What we learned today was we have a good defense, we’re not consistent on offense and we can run the football. We have a chance to be real good, but there is a lot of work has to be done.”

Taggart was extremely pleased with the performance of Davidson.

“He was running hard and did a great job,” Taggart said. “He showed what he’s capable of doing. I was hoping that he would get 20 carries. He’s a quiet guy and we need him to be the back that we know he can be.”

It’s hard to believe that this weird, wondrous and whatever season will have FAU play their home Finale, on Saturday, November 7 at 6 ET. It’s still crazy to think that this will be FAU’s fourth game of the season. 

But on this Halloween Day, FAU didn’t get tricked by losing another football game as a result of a postponement.

Instead, it was a treat to play a winning football game and learn a little more about the squad.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at southfloridatribune@gmail.com.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Tale Of Two Coaches

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH 

JACKSONVILLE, FL

The Detroit Lions vs Jacksonville Jaguars game was a contest that was slated to be played in London, England., but COVID-19 prevented that from occurring.

Another thing that could have stopped this game was Jacksonville placed 12 players on the Practice Squad/Covid List and one player on the Reserve/Covid-19 List.

But on Game Day, there were zero positive tests on the active roster since Saturday and the players received multiple tests therefore, they were eligible to play.

My wife and I stayed at the Downtown Jacksonville Hyatt Regency and there were some Lions jerseys on Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. There were flags on motor vehicles. The Lions only play in Northern Florida once every eight years.

This was a matchup of two of the four teams that have never played in the Super Bowl.

On Sunday, those fans wouldn’t be disappointed as Detroit cruised to a 34-16 win. 

There would be no double-digit blown leads and QB Matthew Stafford checked another box in his fine career. Going into the game, he hadn’t thrown a TD pass vs the Jaguars. In the second quarter, the Lions converted on a fourth and goal and tight-end T.J Hockensen was the recipient of a one-yard TD pass.

RB DeAndre Swift is no stranger to TIAA Bank field as he, like Stafford played in this venue for the Georgia Bulldogs. 

Swift made the most of his return with 14 carries-116 yards and two touchdowns. One run went for 54 yards. He also caught three passes for seven yards. 

Swift’s performance reminded me of the stellar outing by then rookie Kerryon Johnson, who on October 21, 2018 led the Lions to a road 32-21 win at the Miami Dolphins, five hours south on I-95. Johnson rushed for 158 yards and added 21 yards in the air.

Stafford completed 19-31-223 yards and a touchdown. 

Kenny Golladay caught four passes for 105 yards. 

Adrian Peterson rushed four times for 40 yards and one touchdown. He also had one catch for 18 yards.

Minshew was 24-44-243 with a touchdown and one interception. RB James Robinson rushed for 29 yards and also caught a TD pass. Keenan Cole Sr had six receptions for 143 yards while DJ Chark had seven receptions for 45 yards.

What propelled the Lions to the win was they led in Time of Possession 35:57-24:03 and they out rushed Jacksonville 180-44 and controlled the tempo of the game.

Jacksonville has been outscored 161-98 and has lost five straight. In those five losses the Jaguars have given up 30 points. The Jaguars have set a new NFL record by employing five kickers in five consecutive weeks.

Detroit improved its record to 2-3 while Jacksonville dropped to 1-5. Detroit leads to all-time series 4-3 and the next time these squads face each other will be at Ford Field in 2024. 

During the next week, Lions Coach Matt Patricia and General Manager Bob Quinn won’t have to answer questions about their job status. This easy win will somewhat silence the media.

Detroit faces the Atlanta Falcons next Sunday in Georgia, another homecoming for Swift, who played in nearby Athens. Another win against an opponent that they’re expected to beat will continue to silence the Media.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville Jaguars Coach Doug Marrone still continues to search for answers with his young team and will face the Los Angeles Chargers in Southern California.

Since Jacksonville’s 2017 AFC Title year, with two playoff wins, Marrone has a 12-27 record including the title game loss to Tom Brady, who played for the New England Patriots.

Going into the game, I was slightly on edge as to what it would be like to cover an NFL Game during Covid-19. No problem! I was impressed with the pre-screening and the protocols worked well with me.

We all know that Covid-19 is every disruptive and will continue to cause tension during the week as we see games cancelled and postponed. So this is something that everyone has to live with. 

As far as this game is concerned, going into the contest, this is the Tale of Two Coaches with Matt Patricia and Doug Marrone. It will be interesting to see what they’re fates will be when Black Monday occurs at the end of the season. 

Marrone has one year left on his contract so the question is will Jacksonville fire him and move on or allow him to continue the rebuilding process?

Scott Morganroth can be reached at southfloridatribune@gmail.com. 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Back In My Element

 BY SCOTT MORGANROTH 

There is no place better for me than being in a press box.

Thanks to Covid-19, games that I would ordinarily cover turned out to be credential requests denied. This has been mostly the case in the NFL as seating capacity has drastically been reduced.

Remote broadcasting has been the theme in the Sports World in 2020. 

Announcers are calling games from their homes and studios. 

Pre-game access is limited to Media Availability on Zoom, Webex and other forms of video conferencing outlets.

Of all the press boxes that I’ve been working, there is no better view than FAU Stadium, the home of the Owls, here in Boca Raton, Florida. It’s the only stadium where you can see the ocean, as the Atlantic Ocean is 1.8 miles east.

During the past two weeks, the Owls were scheduled to hit the road to face Georgia Southern and than host the University of South Florida last week. Those games never came to fruition as COVID-19 reared it’s ugly head.

FAU finally got on the field and the Owls were glad that they could finally hit someone other than themselves. At long last, the long awaited debut of Head Coach Willie Taggart arrived as he faced the Charlotte 49’ers.

The Owls looked like a team that were trying to find their footing as they fell behind 10-0 at the half.

But things changed drastically in the third quarter as Tronti led the Owls to 21 unanswered points. He ran for a 49-yard touchdown. He followed that up throwing two touchdown passes. Other key third quarter efforts came from Larry McCammon III who had a key 35-yard run which set up a TD. FAU’s defense caused UNCC to lose a fumble that led to another TD.

UNCC wasn’t going away. The 49’ers put together a drive that was 10 plays for 75-yards which took 3:57 to cut the lead to 21-17 with 13:00 in the fourth quarter.

Both teams had their opportunities to score in the final quarter, but the Owls hung on to a 21-17 win, in what would turn out to be a rainy ending. FAU recorded two key sacks inside of the final 26 seconds, as UNCC was driving in the red zone.

Tronti was 11-22-98 yards and two touchdowns. He also had 10 carries for 94 yards and a touchdown. He accounted for all of FAU’s TD’s.

During halftime, Taggart had words of wisdom for his QB.

“I told him to calm down, you know how to do this and in the second half, he was starting to make some good reads.”

Taggart earned his first triumph as FAU Coach and was relieved to not only play this first game but win it as well.

I asked Taggart what was like to finally hit some other players and not your own? 

“It was like Christmas,” he said. “I had my fingers crossed and when we were able to play and Charlotte was able too, I said yes!”

Taggart summed up the opening week and said, “it was good to see our football team play a game. In the first half nothing went right. But it was good seeing them come back and multiple players made plays.

“I told these guys that adversity is going to hit. The guys took these words and ran with it. They responded to it. All the adversity we went through paid off. This is a group of young  people that play for one another.

“I’m excited about the football team we have and where we can go. It’s great to win In Paradise.”

The 1-0 Owls hit the road and face Southern Mississippi. They now lead their overall series with Charlotte 4-2.

While Taggart was pleased to win In Paradise, it was great being Back In My Element In Paradise.

Barring any COVID-19 issues, I look forward to returning in my serene spot in paradise as FAU faces the University of Texas-San Antonio on October 31, at Noon ET.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at southfloridatribune@gmail.com.

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