Loss to Rams exposes Bucs’ flaws

by Gary Shelton on September 27, 2021

in general

Arians' team has work to do./TIM WIRT

Monday, 4 a.m.

It still smells the same -- like something that died in the couch. It still tastes the same -- like something that either is medicine or creates a need for it. It still feels the same -- a miserable, empty feeling.

It is losing.

And it is back.

For 311 days in a row, for 10 straight games, the Tampa Bay Bucs had fought off defeat. Then came Sunday, when the Los Angeles Rams shoved the Bucs down the stairs, where they fell to earth. The Rams handled the Bucs, 34-24, and it felt like a sounder beating than 10 points suggest.

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The Bucs had areas of their team where they simply did not complete. They could not cover anyone. They could not run the ball. They could not rush the passer. On a day they played without Jason Pierre-Paul and Antonio Brown, it was the recipe for defeat.

Of course, a loss is normal in the NFL. That isn't as much of a concern as the flaws this game exposed.

-- There is the secondary, who has given up 1,053 passing yards in three games. It was enough to convince Bruce Arians to call Richard Sherman on the plane ride home.

-- The Bucs' running game remains a mess. The Bucs rushed for just 35 yards, and 14 of those were by Tom Brady. The Bucs need to make a. decision on Ronald Jones; they need to use him or make him inactive.

-- The Bucs' pass rush has just three sacks in three games. That pass rush was the key to the Bucs' in last season's playoffs. So far, it has been invisible.

Bucs' coach Bruce Arians talked about contract corners -- the Bucs have had two in to work out recently. He also seemed concerned with the pass rush.

"You can't (let the quarterback) sit back there," Arians said. "We've got to gt home and do a better job of covering."

That has been much of the Bucs' problem. The pass rush is lousy, and the coverage is awful. The offensive line is limited, bu the running backs are ordinary.

Look, it isn't unusual for a team -- even a good one -- to get its head handed to it. Remember the two regular season games against New Orleans? Yet the Bucs found themselves before they played in the playoffs.

Will it happen this time?

Well, as of September, the Bucs are playing chase. But perhaps the defeat will show the Bucs that they have flaws to fix. Perhaps they can realize that swag is a post-season thing.

The Bucs are at New England next week. The game begins at 8:30 p.m.

Rays have decisions to make for playoffs

by Gary Shelton on September 27, 2021

in general

Cash has some decisions to make./JEFFREY S. KING

Monday, 3 a.m.

First come the victories. After that, come the decisions.

The Tampa Bay Rays' matched a franchise record Sunday with their 97th victory of the year (with six games to go). They've wrapped up a playoff spot and the AL East championship.

But for a team that used 61 players on its roster this year, the question remains. Just how young will the Rays be going the post-season?

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How about Shane Baz, the rookie who threw his second impressive start Sunday in a 3-2 victory over Miami? Has he done enough to make the post-season?

Naturally, Shane McClanahan should have a slot. He led the team in wins this year. And Wander Franco is guaranteed. He had a double and a triple to extend his on-base streak to 41 games, only two shy of Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.

Of course, the Rays have other decisions to make, too. Nick Anderson became the 14th pitcher on the Rays to earn a save Sunday, but is he healthy enough to make the post-season roster? How about Ryan Yarbrough, who has been hit-or-miss down the stretch?

Those are the decisions that will have to made over the next week.

Baz certainly seems to qualify. He threw 5 2/3 innings of shutout baseball.

"He filled the strike zone," Rays' manager Kevin Cash said. "It felt like he got better as the game went on. He maintained his velocity. I'm thrilled with the way he has looked in his two starts for us. I don’t know how much more he can do.

"I thought the impressive part was when he fell behind, he got back in the count. He didn’t fall behind in Toronto. He was able to make a big pitch and get back."

Baz said he wasn't thinking about whether he would be on the post-season roster or not, saying it was up to others to make the decision.

"It felt good," Baz said of his game. "I gave us a chance to win; that's all I’m trying to do."

The Rays have today off, then travel to Houston for an 8:10 p.m. game on Tuesday. Michael Wacha will start for the Rays. The Astros have not announced their starter.

Rays clinch division title against Miami

by Gary Shelton on September 26, 2021

in general

Lowe had four hits for the Rays./JEFFREY S. KING


Sunday, 4 a.m.

It took 155 games, winding through ups and downs, the injuries and the call-ups.. It took more than five dozen (61) players. It took more than three dozen (38) pitchers. It took 46 comebacks.

After it all, however, the Tampa Bay Rays are American League champions.

The Rays clinched the title -- their fourth division title -- with a 7-3 victory over the Miami Marlins. Like a lot of Rays' wins, it included a comeback, and a hairy finish (the Marlins loaded the bases in the ninth).

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But the Rays won, and coupled with the Yankees' win over Boston, it wrapped up the team's fourth division title, their second in a row and the first time it had won it at home.

The Rays got four hits (three of them doubles) from Brandon Lowe and a two-run homer from Mike Zunino in the victory, their 96th of the season.

The Rays have seven games to play, in which they will try to wrap up the best record in the league.

“It means a lot," Zunino said of the title. "To accomplish it on a shortened season (last year) is good. To do it on a full 162 is a feat. I’m proud of this team."

The Rays got five innings from starter Shane McClanahan, who gave up only one earned run. Collin McHugh gave up two earned runs.

"It's pretty special," Rays' manager Kevin Cash said. "WE go into every year knowing it's a daunting task, but this group can do some special things. They've proven that for the last six months."

The Rays played without slugger Nelson Cruz or rookie sensation Wander Franco, who currently has a 40-game on base streak.

"We’re just a hard-working, blue-collar type of team," said outfielder Kevin Kiermaier. "You see a lot of teams with a World Series hangover. In spring training, I said 'hey fellows, let’s take that next step. Let’s be better,' This is the first step of it."

Said reliever Pete Fairbanks:  "I think we are as good as last year if not better. "

That remains to be seen. The Rays close out their regular season today against the Marlins, then have series in Houston and New York.

Today (1:10 p.m.) at Tropicana Field, Shane Baz will start for the Rays against Jesús Luzardo .


Slow start dooms USF against BYU

by Gary Shelton on September 26, 2021

in general

Jeff Scott's team played well after slow start\../STEVEN MUNCIE

Sunday, 3 a.m.

When a coach has won two games in his career, it's hard to make a list of his most impressive moments.

But at least after this one, perhaps USF coach Jeff Scott has a chance, after all.

After a slow start, the Bulls played well in a 35-27 loss to BYU Saturday night. The Bulls fell behind 21-0 in the first 10:40 of the game and looked to be on its way to being blown out. At halftime, it was 28-6.

But the Bulls fought back in the second half behind freshman quarterback Tim McClain. USF put together drives of 75, 54 and 94 yards to get close.

“Our goal was to come out, obviously, and play well early,” coach Jeff Scott said. “We talked about that all week, … we needed to come out and play well early and we didn’t. Ultimately, that ended up being the difference in this game.

“When you’re playing a really good team like BYU, who’s won 12 home games in a row, … you’ve got to be able to execute for four quarters.”

McClain hit 17 of 24 passes for 186 yards and ran for 55. Running. back Jaren Mangham ran for 86 yards.

USF is on the road against SMU next week.

Florida 38, Tennessee 14: As a quarterback, he was unbeaten, untied and unloved. For Emory Jones, that last category might have changed somewhat Saturday night.

Jones took over the game and led Florida to a comfortable 38-14 victory over regular punching bag Tennessee. It was the Gators' 16th win over the Vols in the last 17 meetings.

Jones rushed for 144 yards and threw for 209 and two touchdowns. The Gators led just 17-14 at the half, but outscored the Vols 21-0 in the second half.

"You're seeing him settling down, making the right reads," Florida coach Dan Mullen said of Jones. "It shows he's managing things."

Miami 69, Central Connecticut 0: In the days of football expansion, does anyone know: Is the Northern Conference of the FBS hiring?

If so, the Miami Hurricanes might want to apply. Miami, playing without its starting quarterback D'Eriq King, punished opponent Central Connecticut of the Northern Saturday afternoon, winning 69-0. The bad news is that Central had given up only 56 a week ago; on the other hand, that was against Southeast Louisiana.

Miami had a school record 739 yards in the win. Backup quarterback Tyler Van Dyke hit 10 of 11 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns. His backup, Jake Garcia, hit 11 of 14 for 147 yards.

Two running backs, Cam'Ron Harris and Thad Franklin, each had 100 yards rushing.

"Against an overmatched opponent I thought the most important thing today was Miami, and how we played," Diaz said.

Miami plays against Virginia on Thursday night.

Louisville 31, FSU 23: The FSU Seminoles are going in the wrong direction.

The Noles fell to 0-4 Saturday, losing to Louisville after a sluggish start. FSU trailed 31-7 just before halftime. FSU came back in the second half, but quarterback McKenzie Milton threw an interception with his team behind by eight points.

Norvell is now 3-10 as coach of FSU. Milton completed 24 of 39 passes for 248 yards.

“We didn’t play well in the first half in any phase," Norvell said. "Gave up big plays, had miscommunications, struggled on third down in the first half. Missed opportunities, we had our chances. Didn’t finish drives. We’ve got to finish.

"We did not start how you need to start football games. That’s a reflection on me. We’ve got to get these guys ready from the beginning.”

FSU plays Syracuse Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m.

Rays keep pushing with easy win over Miami

September 25, 2021 general

Saturday, 4 am. This is how you follow up on success. You keep it going. The game before, the Tampa Bay Rays had made the playoffs, their third straight season. They had survived, and now they had a weak Miami team coming to town. And, no, they did not take a breath. Instead, the Rays […]

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Predictions: Could the Rams beat Tampa Bay?

September 25, 2021 general

Saturday, 3 a.m. It wouldn’t be an upset. It wouldn’t be a catastrophe. It wouldn’t mean that hunks of sky are going to fall. The Tampa Bay Bucs could lose Sunday, and it could just be a miss-step on their journey. Nothing more. People tend to forget about that. Fans care so much that with […]

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At 2-0, Bucs still seek improvement

September 24, 2021 general

Friday, 4 a.m. Another challenge awaits the Tampa Bay Bucs this week. An old one, too. Expectations. And the Los Angeles Rams. For the Bucs, both opponents are daunting. The Rams have Matt Stafford and Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald. The expectations have critics and cynics and early impressions. Whether the Bucs can measure up […]

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Rays clinch post-season for the seventh time

September 23, 2021 general

Thursday, 4 a.m. Now, this is how a team looks fearsome as it enters the post-season. After two weeks of spinning their wheels, the Tampa Bay Rays wrapped up another playoff appearance Wednesday afternoon, clubbing the Toronto Blue Jays 7-1. It locked up the team’s seventh post-season trip, all since 2008, and their third in […]

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Despite control problems, Jays edge Rays

September 22, 2021 general

Wednesday, 4 a.m. This close to the finish line, and they are stumbling. But one thing seems certain after their latest defeat. If the Rays are going to reach the playoffs, they aren’t going to walk there. The Toronto Blue Jays tried their best to self-immolate in Tuesday night’s 4-2 victory over the Rays. Tampa […]

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Baz sharp in winning his first start for Rays

September 21, 2021 general

Tuesday, 4 a.m. The younger, the better. Who cares how innocent the kids on the farm are. At this rate, the Rays might want to look into promoting a talented 15-year-old. Raw, talented and hard-throwing — that’s the recipe. The Rays — who seem to be building a pitching rotation for the future — tapped […]

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