Bob Sparks - 6/57 - SaintPetersBlog

Bob Sparks

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

Gators vault to 13th in AP Top 25; Seminoles up to 15th

Voters in the Associated Press Top 25 poll were impressed by Florida’s unexpected win at LSU on Saturday. The Gators’ 16-10 victory fueled their surge from the 21st position to No. 13 in this week’s poll.

The Gators climbed over four teams who won on Saturday, including Florida State. The Seminoles moved up from the 17th to the 15th slot following their impressive 45-14 win at Syracuse.

Florida will travel to Tallahassee Saturday to face the Seminoles.

Alabama was again a unanimous selection at the top of the poll. The Crimson Tide earned all 61 first place votes and finished well ahead of second place Ohio State, who barely survived against a downtrodden Michigan State team on Saturday.

Fellow Big 10 member Michigan stayed at No. 3. One of those teams will drop out of the Top 5 after their annual grudge match on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio.

Clemson and Wisconsin round out the Top 5. Both of those teams should move into the Top 4 with victories on Saturday.

With Penn State coming in the eighth position, the Big 10 has four teams in the Top 10. Louisville fell out of the Top 10 after their 36-10 thrashing at the hands of Houston. The Cougars returned to the Top 25, coming in at No. 18.

LSU fell nine spots to No. 25 after their home loss to the Gators. Tennessee returned to the Top 25 at the 23rd position. Poll voters thought their 63-37 win over lowly Missouri was enough.

Besides Alabama, the only remaining unbeaten team is the 11-0 Western Michigan Broncos of the Mid-American Conference, who is ranked at No. 14.

The SEC placed six teams in the Top 25 while the Big 10 and the Pac 12 had five. The ACC and Big 12 had three teams each in the Top 25, while the American, Mountain West, and Mid-American Conference had one each.

The AP Top 25 poll can be found here.

 

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

FIU’s flawless second half leads to big win over Marshall

Saturday’s game between the Florida International Panthers and the Marshall Thundering Herd started off as a turnover fest, but it did not end that way. The Panthers used a highly proficient offense in the second half to pull away from Marshall and roll to a 31-14 victory in Miami.

After taking the opening kickoff and marching 82 yards in four plays to take a 7-0 lead, quarterback Maurice Alexander threw interceptions in back-to-back possessions. Alexander was playing in place of the injured Alex McGough.

Marshall quarterback Chase Litton also threw two first half interceptions sandwiched around a 17-yard touchdown pass to Emanuel Byrd that tied the score at 7-7. Late in the first half, Christian Alexander came in at quarterback for FIU and led them on an 82-yard scoring drive, capped by a three-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Branisel.

The Panthers would score on every possession for the remainder of the game. Focusing on the running game, FIU’s three second half possessions resulted in a field goal and two touchdowns while the defense allowed just one touchdown.

Both Anthony Jones and Alex Gardner rushed for more than 100 yards. Jones had 121 yards and a touchdown while Gardner had 119 yards and two touchdowns. Maurice Alexander, who returned in the third quarter, finished with 204 yards and two touchdowns.

The victory snapped a three-game losing streak. The Panthers improved to 4-7 overall and 4-3 and Conference USA.

Saturday’s win capped an exciting week for FIU. Earlier they hired former Miami Hurricanes Coach Butch Davis to be their new head coach. He will replace Ron Turner, who was fired on September 25 after an 0-4 start.

Interim Coach Ron Cooper improved to 4-3 since he took over. He will coach his final game for FIU next Saturday when they finish the season on the road at Old Dominion.

 

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Magic, D.J.Augustin use big fourth quarter to get by Mavericks

D.J. Augustin made his presence felt at the Amway Center on Saturday night. The veteran guard from Texas came up big in the fourth quarter as the Orlando Magic beat the Dallas Mavericks 97-87.

Heading into the fourth quarter, the Magic trailed the Mavericks 69-66. Over the final 12 minutes, Orlando outscored their opponents from Texas, 31-18.

Augustin played a huge role in the victory. In addition to his 18 points, he dished out six assists to account for 30 points. Ten of his points came in the fourth quarter as Dallas persistently hung with Orlando.

He made two critical three-pointers within a minute of each other midway through the fourth quarter. The first one put Orlando ahead and the second one extended the lead.

Those shots represented the turning point in the game.

“Coach (Frank Vogel) wants me to shoot when I’m open, just be aggressive,” said Augustin. “Coach does a great job giving everyone on the team confidence.”

Augustin certainly had some help from his teammates. Serge Ibaka was a force on both ends, scoring 15 points with 9 rebounds and three blocked shots. Nikola Vucevic had a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

Bismack Biyombo was a major force on the court. He had his first double-figure game, scoring 13 points, but he helped altered shots that he didn’t block, but wound up blocking three. He also had 10 rebounds.

The Mavericks stayed in the game with three-point shooting, making 13 in 29 attempts. They needed the long-distance connections because they were missing two key players.

Guard Deron Williams missed his second straight game as did future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki. Jonathan Gibson, in only his second NBA game, tried to make up for the loss of playmakers by pouring in 26 points off the bench.

It marked the second straight game Orlando missed seeing an All-Star from a Western Conference team. New Orleans Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis missed Wednesday’s loss to the Magic.

After losing three straight, the Magic have now won three of four to improve their record to 6-7. They will try to get to .500 on Monday night when they travel to Milwaukee to face the Bucks.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Old Dominion’s huge second half buries FAU 42-24

Things went well for a half on Saturday night for the Florida Atlantic Owls. The second half was a totally different story as the Old Dominion Monarchs overwhelmed the Owls 42-24.

FAU had it going in the first two periods, taking a 21-13 lead into halftime. Whatever ODU Coach Bobby Wilder told his team in the locker room, it worked.

Especially for quarterback David Washington. He fired four second-half touchdown passes to surge the Monarchs past the Owls and leave them in the dust. Washington passed for 416 yards and had five TD passes overall.

Their first four possessions in the second half all resulted in touchdowns. Washington’s 84-yard hookup with Jeremy Cox put ODU up by 42-24 and marked the longest play from scrimmage by ODU since they launched an FBS/Division I program in 2009.

Old Dominion took the second half kickoff and marched 75 yards in nine plays for a touchdown. With the two- point conversion, the game was tied.

They just kept going. The Monarchs outscored the Owls 29-3 in the second half.

Jacob Driskel passed for 219 yards while Devin Singletary had 89 yards rushing. Singletary had 90 yards and both of his touchdowns by halftime.

The loss snapped a modest two-game winning streak for the Owls. They dropped to 3-8 on the year and 2-5 in Conference USA.

They conclude their season next Saturday at Middle Tennessee State.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Hurricanes’ second half surge blows away Wolfpack

In Saturday’s game between Miami and North Carolina State, points came at a premium in the first half. The Hurricanes’ offense, Mark Walton in particular took charge in the second half, rolling to a 27-13 win over the Wolfpack in Raleigh.

Neither team could get anything going in the first half as they went into the locker room tied at 3-3. It did not take long for the Hurricanes to take control.

It took the Hurricanes only three plays to go 75 yards to start the third quarter to take the lead. Walton accounted for 49 of those yards.

“The first half, it didn’t go so well for our running game,” said Walton. “The second half we came and we ran the ball well.”

After Malek Young intercepted a Ryan Finley pass in the end zone, Miami went 80 yards in seven plays to take a two-touchdown lead. Walton scored the touchdown from one yard out.

Walton rushed for 120 yards on only 19 carries and scored three touchdowns. Brad Kaaya threw for 286 yards without a touchdown, but threw no interceptions. Ahmmon Richards had 117 receiving yards on nine catches.

“Sometimes you’ve got to chip away — you’ve got to chip away and eventually something will break,” said Hurricanes’ Coach Mark Richt. “And you’ve got to stay patient running the ball.”

The Hurricanes did not commit a turnover. In addition to the interception, the Wolfpack fumbled a punt and had a fourth-quarter touchdown called back by penalty.

Even the Miami special teams made strong contributions. Punter Justin Vogel kicked five times and the day, four of which were downed inside the 20.

With the victory, the Hurricanes improved to 7-4 and 4-3 in the ACC. After losing four straight, they have now won their last three games.

Next Saturday they host the Duke Blue Devils in the regular season finale.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

FAMU on the upswing as Florida Classic approaches

On Saturday, Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman will meet on the football field as they do every year. They have played since 1925, but in 1978 the November contest earned its present moniker of the Florida Classic.

While most eyes are on Florida’s major colleges each week, these two FCS/Division II schools seek to earn the title of Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. But the Florida Classic, played in Orlando one week before Rivalry Week among FBS/Division I schools, is arguably the most important rivalry game among Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).

Bethune-Cookman has won the last five games in the rivalry, beginning in 2011. On that November day, the Wildcats beat the Rattlers 26-16 in front of 60,218.

Precious few remember the score or the attendance. Millions know what happened after that game.

Following the game, criminal hazing took the life of Marching 100 Drum Major Robert Champion. The football program, as well as the entire university, is still trying to recover.

The ensuing furor saw band director Julian White retire after the suspension of the Marching 100. Not long afterward, FAMU President Dr. James Ammons stepped down. Dr. Larry Robinson, serving two stints as Interim President, bookended the brief, polarized tenure of Dr. Elmira Mangum.

While not openly campaigning, Robinson seems to be drawing support to be hired on a permanent basis. Hopefully, he will be strongly considered.

The athletic department has had a rough five years as well. Athletic Director Derek Horne was let go in 2013. NFL Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow lasted only eight months as AD.

Interim AD Nelson Townsend tragically passed away, replaced by Interim AD Earl D’Wayne Robinson. Milton Overton, Jr. has been on the job since June, 2015 and appears to be making progress.

The football program has also been through a tumultuous period. Joe Taylor, the coach of the 2011 team, abruptly retired before the Florida Classic in 2012.

Winslow appointed Corey Fuller as interim coach before bringing in Earl Holmes for the 2013 season. After going 6-16, Winslow fired Holmes on Homecoming weekend of all things.

Alex Wood was hired for the 2015 season and he took his lumps. The Rattlers finished 1-10 in his first year, bringing their record to 11-35 since that awful day in 2011.

Wood’s second season started with a 70-3 embarrassment at Miami on the way to an 0-4 start. After the fourth loss, Wood said his team was “not very good.”

The purpose here is not to lament the woes of Florida A&M football or the university itself. It merely serves as a baseline for what is happening now.

By that measure, there is reason to begin to feel good about the school, the athletic department and the football program.

After Wood’s “not very good” comment, for which he earned criticism, his team has now won four of their last six games. Although the Wildcats will have something to say about it on Saturday, FAMU will be playing to finish at 5-6, which would be their best year since 2011.

Overton is earning praise for his leadership in the athletic department. Yes, he has stepped on some toes, but that goes with the job.

Robinson was already a known quantity and was expected to do a good job in the president’s role. He has not disappointed.

Saturday’s game is the most eagerly anticipated contest since the tragedy. Attendance has dropped off precipitously, falling to 20-year lows.

If a big crowd witnesses a good game, then the rivalry is back on in full. The Wildcats come in at 3-5, but have won their last three games. They have also had two weeks to prepare following a bye week.

May it be a Classic.

 

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Magic get by shorthanded New Orleans 89-82

When playing at home against a 2-9 team missing one of the NBA’s brightest stars, losing is not an option. Fortunately for the Orlando Magic, they took full advantage of the absence of Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 89-82 at the Amway Center Wednesday night.

Davis missed the game due to a bruised quadriceps, forcing the Pelicans to find points from other places. With a lack of depth to begin with, that is not a formula for winning.

To their credit, New Orleans hung around until the end. After trailing by 14 points in the third period, the Pelicans made a late run to trail by only 67-65 entering the fourth quarter.

With 9:30 remaining, the outmanned Pelicans took a 70-69 lead. After quickly regaining the lead, the Magic kept New Orleans at bay the rest of the way.

“They made some plays and then we tightened up our defense and the ball started going in late,” said Magic Coach Frank Vogel. “You’ve got to rely on your defense and you’ve got to work to improve your offensive execution to get good shots. Then you’ve got to knock them down when you get them.”

Orlando again failed to reach 40 percent shooting, finishing the game at 34-for-88, or 39 percent. The Pelicans only shot 37 percent.

Perhaps Nikola Vucevic is starting to come out of his slump. He made five of 12 shots for 10 points while hauling in 14 rebounds. The totals for Vucevic matched his combined totals for the past three games.

Evan Fournier and Serge Ibaka had strong performances, scoring 16 and 10 points, respectively.

The Magic bench played well and nearly outscored the starters. D.J. Augustin and Aaron Gordon had 11 and 10 points respectively.

Sharpshooter Damjan Rudez had his best game, scoring 11 points in only 15 minutes of play. Bismack Biyombo was his usual active self with eight rebounds and harassing New Orleans shooters.

It was not an awe-inspiring performance from the Magic, but good enough. The bench played a large role in obtaining this win.

The Magic, now 5-7, have a couple of days to practice before their next game. The Dallas Mavericks come to town Saturday.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Nikola Vucevic, Magic search for rhythm

The shooting touch of one of the NBA’s best shooting centers is missing in action. The Orlando Magic’s reliable Nikola Vucevic is in a major slump.

Over the last three games, he has made only five of 32 shots. He has scored only 10 points during that span, which also reveals he is not getting to the free throw line either.

The word that comes up among Vucevic and his teammates is “rhythm.” He is struggling so mightily because he can’t find his rhythm.

“I’ve got to find my rhythm and get in the positions I was used to getting into last year,” he said after Monday’s loss to the Indiana Pacers. “I just need to get back into my rhythm because I’ve hit a rough stretch offensively. Hopefully, I’ll get out of it soon.”

As Vucevic struggles, so do the Magic. They lost two of his three nightmare games and only won the Oklahoma City game on Sunday because Serge Ibaka put up career numbers to compensate for the loss of production at the center position.

“He’s just not in a good rhythm right now and we’ll try to get him in a good rhythm,” said Coach Frank Vogel.

Orlando does have some weapons to deploy when Vucevic is in his rhythm. Elfrid Payton is providing strong play at the point guard position and Evan Fournier has been a consistent scorer. The bench has contributed as well.

Things will open up when Vucevic starts swishing some of the shots he is currently clanking. Right now, there is no reason for the opposing big man to come out and challenge his jump shots. That allows big guys to stay back and protect the rim.

Bottom line is an effective Vucevic makes his teammates better. When he is right, this should be a productive offense.

Fournier joins the choir in analyzing the problems of Vucevic.

“We need Vooch badly because he’s big-time and he knows it,” said Fournier. “He’s looking for his rhythm and it’s never easy to go through that, but I have high faith and confidence in him.”

Tonight, the All-Points Bulletin for Vucevic’s rhythm returns to the Amway Center when the Magic host the 2-9 New Orleans Pelicans. Orlando will see Anthony Davis, who, let’s just say, feels the rhythm.

Davis, who is third in the league in scoring with an average of 30.5 points per game, has been unable to score enough, or block enough shots, to create victories.

At least Vucevic has more help from his teammates. When he returns to the Vucevic of old, this team will win its share of games.

Finding his rhythm will wash away the blues.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Pacers spoil Frank Vogel’s homecoming with 88-69 win over Magic

On Sunday night, the Orlando Magic’s Serge Ibaka made his return to Oklahoma City a memorable one with 31 points, including the game-winning shot. On Monday, Magic coach and former Pacers’ boss Frank Vogel made his return to Indiana. It was not a happy homecoming as the Pacers beat the Magic 88-69.

Ibaka helped to will his team to victory on the court on Sunday, highlighting the biggest difference in the two homecomings: Vogel could not contribute on the floor, but could only watch from the sideline. Ibaka was held to only six points on three-of-13 shooting.

Orlando scored 50 fewer points than they did the previous night, thanks to enough misfires that led to 32 percent shooting. The Magic made only 27 of 84 shots and had only 12 assists, while turning the ball over 14 times.

A case could be made for a weary Orlando team. After playing a tough, emotional game in Oklahoma City, they arrived in Indianapolis in the wee hours of the morning and played another tough road game.

That is a case no one in the Magic locker room will make. Every team plays the same amount of back-to-back games, so they will not use that as an excuse.

Sure, they were tired, but these are the situations where depth on the bench is crucial. Starters often need a couple of minutes more to get their breath.

Only Evan Fournier, who led the team in scoring with 14 points, played more than 30 minutes (33). Vogel got some strong play off the bench from Aaron Gordon and good efforts from Bismack Biyombo and D.J. Augustin.

The fresher Pacers could give most of their starters 30 minutes or more. Four of them scored in double figures.

“Obviously, it’s always harder to play on a back-to-back, but it’s not the only reason,” said Fournier.

The Magic trailed by only 41-37 at halftime, but were outscored 47-32 in the second half. After the Magic took their largest lead at 19-13 in the first period, they were outscored 75-50 the rest of the way.

“I’m very disappointed in how we played tonight,” said Vogel.

It should be easy to put this game in the rearview mirror and move forward, but a troubling trend continued. Nikola Vucevic is in a big time slump.

He was only one for 10 from the field for two points. He has now missed 27 of his last 32 shots over the past three games. Orlando desperately needs him to find the shooting touch to which the Magic, and Vucevic, have grown accustomed.

He will get his next chance on Wednesday. That is when the 4-7 Magic host the New Orleans Pelicans at the Amway Center.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

RNC’s ground game behind Donald Trump deserves more credit for Florida victory

Plenty of congratulations are going out to the Donald Trump campaign, which is well-deserved. Others unhappy with the outcome are expressing other sentiments.

Several pundits are in the process of analyzing and pronouncing “winners and losers.” In Florida, the lists on both sides are long, but not necessarily complete.

The Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith correctly mentions Trump’s Florida director Susie Wiles and most certainly grassroots workhorses, like Deborah Cox-Roush on the winners side. Though not mentioned, the Republican Party of Florida did what they could with the limited funding available to them.

Few, if any, are including the Republican National Committee (RNC) on the list of winners. This is a major oversight.

Chairman Reince Priebus, Co-Chair Sharon Day of Broward County and the entire organization played a monster role in the Trump victory. (Full disclosure: my firm was a consultant to the co-chairman in the previous election cycle.)

The “experts” gave Trump little to no chance. Many mocked the notion of a “silent army” of voters ready to be mobilized. The polls indicated a Trump “movement” was nowhere on the horizon.

Trump had no realistic chance to win Florida, many believed, because he had no get-out-the-vote ground game. He supposedly had only a handful of field offices while the Hillary Clinton campaign had more than 50.

In reality, Trump was on equal footing, or better, with the Clinton campaign in Florida when it came to a ground game. That will come as a surprise to those who analyze elections and campaigns.

Because of the RNC, the Trump campaign had 65 GOP Victory Offices in Florida at their disposal and working on his behalf. Working out of those offices were 1,773 staff members paid for by the RNC.

These staffers were not just making telephone calls. They were making incredible numbers of voter contacts during the cycle.

Day makes it clear the measurement of voter contact is not the same as it was in previous cycles.

“We had 6.5 million voter contacts,” said Day. “Not doors knocked on or flyers left on a doorknob. Actual contacts with targeted voters.”

She also made it clear that this was not just an election-year effort. It was part of a 50-state strategy born from the famous autopsy report issued after the 2012 elections.

“We have funded people on the ground since 2013,” she said. “The RNC committed $175 million toward building a ground game.”

Between the RNC, state, and local efforts, nearly 300,000 voters were registered in diverse communities since 2012, reducing the partisan voter registration gap by nearly 86,000 voters. On election night, Trump’s share of the Hispanic and African-American vote was up slightly over 2012, but that made a difference.

While the focus of this discussion is on Florida, it is worth repeating the RNC was at work in the other states. It is difficult to imagine winning blue states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and possibly Michigan, without such an effort.

“Donald Trump understood the common people and he connected,” added Day. “But he could not have won” without the strong ground game that was built and deployed.

There were plenty of winners and losers on Tuesday night, but outside of Trump, there was none bigger than Priebus, Day, and the Republican National Committee.

No wonder Priebus will be the White House chief of staff.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us
Show Buttons
Hide Buttons