Gary Shelton - 4/180 - SaintPetersBlog

Gary Shelton

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

Florida defense swarms against Iowa in winning the Outback Bowl

This time, the Florida Gators charged into their off-season.

This time, the Gators finished their season in the accepted way.

Florida overwhelmed Iowa in Monday’s Outback Bowl, winning a 30-3 game and hardly breaking a sweat. The Gators intercepted three passes and held Hawkeye quarterback C.B. Beathard to only seven completions on 23 attempts for 55 yards. They also stopped a fourth-and-goal from the one.

A year ago, Florida ended with three straight losses. Had the Gators lost to Iowa, it would have finished the same way after losses to FSU and Alabama. But the Gators rolled to enter their off-season with a victory.

Freshman defensive back Chauncey Gardner intercepted two passes, returning one of them 58 yards for a score, to win MVP honors. Running back Jordan Scarlett ran for 84 yards to lead the rushing attack, and quarterback Austin Appleby threw for 222 yards and two scores after his first two passes of the day were intercepted.

Those interceptions led to a single field goal for Iowa. After that, Florida scored 30 straight points, including three field goals by Eddie Piniero. Mark Thompson turned a short pass from Appleby into an 85-yard touchdown and DeAndre Goosby scored on a six-yard pass.

For Florida, however, it was a familiar way to win. The vaunted Gator defense gave up only 226 total yards to Iowa. They allowed only four third down conversions on 16 plays.

“I’m so proud of them,” said coach Jim McElwain. “It’s well-documeted how beat up we were . We never once all year used that as an excuse in any shape or form.”

The Gators face the challenge of continuing to build their offense – which has ranked No. 111 and No. 116 the last two seasons. Much of this year’s defense will head to the NFL in the off-season, leaving McElwain with his biggest challenge.

“I will tell you that we’ll be tougher along the front next year,” McElwain said. “We’ve got good skill positions, but we have to develop a mindset that we will not be denied.”

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Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter considers giving up play-calling duties

The questions that coach Dirk Koetter has about the Tampa Bay Bucs starts, it turns out, with Dirk Koetter.

A day after his team’s season-ending,17-16 victory over the Carolina Panthers, Koetter admitted that he was considering – just considering, mind you – surrendering his play-calling duties.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” Koetter said. “I am probably not ready to make any crazy announcements on any of that today because I think about a lot of stuff all the time. I think all the time, how can I, in the stuff that I control, make us better and are there places where I am making us worse?

“I learned as a head coach, I’d love to have more time to get involved with individual players on a daily basis. When I do get a chance to talk to players one-on-one, I enjoy it. I enjoy the motivational part of trying to reach guys and different groups on the team. As far as my schedule goes, I am asking myself all the time, are the things I have to spend my time on, are those in the best interest of helping the Bucs win games or am I spinning my wheels on stuff that doesn’t really matter and what’s the most important things to helping us win?

“I’m contemplating how does our team get better in all areas? When we look at everything, if there is someone out there that can do a better job to help us than me calling the plays, then that’s something that we definitely need to look at.”

The Bucs finished the season 9-7 with fewer explosive plays than a year ago. Koetter said his team could use more speed.

“We need more speed and when we say playmakers, playmakers and explosive plays are one and the same,” Koetter said. “Guys that can make explosives, guys that can catch a 10-yard pass, break one tackle and turn it into a 30-yard gain. Our run after the catch is not where it needs to be. And again, anything that we’re saying here is not an indictment on the guys we have because the guys you have are the guys you have and you’ve got to coach the heck out of them.

“Once again, it goes back to the thing I said in the beginning, I think this team did a good job of playing as close to their talent level. That’s a hard thing to judge, it’s not an exact thing. In my opinion, we played close to our talent level.”

 Koetter said that he could spend time doing other things if he didnt have to worry about play calling.

“I’ve always been a play caller,” Koetter said. “I love being a play caller. That’s one of the best things about the game, but with being the head coach this year, I have more responsibilities and I have really enjoyed my interaction with the players. I’ve really enjoyed to go in and do the team meetings every day. That takes time. I don’t just get up there and wing it from the hip like I do in here (laughs).

“It actually takes preparation time. Everything I say in front of the team. I take very seriously. So, I want to back it up, not just BS those guys. I try to never BS those guys. So, I ask myself, ‘If I spent more time on it, could I do a better job?’ But, at the same time, I look around the league at other, there’s plenty of other coaches in the league that are doing it the way we did it here this year. You look at some of the guys I consider top play callers in this league; (Green Bay coach) Mike McCarthy, (New Orleans coach) Sean Payton, (Kansas City coach) Andy Reid. They’re guys that have been the play caller, they’ve given it up and they’ve always taken it back. When that day comes when I do give it up, I don’t want to take it back. I want to be sure.”

Koetter said he was unsure if guard J.R. Sweezy, who missed the entire season, would be ready next year.

“That is a question that I can’t answer,” Koetter said. “The thing about J.R. is, we did our evaluation based on his time in Seattle and we were very excited about what we bringing into the mix here. He had an unfortunate injury that none of us control. The result of that surgery, for whatever reason, he hasn’t come back, he hasn’t come back from that injury. I’m not a doctor, but what I do know is, we haven’t seen him on the field.

“So at this point, it’s been over a year since he’s played and we really don’t know what we have because until we see him on the field healthy, that’s an unknown. I think if it ever comes to that point where we have a healthy J.R. Sweezy on the field and he’s the player he was that we thought we were getting when we were looking at the Seattle tape, then I think he just adds another one to the depth I already talked about at O-line. But, do we ever get to that point? I do not know that.”

Koetter said that being a head coach in the NFL is a chore.

 “It’s demanding,” Koetter said. “I thought I was ready for it and still think that today, but I also believe that you learn and you’ve got to admit your mistakes and you know what? Sometimes my mistakes that I admit to aren’t the same ones you guys think I miss. You guys are still criticizing me for some that I don’t think I miss. But the ones I think I’ve made, I’ll be the first to admit them. And I’ll be better next year than I was this year and I’ll be better the year after that than I am next year.”

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Bucs stop two-point conversion to end with winning record

With 17 seconds to play, the Tampa Bay Bucs’ defense came up with one final stop on their season, and it meant a winning record.

The Bucs stopped a two-point conversion with 17 seconds remaining Sunday after three-time Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olson slipped. Instead, the ball bounded off the facemask of Bradley McDougald, leaving the Bucs 17-16 winners. Tampa Bay finished at 9-7, their first winning season since 2010. The Bucs missed the playoffs, however, due to the tie-breaking formula.

“We didn’t come to do anything but win,” Panthers’ coach Ron Rivera said.

Said Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter: “Please stop them. That was on my mind. Please, please stop them.’”

The Panthers finished 6-10. The Bucs finished 9-7, including a 6-2 record in their second half.

“Overall, it was an extremely frustrating day on offense,” Koetter said. “We just couldn’t get out of our own way. It was one thing after another. We finally put some plays tougher on that last drive.”

Tampa Bay sputtered for most of the day on offense – their first touchdown was an interception return by Brent Grimes. Going into the Bucs’ final legitimate drive, James Winston had a rating of only 49.49. But he hit five of six for 72 yards on a 74-yard scoring drive to win.

Keith Tandy had 12 tackles and two interceptions for the Bucs.

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Bolts start fast, then depend on Andrei Vasilevskiy for the win

The Tampa Bay Lightning got off to such a good start Saturday night, but it didn’t bother to finish.

That’s the latest bone of contention for Lightning coach Jon Cooper, whose team won a 3-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Power play goals by Brian Boyle and Jonathan Drouin, and a second-period goal by Alex Killorn put the Bolts ahead 3-0, but the team allowed Carolina to come back and threaten down the stretch.

“Give credit to Carolina,” Cooper said. “We got that third goal, and we took our foot off the pedal. We could have put it away. It’s a little discouraging.Vasy had to make a lot of saves.”

Of course, that was a good thing for the Bolts, too. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has been sharp lately as the Bolts have taken nine of their last possible 12 points.

“I think there was a point after (Ben Bishop) went down that he might have been feeling the weight of the world on him, that he had to carry the team,” Cooper said “That’s not true. We have to carry the team and he has to bail us out when he can. He was putting a lot of pressure on himself.

“That’s why he’s the goaltender he is. He’d put pressure on himself after a shutout.”

Vasilevskiy had 26 saves in 27 shots.

The Lightning play Winnipeg Tuesday night.

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Clemson pounds Ohio State, prepares for Alabama in Tampa

It wasn’t just the victory, although that was impressive enough.

It wasn’t just the step, though that made a deep imprint, too.

No, for Clemson University, Saturday night’s win was the kind of performance that changes perceptions.

Clemson clobbered Ohio State in Saturday night’s Fiesta Bowl, winning 31-0 to advance to its second straight national championship game. Once again, Clemson will play against Alabama, which won a five-point game a year ago.

Yes, Alabama is likely to be favored.

But after a game like this, by how many points?

Clemson certainly played well enough to make you think twice about next week’s game in Tampa. Quarterback Deshaun Watson threw for 259 yards and ran for 57 more, accounting for three touchdowns. Running back Wayne Gallman ran for 85 yards. Mike Williams caught six passes for 96 yards.

But it was the Tigers’ defense that was the most impressive part of the Clemson effort. They shut out an Urban Meyer team for the first time in his career (194 games) and allowed only 215 yards on the day. Ohio State was snuffed so completely that even a Penn State fan had to grin.

Freshman Clelin Ferrell had three tackles for loss, including a sack, to lead the Clemson defense.

“It’s going to be a heck of a ballgame,” said coach Dabo Swinney. “Let’s get it on. Obviously, I have respect for Alabama. They’ve set the standard. When you get a first down, you better strike up the band. We’re excited. We’ve got a shot.”

Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett threw for only 127 yards and had two interceptions. The Buckeyes ran for only 88 yards.

So how big of a favorite will the Tide be? Oh, if the betters remember how Clemson had to struggle to get past N.C. State, and how it struggled against Auburn and Troy, perhaps some.

But remember, Watson had 405 yards yards passing (and 478 yards of total offense) in last year’s 45-40 loss.

That, and the statement made by the Tigers in their win over Ohio State, shows that the last two teams standing are the best two.

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FSU comes from behind to beat Michigan in Orange Bowl

FSU had blown it. They had the game won, and they had let it slip away. It was going to be a lousy finish for the Seminoles.

And then it wasn’t.

The Seminoles charged from behind with a memorable comeback to beat Michigan, 33-32, in Friday night’s Orange Bowl. FSU fell from ahead, then came from behind to win.

Quarterback Deondre Francois, who had one of his roughest nights, hit Nyquan Murray for 12 yards and the winning touchdown with 36 seconds to play to bring the Seminoles back.

Michigan blocked the extra point and returned it for two points and had the ball needing only a field goal to win. But Carlos Becker intercepted a fourth-down pass to cinch the victory.

“I’m as proud of this team as any I’ve coached,” said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher. “We lost a couple of games early, and people kept asking what we had to play for. If you’re keeping score, we’re playing. That’s the FSU way.”

Dalvin Cook may have played his last game for FSU. If so, he went out with an exclamation point. He had 145 yards rushing and 62 receiving. Murray had 104 yards and two touchdowns receiving.

FSU jumped on Michigan earlier, taking a 17-3 lead behind explosive plays.

Murray caught a 92-yard pass and Cook broke a 71-yard run and caught a 45-yard pass, and it looked as if the Noles might win easily.

But Michigan’s defense tightened, and their offense did just enough. Chris Evans had a 30-yard run to give the Wolverines the lead with less than two minutes to play.

On the ensuing kickoff, however, freshman Keith Gavin fielded the ball, balked, then ran ahead as teammate Kermit Whitfield signaled in vain for him to take a knee. Instead, Allen lumbered 65 yards to the Michigan 34.

At the time, Francois had hit only seven of 24 passes for 189 yards. But he hit two of his last three for 33 yards to pull out the win.

Cook said he “never thought about” sitting out the game like LSU’s Leonard Fournette or Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey. “That ain’t him,” Fisher said. Michigan star Jabrill Peppers missed the game because of a hamstring injury.

The victory would seem to clinch a top 10 finish for the ‘Noles, who won seven of their last eight games. (Michigan lost three of its last four). FSU is sure to be one of the highest ranked teams going into next year.

Said Fisher: “The future is great. I promise you that.”

 

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FSU can remove much of the disappointment with Orange victory

It says a great many things about the FSU program that this will be remembered as a season of underachievement.

After all, the Seminoles are ranked 10th in the country. They have a shot at 10 wins. Dalvin Cook was eighth in the country in rushing. Demarcus Walker was tied for second in sacks. Tarvarus McFadden was tied for first in interceptions.

Still, for a team that has won a national title and been in the playoffs in recent seasons, this wasn’t quite acceptable. The ‘Noles lost to Louisville, badly, and dropped games to North Carolina and to Clemson. They won four in a row at the end of the season, but by then, much of the stretch run the team anticipated had disappeared.

That’s why tonight’s Orange Bowl game against Michigan has a hint of relevancy. The Wolverines are rated No. 6 in the nation, and only a double-overtime loss to Ohio State kept them out of the playoffs.

The game itself is intriguing in its matchups. Cook will go against the nation’s second-ranked defense, featuring Jabrill Peppers. Jimbo Fisher and Jim Harbaugh are both alpha coaches.

A clue as to how tonight might go? Think about the red zone. FSU leads the nation, scoring on 52 of 54 trips (42 touchdowns). On the side, Michigan is the nation’s second-best red zone defense, allowing only 68 percent of scores.

There aren’t many teams that can justify disappointment to a top 10 finish with 10 wins. FSU is one of them.

If FSU can take advantage of a Michigan defense that has struggled recently against the run, it will take much of the stain off of their season. Not all of it – the program’s standards to too high – but some. It’s been a long time since the loss to Clemson, and the thoughts of next season — when quarterback Deondre Francois returns — are cheery. This could be remembered not as a season of underachievement, but one of building.

Game time is 8 p.m. in Miami.

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This time, Lightning loses in overtime after a comeback

One step up, one step back.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, one night after one of their most impressive overtime victories over Montreal, had a second straight comeback blunted in an overtime loss to Toronto. This time, they fell to the Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-2.

The Bolts came from a 2-0 deficit to tie Thursday night’s game, but lost when Valterri Filppula was called for goaltender interference, setting up the team’s winning power play. Nazem Kadri scored from in-close for the winner.

“I have zero idea what Fil could have done,” Bolts’ coach Jon Cooper said. “The only reason he went into the goalie was he was hooked and pushed.”

The Maple Leafs got the first-ever NHL win from Antoine Bibeau, who stopped 25 shots.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 32 shots for Tampa Bay in the loss.

After Toronto took an early 2-0 lead, the Bolts got back into the game on goals from Brian Boyle and Ondrej Palat. However, they stopped scoring afterward.

“We stopped doing what got us back into the game,” Cooper said.

Tampa Bay plays Carolina Saturday night.

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Bucs think that Carolina’s Cam Newton remains a star in the NFL

Last year, he was the league MVP.

His team won 15 times. He threw for 35 touchdowns. A year ago, Cam Newton was golden.

This year, not so much. This year, Newton’s Carolina Panthers team has won six times. His team has been eliminted from the playoffs. He’s thrown for 15 scores.

Ah, but to the Tampa Bay Bucs, Newton is still Newton.

“I don’t think you ever really appreciate how big he is,” said Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter. “Jameis (Winston) is a big man, Cam dwarfs Jameis. Cam is a big, big man and a tremendous athlete.

“He can sit there in the pocket. It’s hard to knock him down, even if you get there. He has a great arm, really throws the deep ball well and if you don’t do a great job of keeping him in the pocket, he’s capable – I’ve been on the wrong side of it – he’s capable of beating you with your legs, either on scramble runs or designed runs. Now, they haven’t been doing quite as many designed runs, but ask any defensive coach or player in the league and a quarterback who can beat you both ways is one of the most difficult things to face.”

Defensive coordinator Mike Smith says there is still one element to defending Newton…late nights.

“Lots of sleepless nights (laughter),” Smith said. “I’ve had lots of them in years past and this week as well. He’s a unique athlete. He’s 6’5”, 260 pounds, he’s hard to get down.

“You say, ‘Okay, you’re going to put a spy on him,’ well, who’re you going to spy him with? Spy him with a guy that runs as fast as him, he’s going to be six or seven inches shorter and 45, 50, or 60 pounds less than him. So, it’s a dynamic that you have to account for and you have to change it up, you can’t do it the same way. He’s a guy that is not running the ball as much, but his per average is still good on his rush attempts. You have to account for the quarterback in this offense and I think (Carolina Offensive Coordinator) Mike Shula does a great job, in terms of putting Cam in situations where he can succeed and put a lot of stress on the defense.”

 Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy says that Newton is still a star, even in last place.

“Cam is Cam,” McCoy said. “You don’t win MVP for not being great at what you do. People kill me sometimes with expecting everything to be identical as the year before. This is the best players in the world. Year in and year out, it’s hard to be the same. So, you are going to have up and down seasons. Is Cam still the same guy? Yeah, he is. He didn’t have the season he had last year. He won MVP last year, so if he doesn’t win MVP this year, then that means he didn’t have the same season, you know? But, he’s still Cam, man. In my opinion, he’s still the best escape artist because of his size, speed, his agility, he can make all the throws and if you let him get on a roll, he will kill you. He loves the game. I think sometimes people confuse his passion for anger or being frustrated.

“He’s just very passionate. If you want to win when things are not going your way, you get upset because you want to win. So, he’s just a very passionate guy and I respect him for that.”

 McCoy said the NFL needs Newton’s personality.

“I hate using the word flamboyant, but he is just very outgoing and is very animated and he is a character, but you need characters. Even how he dresses, his style, all of that, you need that in this league,” McCoy said. “In the NBA, NHL, all these other leagues, you need guys like Cam Newton. He’s a generous guy too man. The kids love him. He is giving out footballs when they score and stuff. He’s one of those guys that he loves the game so much that once he gets on a roll and you start seeing that smile come out, that’s when you know you’re in trouble, so we’re going to need to limit those smiles, man. We’ve got to limit those smiles on Sunday.”

The Bucs play the Panthers at 1 p.m.

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USF’s Quinton Flowers throws winning TD in OT to beat Gamecocks

Once again, the dazzling offense of the South Florida Bulls was just good enough to offset the team’s dismal defense.

The Bulls won their school record 11th game Thursday, beating South Carolina 46-39 in overtime.

USF led comfortably for most of the game, but a furious rally by the Gamecocks forced overtime. South Carolina scored the game’s final 18 points to tie the game.

Quinton Flowers, however, threw his second touchdown pass in overtime when he scrambled to buy time, then hit Elkana Dillon for 25 yards and a touchdown. The Bulls’ defense, on its heels most of the final minutes, stopped South Carolina when Mike Love sacked quarterback Jake Bentley on fourth-and-six.

The Bulls played under the eye of new coach Charlie Strong, who attended the game. Strong doubtless saw a lot of improvement needed in the defense, which ranked No. 120 in college football this year. Bentley threw for 390 yards and three scores. Deebo Samuel caught 14 passes for 190 yards passing.

“Our guys really came through in the end, especially our defense,” said interim coach T.J. Weist. “We’re unbelievably proud of every guy, just how we finished and ended up with 11 wins. It’s just unbelievable.

“I can’t be more proud of these guys. I just want to get in that locker room and hug them, and love them up. We started Charlie off right, Coach Strong.”

Flowers was the MVP of the game, accounting for five touchdowns (three running, two passing) and 366 yards of total offense (261 passing, 105 rushing).

USF, ranked 25th coming into the game, has a chance to finish in the Top 25 for the first time in its history. South Carolina finished with a losing record at 6-7.

“I think we came out with energy,” said USF linebacker Auggie Sanchez. “I think we kind of felt like there was a little disrespect for us. We were the team coming in here with 10 wins and they were the SEC team. They kept asking us, ‘How can you guys keep up with the SEC?’ so on and so forth… The biggest stop of the year was defensively and that won us this bowl game. That’s a good way to go out.”

 

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