Spotlight on Spurrier

It's unusual, if not unprecedented, for a preseason game to receive this much hype. Dozens of articles about the return of Steve Spurrier to the Sunshine State appeared in the Florida papers in the week leading up to the game. The best quote about Spurrier came from Dan LeBatard of the Miami Herald. Speaking of the Ballcoach's confidence, LeBatard wrote, "Rest assured, he rests assured."

Perhaps the best article gave an overview of Spurrier's previous pro ballcoaching stint, in Tampa with the USFL's Bandits. In the Tampa Tribune, Joey Johnston said, "For people who think Steve Spurrier is destined for failure with the Washington Redskins, for those who believe his methods just won't fly in professional football, here are three words:

You are wrong."

Johnston went on: "John Reaves, the quarterback, once threw 63 passes in a game. In Spurrier's debut, the Bandits opened by using a no-huddle offense for eight consecutive plays. Spurrier began one game with a successful onside kick (the Bandits promptly mounted a scoring drive). Tight end Marvin Harvey had a three-touchdown game; the passes came from a quarterback, a running back and a wide receiver."

The article quoted Reaves as saying ``Those NFL guys would just love to chew him up, spit him out, and say: `See, I told you so,' '' said Reaves, who owns a commercial real estate firm in Tampa. ``But I don't think they're going to be able to stop him. He's a genius.''

The Game

"It was pretty easy coaching offense tonight," said Spurrier after the game, during which the Bucs turned the ball over seven times. "It was easy to coach offense when you get all those turnovers."

Unlike the previous week, there was no reason for Spurrier to complain that the Redskins looked like "crap" at halftime. His team led 16-7 and the Bucs were fortunate that it wasn't worse.

The beginning was a bit rocky as the Redskin defense lined up offside three times in Tampa's opening drive, the third infraction drawing a pleading look from Spurrier to line up correctly. They made the big play after the initial sloppiness, with Fred Smoot tipping a pass into the arms of Lavar Arrington, who returned it into Tampa Bay territory. Jessie Armstead also deserves an assist as his blitz greatly hurried Brad Johnson's pass attempt.

Washington had to punt, though, after a three-incompletion-and-out set. Apparently wanting a rest after the 28-second Redskin possession, the defense took the ball away again, with Champ Bailey's sideline, toe-dragging interception initially being called an incompletion. Spurrier called for the challenge and the call was reversed, giving the Redskins the ball on the Tampa Bay 32. The turnover was converted in two plays as Shane Matthews, who started in place of a flu-ridden Danny Wuerffel, tossed a 236-yard touchdown pass to Rod Gardner in the back of the end zone.

The pass came after a nine-yard run by Stephen Davis. Pound it in? Not the Ballcoach. Gardner ran an out and up and Matthews' pass was on the money.

He wanted to pound it in on his team's next opportunity, coming at the end of a 14-play, 72-yard drive. A pass interference call set the Redskins up with a first and goal at the Tampa Bay one and the call was Davis up the middle. Davis got over the goal line, but a motion penalty pushed the Redskins back to the six. On first down from there, Davis lost a yard and two incompletions later a field goal made it 10-0.

But was it really two incompletions? On the third-down play, Matthews threw to Gardner in the left corner of the end zone. The receiver caught the ball, but the official on the spot said that he didn't get both feet inbounds. Although replays clearly indicated that the official on the spot blew the call, Spurrier chose not to exercise his second challenge of the half.

A big chunk of yardage on the next drive, which followed a Buc touchdown, came as a result of another pass interference call, this one on a long pass intended for Jacquez Green. After that, a couple of passes to Lockett moved it to the four. This time, the attempt to pound it in was successful as a pair of Kenny Watson runs got the touchdown. The impression was that the vaunted Tampa Bay defense had no idea of what might be coming on any of the six plays in the drive.

Rookie quarterback Patrick Ramsey came in to open the second half. On his first NFL snap, Spurrier called a double reverse. Although it's not likely that the Bucs expected this, the slow-developing play was killed for no gain. Ramsey had the best and the worst during his first series, throwing his first NFL pass to Kevin Lockett for a 25-yard game, his third to a Buc defender.

If there is a competitive phase in a preseason game, it ended after Tampa Bay had pulled to within 16-10 on a field goal following Ramsey's interception. On the Buccaneers' next possession, Del Cowsette sacked quarterback Rob Johnson, forcing a fumble. Rookie Greg Scott scooped it up and drew a double fist pump by the Ballcoach as the end crossed the goal line.

It was real easy to coach the offense after that.

The only moment of suspense after that came when the Redskins took possession following Tampa Bay's seventh turnover. A little over two minutes remained and the ball was at the Tampa Bay 46. With the score 40-10, would Spurrier try to score and risk accusations of running it up? Two incomplete Ramsey passes later, there was the distinct impression that the Ballcoach was perfectly willing to let his young QB run the two-minute offense into the end zone.

The Stats:

The run-pass balance was not as heavily in favor of the air game as it had been in the previous three, but it was still pretty heavily skewed in favor of passing. Plays 19 runs, 39 passes (that's attempts plus sacks), yardage 75 run, 185 pass.

Nine different players caught passes, down from the previous games, but Ramsey and Matthews completed just 18 between them.

Time of possession probably won't mean much for the Redskins this year and this game was a perfect example. Washington's point margin 30 points, Tamp Bays TOP margin was almost six minutes.

Quotes: "Not that big a deal, preseason, practice games."

"We're not running real super." After this comment, he mused that the four sacks made the rushing yardage look worse than it was. He was immediately corrected by some media folk who pointed out that sack yardage came out of team passing yards, not rushing.

"It's fun, just coaching ball, trying to beat the other guys."

More on the Ballcoach:

An observer in the stands saw what is believed to be the first full-fledged clipboard tossing by the Ballcoach. The implement was let fly during the second quarter.

Spurrier will be the guest on the Sunday Conversation tonight on ESPN SportsCenter, the much-hyped number 25,000. Perhaps its coincidence, perhaps ESPN wanted to make sure that there was some real star power during its exercise in self indulgence.

Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. To see details of this unique book, go to RedskinsAtoZ.com


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