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Will XFL Vipers turn to QB Flowers this week?

Florida Football Insiders

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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Images of the Tampa Bay Vipers will have a different quarterback in their second XFL game, but the real question is which backup will get the call to start in Seattle on Saturday?

First, for the second straight practice, Vipers starter Aaron Murray, has been unable to participate with what the team says is a foot injury:

Murray, who still remains the all-time leading yardage passer in SEC history from the University of Georgia, wasn’t particularly effective, especially in the red zone in the Vipers 23 – 3 defeat to the New York Guardians in game number one.

As we wrote earlier this week, down 7-0 to open the game, the Vipers offense got to the Guardians goal line, but that’s where Murray tossed up an ill-advised pass in the back of the endzone that was under thrown and intercepted. That was the beginning of the end for the Vipers.

Murray would throw another interception later in the first half ending another promising drive, and would finish the day 16-34 throwing for 231 yards a touchdown, and the two interceptions in the loss.

Murray was able to finish the game, but now the injury has been revealed and backup quarterbacks Taylor Cornelius, Chase Litton and Quinton Flowers have been splitting duties with the anticipation that one of them will get the starting nod.

Flowers (photo above), who’s listed as a QB/RB/WR, played quarterback some Sunday and a few times lined up out wide taking a jet sweep and faking another one. He had a QB draw in the third quarter getting the Vipers to a first and goal, but then, exited for Murray.

Flowers relieved Murray, again, with the score 23-3, finishing with 5 rushes for 34 yards and was 1-2 in the air with a 37 yard completion.

Vipers coach Marc Trestman, who’s the former coach of the Chicago Bears and a Grey Cup champion in the CFL, has not yet me clear which quarterback he would go to in place of his starter?  However, there will be large sentiment that it should be Flowers, a former local star at USF who smashed numerous school and Conference records for total yardage and rushing yards as a dual-threat quarterback.

Cornelius has been designated as the backup to Murray and he is a former Big 12 quarterback at Oklahoma State who thrrew 32 touchdown passes in 2018. Litton, who quarterbacked at Marshall is also a local high school product having played at Tampa’s Wharton High School. And, he threw for over 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in his final season at Marshall in 2017.

One other factor is the Vipers have a shorter week after Sunday’s game with the Guardians, as they will be traveling Friday to play Seattle on Saturday afternoon. And, that means Trestman quickly has to make a decision on Thursday as to what the plan will be.

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Time for concern after XFL TV ratings declined again last week?

Florida Football Insiders

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For the second consecutive week, the XFL televison ratings continued to slide in the wrong direction. And, the troubling part is that if the trend continues, the XFL will have no leverage for sponsors and revenue to keep it going long term.

First, here are the specifics on the bad viewership news: According to Showbuzzdaily.com all four XFL broadcasts last Saturday and Sunday afternoon had lower ratings in their slot than the previous week.

That includes the Tampa Bay Vipers home debut against Houston, which was the early game on ABC Saturday. And, while that window had 400,000 less viewers than week 2, the bigger concern is ABC has lost almost 40% of the audience from the 3.3 million average that watched their Week one debut game on Saturday afternoon.

The ratings downward trend is following the same pattern as last Spring’s Alliance of American Football, where the ratings dwindled to under a million fans for broadcasts by week five and eventually the league shut down after just eight weeks. This was in part because of concerns on how the AAF could make any revenue, through television in specific, if they had very little audience for the end of year one and to sell off of for year two.

Now, WWE owner Vince McMahon, who folded the XFL the first time in 2001 in large part because the television audience plummeted over the course of the first month or so of its existence and never recovered, has the same issue in 2020.

And, as we wrote previously, this audience decline while negative is far less McMahon’s original XFL and it’s first season of 2001.  That’s when, it debuted on its first Saturday night on NBC with a massive 10.1 rating, which translated 18 years ago to more than 9.5 viewers on network TV. A Smashing success.

However, the XFL’s ratings plummeted starting the following week and had fewer than 25% of that opening night audience just a month later with the games still being shown on a Saturday night coveted slot on NBC. It doomed the league from a P.R. and sponsor standpoint and McMahon pulled the plug.

Now, in 2020, McMahon reportedly has money to burn and is apparently prepared to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in year one. So, even if the XFL TV ratings continue come down significantly, it will not spell the end of the XFL (like it did nearly 20 years ago) after just a single season.

At least, that’s what we think.

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Vipers better but drop third straight game in home opener

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Mary Holt- USA Today Sports

Although their play was improved offensively, in the end it wasn’t enough for the Tampa Bay Vipers after they dropped their third straight XFL game to start the season 34 – 27 to Houston Saturday afternoon in Tampa.

Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, as Houston scored early in the fourth quarter to go up by seven and held off the Viper the rest of the way.

The Vipers offense came to life after they had failed to score in the offensive touchdown in either of their first two games. Both of which were losses on the road. Quarterback Taylor Cornelius, subbing for starter Aaron Murray who missed his second straight game with an injured foot, once again had modest numbers 16-31 for 193 yards 1 TD, 1 INT.

However, he did pull the game even at 18 – 18 at the half after scoring on a one yard QB sneak and Tampa Bay got the two-point conversion.

Still, the former Oklahoma State quarterbacks day was inconsistent and the home crowd at Raymond James Stadium began to chant the name “Flowers, Flowers” for former USF Star Quarterback Quinton Flowers, who played sparingly for the third straight game in a reserve role.

Flowers got Tampa Bay’s first offensive TD on the young season with a seven yard run in the first quarter, but only played QB sparingly in the game, again. He was just 4-6 for 57 yards passing with 29 yards on six attempts on the ground.

Meanwhile, the former Temple star Walker found receiver Cam Phillips for the third of their three touchdown hookups from 17 yards out to give Houston a 34 – 27 lead with just over 10 minutes to play. Phillips devastated Jerry Glanville’s Vipers defense for 194 yards receiving on eight catches with the three TDs.

The Vipers look like they were going to have a chance to re-tie the game when Cornelius (above) completed a pass to his top target on the day, Jaylen Tolliver, at the two-yard line. However just like a week ago in Seattle when a critical fourth quarter drive stalled and Tampa Bay came away with no points in a 17 – 9 lost the Dragons, the Vipers got no points after Cornelius threw incomplete on second, third and fourth downs.

Many in the crowd and observers in the media were curious, as to why coach Marc Trestman didn’t go to Flowers as the dual threat running QB to at least try something different on one of those plays? Flowers even questioned why he did not play more after the game to the media.

The Vipers got the ball one final time, but Cornelius was picked off near midfield with just over a minute left to seal the defeat.

The Vipers played the first spring professional football game in Tampa, since the closing of the USFL 1985 season. That’s when Steve Spurrier’s Tampa Bay Bandits were a popular item at Old Tampa Stadium. Saturday’s home opener drew and announced crowd of 18,117.

However it’s little consolation for former Bears and CFL coach Trestman and his team, as they remain winless on the season. The L.A. Wildcats playing Sunday are the other 0-2 team in the league, currently.

And, you have to wonder whether Trestman will be forced to go to Flowers for the start when they host the D.C. Defenders next week.

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