jan11.2

LAUREN GARDNER: FROM THE TRENCHES | WAR ON I-4

By: Lauren Gardner (LFL360.com)
Follow me on Twitter: @LGRed

As the 2011 LFL season approaches the coveted Lingerie Bowl, things are heating up down south. Orlando and Tampa prepare to take on each other in what is being built up to be one hell of a fight and, personally, what I believe to be the best Eastern conference matchup of the season.

The 2-1 Tampa Breeze, led by head coach Yo Murphy play their final game at home in an absolute must win in order to gain a second consecutive playoff berth. Doug Miller’s 2-0 Orlando Fantasy are sitting pretty as their road to the postseason has been relatively smooth thus far. Vegas is favoring Orlando as a 3.5-point favorite.

Since I’ve been at every Friday night  game this season and have had the opportunity to get to know the players and coaches and report from the trenches. I give you, the first installment of: ‘From the Trenches’, War On I-4.

After taking a carful look at both teams, I’ve decided to play devil’s advocate on this matchup and make an argument as to why I can see Tampa walking away with a victory tonight .

By The Numbers

Let’s take a look at some of the key numbers for each team shall we?  Orlando has the best defense in the league, holding teams to an impressive 10 points-per-game. Jeannette McCoy and  J.J. Thacker are the heart and soul of this defense. McCoy gets her team so pumped up on the and off the field that I almost thought she was going to tackle me during their warm-ups.

Offensively, Orlando has outscored their opponents by a combined 84 points and that’s in two games. Quarterback, Anonka Dixon, had 161 passing yards in their 68-8 victory over Cleveland at home last month but had a really rough outing in their season opener against Baltimore with a record 0 total passing yards.Tampa- Defensively, Tampa has allowed just under 28 points-per-game.Keep in mind that average has been skewed by that 48-0 loss vs. Philly where they were missing three key players including their starting quarterback. Offensively, the Breeze are 3rd from last in the league in total offense with 142 yards per game, 77 rushing and 65 passing.

From the Trenches Viewpoint

We’ve looked at the numbers and it doesn’t take a mathematician or even that smart guy from, “Ferris Bueller”, and the Clear Eye commercials to see that Orlando should be the favored team.

I think Tampa has a good shot at victory and here’s why.

Let’s put the numbers aside and look at the intangible for a minute. I was there first hand to witness the 48-0 loss that Tampa suffered to Philly in their first game of the season. It wasn’t pretty. In fact it was down right ugly. They were missing three key players in Tiffani Powers, Bryn Renda and K.K. Matheny. The past two wins over Toronto and Cleveland, the Breeze have had these key players back and they have slowly been finding their rhythm. Matheny is currently leading the league in quarterback efficiency and is a leader for her squad on the sidelines as well as in the locker room.

Adding to this team’s offense is Adrian Purnell, a RB/WR who is really coming into her own in this league. She’s small but extremely athletic and can make cuts and run routes as good as the best in the league. Saige Steinmetz is also another key to this offense and will be sorely missed as she’s out with an injury.  A former college soccer standout, Steinmetz has the build and talent to do bigs things for her team and she really came into form against Toronto, winning a Game MVP award. Steinmetz and her injury aside, if Coach Murphy can have Matheny and Purnell running on all cylinders, this offense can beat Orlando’s steel trap defense. Liz Gorman, who will start at running back, really has to have a breakout performance at the position to make up not only for the loss of Steinmetz, but concerns as to how the loss will impact Tampa’s ability to consistently move the chains on the ground.

Defensively, Tampa has had problems slowing teams down. Liz Gorman has been the only consistent force to be reckoned with on this Breeze defense. From what I saw against Cleveland and Toronto, they are making progress and the physicality will be taken to an entirely new level in this game. Another key is getting to Dixon early and often.

When Dixon is under a lot of pressure, her passing game is nonexistent. The way Tampa handles Dixon and Etta Paul at running back will determine the outcome of this game. If the Breeze can stop those two, they will win.

That’s it for the X’s and O’s. My key argument, from the  trenches, as to why Tampa will earn their second playoff berth is because of the adversity they faced this season. From great adversity comes growth and strength. Orlando is coming into this game off of a huge victory, undefeated, boasting the number one defense. The Fantasy also has the size advantage over Tampa and more heart.

This is more than a must win, it’s about pride, heart and bragging rights.Whatever the outcome, this promises to be an incredible game and a very physical one.

Until next time, I’ll see you from the trenches on MTV2.