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Vipers see success with Elizondo calling plays

Switching up who calls the plays may just be what the Vipers needed to jumpstart their offense.

A significant change led to a noticeable increase in offensive production from the Tampa Bay Vipers last week. Despite Saturday’s loss to the Houston Roughnecks, the Vipers scored their first TDs of the season, which resulted in one of the most exciting games of this young XFL league.

Following the Week 2 loss to the Seattle Dragons, head coach Marc Trestman relinquished his play-calling duties. Offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo inherited that post when the Vipers failed to score an offensive touchdown in the first two games.

“Particularly in a two-quarterback system, I just didn’t feel as comfortable moving guys in and out as much, calling plays,” admitted Trestman. Trestman and Elizondo worked collaboratively throughout the week on the call sheet and game plan.

The role reversal paid immediate dividends. Not only did both QB Taylor Cornelius and QB/RB Quinton Flowers show drastic improvement, but the team was efficient in the red zone.

Tampa Bay started the game with a scoring drive on its opening possession for the first time this season. KR Rannell Hall returned the opening kickoff 34 yards to the Tampa Bay 41-yard line, setting up the Vipers for a 7-play, 29-yard drive that resulted in a 48-yard field goal from K Andrew Franks.

Flowers scored the first offensive touchdown in Vipers history when he scrambled into the endzone on a 7-yard keeper midway through the second quarter.

Cornelius showed the crowd that Flowers isn’t the only QB with legs for weapons. He had a QB sneak for a score and completed a two-point attempt to WR Dan Williams to tie the game at 18, heading into halftime. Cornelius ended the game with 33 yards rushing.

The rushing touchdowns scored by Flowers and Cornelius marks the first time this season that an XFL team has recorded two rushing touchdowns by the QB position in a single game.

Cornelius recorded the Vipers first passing touchdown after he connected with Williams for a 20-yard reception late in the 3rd quarter.

The Vipers ground game continues to be successful with De’Veon Smith and Jacques Patrick. Collectively, the backs amassed 129 yards rushing and are riding a three-game streak of 100+ rushing yards. Smith and Patrick were also employed more in the passing game, combining for 47 yards receiving. They totaled 37 yards receiving through the first two weeks.

The offense still has plenty of progress to make, especially in critical situations. A first-and-goal series late in the 4th quarter culminated in a turnover on downs, and Cornelius threw a pick in what could’ve been a game-tying drive with 80 seconds remaining.

“Offensively, it was really not finishing two drives where we were down there both times,” said Trestman. “We’re still not throwing it as efficiently as we can, and we had too many drops [Saturday] that could have continued drives.”

Undoubtedly, Trestman and Elizondo will use this week to reassess determining when it’s best to utilize Flowers. The offense proved it was more dynamic in the first half when the two QBs rotated drives; however, Cornelius was at QB for the entire second half of the game.

“We decided to stick with the plan and keep Taylor in there,” said Trestman. “Certainly, as we look back, that’s part of getting to work through this process. You have to stand behind what you call and the plays that you run.”