In the high-profile, emotion-driven rivalry games, Ron James can always tell which team will lose.
“One team will break,” said the Utah Blaze coach.
So when the Utah Blaze take on their biggest of rivals, the Arizona Rattlers, in Friday night’s home opener at EnergySolutions Arena, James said he knows how much emphasis will be placed on being the team that doesn’t implode: quite a lot. That makes sense, considering the Rattlers bounced the Blaze in last year’s conference championship game in August in Phoenix, when Arizona rallied late to advance to the ArenaBowl and win the crown.
“I’m looking at it to see if we can redeem ourselves a little bit,” James said, “but at this point, it’s more knowing we need to improve in playing a very good team like Arizona.”
Coming off an impressive 64-33 road win in Week 1 in Pittsburgh, the Blaze aim to keep things mellow and calm and focused once the football flies Friday night at ESA. But, as James admitted, that is easier said than done.
“We try to take the emotion out of it as much as we can,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s a life-or-death game,” added Blaze quarterback Tommy Grady, last year’s MVP.
The focus starts with pressuring Arizona quarterback Nick Davila, who has, as James said, the best wide receiver corps in the AFL at his disposal. The Blaze will do their best to try and slow stars Rod Windsor, Maurice Purify and Jared Perry, not to mention former Utah star Tysson Poots, who snagged 30 touchdowns last season with the Blaze.
“Obviously they’re the best team in the league,” Grady said. “They’re the champs and we’ve got to play our best to beat them.”
While both teams are 1-0 in the young AFL season, the Blaze saw a revamped wideout group shine against the Power on the road in Week 1. Newcomer Mario Urrutia snagged four touchdowns in his first outing with Utah as the Blaze were without All-Arena star Aaron Lesue, who has been hampered by a hamstring injury. He is considered questionable heading into tonight’s game.
Grady only threw for 190 yards against Pittsburgh, but was efficient due to Utah’s prime field position nearly every possession. The job of moving the ball offensively may be a bit more difficult against the defending champs, and James knows that.
Most coaches enjoy the cliche of a game-to-game, week-by-week priority, but Utah’s coach admitted this one stands out more than most.
“I’m not going to stand there on the sidelines like Tom Landry with my arms folded,” James said.
Arizona at Utah
P At EnergySolutions Arena
Kickoff • Friday, 7:30 p.m.
TV • KJZZ
Radio • 97.5 FM
Records • Arizona 1-0, Utah 1-0
Last meeting • Arizona 75, Utah 69 (Aug. 4, 2012)
About the Rattlers • The defending AFL champs roll into ESA as Utah’s top rival, having knocked the Blaze out of the title game by six points last August. … Quarterback Nick Davila is considered one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the league. … Receivers Rod Windsor, Maurice Purify and Jared Perry lead the league’s best wideout corps. … Former Blaze star Tysson Poots returns to ESA with the Rattlers after hauling in 30 touchdown passes in 2012. … Arizona defeated the Philadelphia Soul 66-52 in its Week 1 opener.
About the Blaze • Defending MVP Tommy Grady is coming off a 190-yard, five-touchdown performance in Week 1. … Blaze linemen Keenan Mace, Caesar Rayford and Mike Alston accounted for four sacks and three forced fumbles in Week 1. … Revamped secondary gave up just 164 passing yards in Week 1. Linebacker Joe Mortensen will start, while star WR Aaron Lesue is considered questionable with a minor hamstring injury. … Utah defeated the Pittsburgh Power 64-33 in its Week 1 win on the road.