Two things the Utah Blaze are synonymous with doing better than any other team in the AFL were absent in last week’s home-opening loss against the rival Arizona Rattlers: Execution and tempo.
“When those things are married together,” Blaze coach Ron James said, “you have a great chance of winning.”
Utah’s execution and tempo weren’t living happily together last week. In fact, they were nonexistent. The offense that shattered league records in 2012 came out flat. There were too many tipped passes, too many miscommunications and simply too many turnovers — six in all — to overcome the defending champion Rattlers.
So in preparation for Saturday’s opponent, the Tampa Bay Storm, the Blaze (1-1) went back to the chalkboard. They worked on those elements to their traditionally fast-pasted, high-octane offense that didn’t show up against Arizona last Friday night.
“Sometimes games happen like that, but it’s just one game and you’ve got to put it past you and move onto the next,” said Utah quarterback Tommy Grady, who aims to bounce back from his five-interception outing against Arizona.
The Storm descend on Salt Lake City with a young and explosive group of players that James said will present a multitude of matchup problems for the Blaze. He said both lines are designed to “out-muscle” their opponents, and dual-threat quarterback Adrian McPherson hasn’t committed a turnover yet this season. He also accounted for 10 touchdowns in last weekend’s win over Cleveland.
“You need to make him work his arm and keep him in the pocket,” James said.
Defensive lineman Caesar Rayford is more than ready to erase from his mind last week’s drubbing against Arizona and has McPherson and the Storm offense in his cross hairs.
“I just want to get that out of my head, get past it, get a win and just tee off on Tampa Bay,” he said.
Rayford and the defense will get their shot, but Utah’s offense must first rediscover the magic of 2012 if it wants to gain some momentum early in the season. The return of receiver Aaron Lesue, Grady’s favorite target, will help. He caught an AFL-record 64 touchdowns last season, but he has been hampered by a lower leg injury. James expects him to make his season debut Saturday night against the Storm.
The Blaze have dealt with their first stint of adversity during the 2013 season, and Saturday is an opportunity to turn it into a positive.
“Three things: tempo, tempo, tempo,” James reiterated.
With a sprinkle of rhythm, too.
Tampa Bay at Utah
O At EnergySolutions Arena
Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV • KJZZ. Radio • 97.5 FM
Records • Utah 1-1, Tampa 1-1
Last meeting • Utah 72, Tampa 36 (March 17, 2011)
About the Storm • Quarterback Adrian McPherson already has accounted for 17 total touchdowns and thrown for 580 yards in the first two games of the season. ... Receivers Joe Hills and Greg Ellingson have combined to snag seven touchdowns in the first two games of the season.
About the Blaze • Utah ranks No. 1 in the AFL in total team defense. ... Unlike last year’s record-setting offensive year, the Blaze rank just seventh in the AFL in total team offense and seventh in passing attack. ... After sitting out the first two games of the season due to a lower leg injury, Blaze star receiver Aaron Lesue is scheduled to make his 2013 season debut Saturday night.