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Arena football: Blaze's defense starting to assert itself

Published May 24, 2013 4:21 pm

Arena football • Sabercats' new QB will pose big challenge.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As the Blaze offense continues to work out the kinks, it's been the defense that has kept the team afloat. In fact, it's been the defense that has dominated offenses over the course of the last four games.

Nineteen turnovers. Eight turnovers on downs. The Utah defense, after being torched early on in the season, has finally figured it out.

"I felt we've had that ability," said Blaze coach Ron James. "If we can get the offense on track on the way it was last year, those landslide wins can return."

But, per usual, the defense has its hands full this week as the Blaze (4-4), head to the Bay Area to take on division rival San Jose (6-2). It is the first of a three-game road trip that Utah must win to get its division record, currently at 1-2, back to .500.

"It's going to be a game that is really going to test us," James said.

Since handing the quarterback reins over to Russ Michna, the Sabercats have won four straight games. Michna's numbers during the streak include 20 touchdowns on 949 yards passing and just two interceptions.

But James said the defense will be ready.

"I think we're finally at a point where the front line and coverage group are playing together," he said.

Utah's defense will be tested. Linebacker Joe Mortensen is out with a hamstring injury and defensive line star Caesar Rayford recently signed with the Indianapolis Colts.

"I'm nothing but excited for him," James said, "but those are big shoes to fill."

ckamrani@sltrib.comw —

Utah at San Jose

O At HP Pavillion (San Jose, Calif.)

Kickoff • Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MT

TV • Stream at CBS Sports Network

Radio • 97.5 FM

Records • Blaze 4-4; Sabercats 6-2

Last meeting • San Jose 70, Utah 59 (May 11, 2012)

About the Blaze • The Blaze defense is holding opposing offenses to just 223 yards per game. … Defensive back Maurice Leggett leads the team in interceptions with five so far this season. … Safety David Hyland set a franchise record for pass breakups in last week's win over Iowa with nine.

About the Sabercats • The San Jose defensive line ranks second in the AFL in sacks with 20. … The Sabercat defense has held opponents to under 40 points in each of its last four games. … Quarterback Russ Michna is completing 68.9 percent of his passes since taking over the job from Aaron Garcia.