Arena football: After 1-3 start, Utah Blaze say they're beating themselves
It's cliche, and some could look at it as an excuse, but ask the Utah Blaze why they're 1-3 and they'll straight up tell you:
They're beating themselves.
"That's what it's been," said Blaze coach Ron James.
After beginning the year with an impressive 64-33 road win at Pittsburgh on March 23, the Blaze have dropped three straight all within the friendly confines of EnergySolutions Arena and the team that was one minute away from the Arena Bowl championship game a year ago suddenly has found itself in last place in the toughest division in the AFL thanks to too many untimely turnovers and costly penalties.
"It's frustration," said linebacker Joe Mortensen. "When you lose, everything is more uptight and everything is under more scrutiny. â¦ We play to win that's what this game is about."
This week, the Blaze hit the road for the second time this season, heading to face a 1-3 Cleveland Gladiator team Saturday evening at 5 p.m., aiming to do just that.
The team isn't dubbing this week a "must-win," but in order to keep up with the Spokanes, Arizonas and San Joses of its division, Utah must figure things out and fast.
"It's really small things that have made a big difference," said receiver Aaron Lesue.
For starters, the Blaze are turning the ball over too many times, and in too important of situations. In last week's home loss against Chicago, Utah played an impressive third quarter only to have a pick-six end the period that gave the Rush momentum heading into the fourth.
James said the offense will be simplified for quarterback Tommy Grady, last year's MVP who has struggled in comparison to 2012's record-setting numbers. He's been somewhat slowed by an injury to a finger on his throwing hand and, as James said, the aim is to have receivers run more simple routes this week to avoid turnovers.
"It took us some time last year to get to the point where we really felt like we were unstoppable on the offensive side of the ball," Lesue said. "We can get there."
Utah at Cleveland
O Quicken Loans Arena (Cleveland)
Kickoff • Saturday, 5 p.m.
TV • AFL Live. Radio • 97.5 FM
Records • Blaze 1-3; Gladiators 1-3
Last meeting • Utah 83, Cleveland 63 (July 13, 2012)
About the Blaze • Quarterback Tommy Grady threw a season-high seven touchdowns in last week's 59-56 loss to Chicago. ... Rookie wideout Mario Urrutia has 11 touchdowns on 420 yards receiving through four games this season. ... The Blaze defense currently sits 12th in the AFL in scoring, having allowed 61.5 points per game. ... The defense also allowed opponents to score on 89.5 percent of drives in the red zone.
About the Gladiators • The Cleveland defense ranks last in the AFL in points allowed per game at 64.8 an outing. ... Gladiator quarterback Brian Zbydnieswki is coming off a nine-touchdown performance in last week's win over Philadelphia. ... Receiver Dominick Goodman set a franchise record for receptions in a season in 2012 with 170 and already has 24 grabs this season to go along with five touchdowns. ... Fullback Derik Steiner has rushed for four touchdowns in short goal-line opportunities this season.