It’s week 1 of the AAF regular season and putting together previews are a challenge, even for the so-called experts. This preview of this weekend’s matchup between the Arizona Hotshots vs. Salt Lake Stallions is based on multiple factors: each head coach’s philosophy, results of the pre-season scrimmage for both teams, and the individual player performance of each player in the past at the pro and/or college level. It’s not an exact science, but without game film on either team, it’s the best approach for week 1. Listed below are the five factors that the Hotshots need to go their way to be celebrating with a victory on Sunday.
Early Success for John Wolford
The Hotshots must come out of the gate prepared to get John Wolford in rhythm. This is Wolford’s first professional start, and any adversity could shake the young quarterback’s conference. Fortunately for the Hotshots, Wolford displayed the ability to overcome adversity in his playing days at Wake Forest, and his pre-season scrimmage performance was what opened the door to a quarterback competition with Trevor Knight. Wolford went 10/14, 112 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, and 1 2 PT conversion. Look for coach Neuheisel to dial up some short passes, moving the pocket on rollouts, and utilizing play action passing to provide some confidence for Wolford early. If Wolford executes the early gameplan, Trevor Knight may see greatly reduced playing time as Neuheisel needs chemistry between his quarterback and receivers for his west coast offense.
Chance Hotshots execute this factor: Likely.
Have A Balanced Offense
When starting an inexperienced quarterback, it is important to be balanced in your offensive attack to help ease the pressure. John Crockett was the biggest contributor in the preseason scrimmage with a stat line of 15 carries, 50 yards, 1 TD, 3.3 yards per carrying. However, Crockett is not on the week one roster for the Hotshots. Meanwhile, Salt Lake allowed Rajon Neal to gain 47 yards on only six carries in their preseason scrimmage. That is a whopping 7.8 yards per carry. I get it, it’s a small sample size but with Larry Rose, Tim Cook, Jhurrell Pressley, and Justin Stockton all available the Hotshots will have plenty of options to find a hot hand and pick the Stallions apart on the line of scrimmage.
Chance Hotshots execute this factor: Likely.
Limit Stallions WR Kenny Bell
Kenny Bell is expected to be Salt Lake’s best wideout threat. The former Nebraska Cornhusker was a reliable threat in college hauling in 181 receptions, 2689 yards, 21 TD’s in his college career and has spent time on NFL rosters with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens, and Denver Broncos. Bell can work outside and in the slot at receiver, making him a playmaker in coach Dennis Erickson’s versatile offense. The Hotshots did a great job in the preseason scrimmage, the Hotshots kept three different Iron quarterback under 100 yards passing and took a pick-six back to the house off the arm of Blake Sims. If the Hotshots can keep Bell and company in check, it will force the Stallions to rely on the running game led by Matt Asiata and Brandon Oliver, not the strength of the Stallions.
Chance Hotshots execute this factor: 50/50.
Win the Turnover Margin
Football is a game that has transitioned greatly during its time: from the days of leather helmets to today. However, one thing has always remained constant, winning the turnover margin usually results in victory. Case in point, the Hotshots forced Iron quarterback, Blake Sims to fumble and throw an interception in their preseason scrimmage. The interception came at a time in the 3rd quarter where the Iron were driving and only down 20-6. The hotshots picked Sims off and raced 70 yards for a touchdown to put the game out of reach. The Hotshots defense may give up yards to offenses, but they will be aggressive in trying to cause game-changing turnovers. However, Salt Lake had a lot of success forcing turnovers in their preseason scrimmage against the Memphis Express. The Stallions racked up an interception, a fumble return for a touchdown, and blocked a punt. The most troubling issue for the Hotshots is the Stallions force turnovers in all phases of the game. If the Stallions can have the same success Sunday, things could get very interesting. Of course, with such a small sample size it is hard to tell, but as always, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Chances Hotshots execute this factor: 50/50.
Convert More 2 Point Conversions
I have read several preview articles for different AAF games on various sites and one factor being overlooked is the 2 point conversion. Professional football is notorious for having close scores. That means the AAF banning the extra point kick and forcing teams to go for two could be the difference in determining who wins. It also could determine if a game stays a one or two possession game in crunch time. The 2 point conversion will challenge traditional coaching convention and cause offenses to be more creative near the goal line. Salt Lake held Memphis without a 2 point conversion on two attempts in the preseason scrimmage. On offense, Salt Lake went 1 for 4 on 2 point conversions. The Hotshots didn’t get much practice in preseason against the Iron. Birmingham converted their only 2 point conversion attempt. The Hotshots did go 3 for 5 on 2 point conversion attempts against the Iron. The goal on 2 point offense will be to convert 50 percent or more of your attempts. Obviously, the goal on defense will be to hold the opponent to less than 50 percent success on 2 point attempts. On paper, Arizona seems to capitalize on chances to convert 2 points but will probably project to give up their fair share of 2 point conversions on defense. This factor will be determined by Salt Lake’s ability to keep pace with the Hotshots offense.