When the Arizona Hotshots went into the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee on Saturday night they probably did not expect to have much of a game on their hands. However, the Memphis Express had other plans. In a game where the Hotshots were favored by double digits, Arizona found themselves trailing by double digits entering the 4th quarter. An unrelenting will on defense and precise offensive execution allowed the Hotshots to escape the Liberty Bowl with a 20-18 win over the Memphis Express. Listed below are the five factors that led to the 20-18 win for the Hotshots on Saturday night.
Hotshots Lose Turnover Battle
ICYMI: We're currently in a no fly zone. pic.twitter.com/pnfx7oKsRg
— Memphis Express (@aafexpress) February 17, 2019
It may seem crazy to have a factor that the winning team lost to explain the outcome, but we must keep in mind that the Hotshots were double-digit favorites going into this game. John Wolford had two interceptions, and Josh Huff had a fumble for a total of 3 Hotshots turnovers. On the other hand, Memphis had 0 turnovers in the game. Memphis turned the Hotshots 3 turnovers into 12 points. While converting turnovers into 12 points is no small feat, Memphis had the opportunity to convert the turnovers into even more points but failed to do so. Failure to be the ultimate opportunist would lead to the Express eventual downfall.
Two Point Conversions
Taking out the extra point has proved to change the game in the AAF. Memphis went 0-2 on 2 point attempts while the Hotshots were 1-3 on 2 pointers. In a game where the Hotshots won by two this may seem obvious, but if Memphis would have converted one of their two attempts earlier in the game, it could have potentially broken the will of the Hotshots instead of allowing them to hang in the game. Again, Memphis failure to capitalize on opportunities proved to be fatal.
The Hotshots Ground Game
Coming into the game, many people felt like the Hotshots would light up the scoreboard. After racking up 38 points and over 400 yards of offense versus Salt Lake, the imagination of Hotshots fans everywhere ran wild imagining what this offense may do to the Memphis Express. Instead, the Hotshots entered the 4th quarter with 6 points. However, not all was lost, the Hotshots found a way to stay in the game with a solid ground game. John Wolford and the air attack proved to be ineffective for three quarters, but the trio of Tim Cook, Justin Stockton, and Jhurrell Pressley had his back. Cook and Stockton particularly had huge 2nd half contributions; Cook finished the game with 13 carries, 73 yards and 1 reception, 4 yards. Stockton had 4 carries, 54 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 reception, 4 yards. Stockton’s huge touchdown early in the 4th quarter proved to be the turning point in the game. As a team, the Hotshots finished with
209 yards rushing.
The Express Were One Dimensional
Despite all of the flaws of the Hotshots on Saturday, one factor that was not lacking was the Hotshots pass defense. The Hotshots held Christian Hackenberg to a stat line of 14/25, 102 yards, 0 touchdowns. The Express had many things go their way during the game, a +3 turnover margin, Zac Stacy rushing for 101 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown, and a stellar defensive performance for three quarters. However, the Express was once again predictable and one dimensional. It makes sense for the Express to value their ground game with one of the league’s best backs in the backfield. However, if Memphis could have made some plays through the air, the Hotshots may not have been within striking distance for a stunning 4th quarter comeback. To win in football, you must play defense and be balanced on offense; the Express has yet to achieve any balance on offense in 2019. Memphis misfortune led to the Hotshots lucky day.
The Fourth Quarter
This factor may seem obvious but hear me out. The Hotshots outscored the Express in the 4th quarter 14-6 but why? Obviously, the previous four factors played a role in the miraculous 4th quarter, but I would also argue that strength and conditioning played a major role as well. The Express led the time of possession in this game, 34:42 to 25:18. However, as the 4th quarter played out, it became obvious that the Express front seven were gassed. The lack of energy led to big plays on the ground and through the air for the Hotshots. Even in a game where the Hotshots offense looked disappointing for a majority of the game, the big 4th quarter inflated the stat line. The Hotshots finished with 175 yards passing, 2 touchdowns and 209 yards rushing, 1 touchdown, 384 total yards of offense. Most of the damage being done in the 4th quarter. This is two weeks in a row for the Hotshots that they were able to pull away in the 4th quarter. Whether that is because of conditioning advantage for the Hotshots or the lack thereof for their opponents, remain to be seen. One thing is for certain, the Hotshots will learn from this game and are glad to leave Memphis 2-0.