When the Arizona Hotshots invaded Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, they were trying to become the first AAF team to go 3-0. Instead, the Hotshots got more than they bargained for and were cooled down by the Salt Lake Stallions. After a back and forth battle, injuries, and some controversial calls, Arizona dropped to 2-1 on the season as Salt Lake got their revenge for the week one loss. Let’s examine what led to the Hotshots losing through my 5 factors method.
The Injury to Hotshots Quarterback John Wolford
Recap: #AZHotshots lose leaders on both sides of the ball, and fall against Salt Lake.
— Arizona Hotshots (@aafhotshots) February 24, 2019
Some may call it fitting, others may call it coincidence, but just like Josh Woodrum in Week 1, the injury to John Wolford was a turning point in this game. While John Wolford was only 14/22, 127 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, he kept the Hotshots in the game with his confidence. When Wolford left with an injury, Trevor Knight was forced to step in, and his stat line of 8/17, 95 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions confirmed he was not ready to step in and lead the Hotshots to victory. Trevor Knight could never gain any comfort in the pocket and thus was wildly inaccurate and inconsistent in the 2nd half. Wolford has shown flashes, and while he does have a tendency to have passes batted down at the line of the scrimmage, it is clear the Hotshots will only go as far as Wolford’s health allows them.
A Healthy Josh Woodrum
I have often scoffed at writers, fans, and experts over-hype of the quarterback position in football. However, if Saturday’s game taught us anything, it’s that the quarterback is critical in the AAF. While Arizona’s offense showed vulnerability, a previously inconsistent Stallions offense hit their stride in the 2nd half of the game with leadership from quarterback Josh Woodrum. Woodrum’s stat line will not blow you away, 22/31, 178 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions, but he did provide good decision making and the ability to be opportunistic of the opportunities the Hotshots provided. The difference in the Stallions offense with and without Woodrum is night and day. If Woodrum can stay healthy, the Stallions could bounce back and be a threat for a playoff spot in the West. Much like Wolford and the Hotshots, Woodrum will have to stay healthy for the Stallions to have any chance of success long term.
Time of Possession
Aside from the quarterback play in this game, time of possession was a major factor. The number of plays ran between both teams did not have much of a gap, Stallions 75 plays to the Hotshots 73. However, the Stallions possessed the ball for 36:17 compared to 23:43 for the Hotshots. Possessing the ball allowed Josh Woodrum to stay on the field and stay in the rhythm and prevent the potent Hotshots offense from finding a rhythm. Not only did the time of possession tire the Hotshots defense, but it also played a part in holding the Hotshots offense to 257 total yards. The Hotshots are one of the league’s fastest offenses tempo wise and for their opponent to run more plays only leads to trouble. Any time the Hotshots opponents run more plays, it will probably result in a Hotshots loss.
Salt Lake’s Defense
90.7 overall grade
5 defensive stops
1 INT pic.twitter.com/pH47ix8flh
— PFF_AAF (@PFF_AAF) February 25, 2019
Much like my preview article, I admit I was going to reserve this factor for Karter Schult. Schult certainly did not disappoint again with getting a sack and forcing the Hotshots to chip tight-ends and running backs to his side the entire game. However, I could not dedicate the entire factor to Schult because of a new star being born, Greer Martini. The Stallions linebacker shook and stirred the Hotshots all day long with 7 tackles and a huge interception to start the 2nd half that set the Stallions up for a great half of football. Martini was constantly around the football and made the most of his opportunities. Martini’s afternoon led me to choose him for Ambush Sports Defensive Player of the Week.
Salt Lake’s Advantage in the Trenches
On paper, Salt Lake’s offensive and defensive lines are much bigger than the Hotshots lines that are smaller and built for speed. Unlike Week 1 where Salt Lake could not use this as an advantage, Week 3 would prove to be different. Salt Lake imposed their will up front on both sides of the ball. Salt Lake’s defensive line held Arizona to 66 yards rushing on 21 attempts and sacked the Arizona quarterbacks three times. On offense, the Salt Lake offensive line helped the running backs get into the endzone twice and kept Arizona’s vaunted linebacking corp from making the big plays they had made in their previous two games. In the early season, Salt Lake has proven to be one of the saltiest teams (pun intended) in the AAF. If Salt Lake can continue to impose their will on opponents, they could become a sleeper team in the West much like the Birmingham Iron in the East.
Saturday was fun. Let’s do it again this weekend, SLC?
— Salt Lake Stallions (@aafstallions) February 25, 2019
Most people chose Arizona to win this game. However, the natural home field advantage with the elevation in Salt Lake City cannot be underestimated. While I did not include this as one of my 5 factors for Stallion victory, it definitely did play a part. If the Stallions can successfully get Salt Lake City to show up to the games, the Stallions could have the greatest home-field advantage in the AAF. For the Hotshots, it will be important to bounce back from this loss. Luckily, the Hotshots have to travel to Atlanta to face the hapless Legends next. This could be the perfect cure to recover from a tough loss in Salt Lake City.