Hotshots Take Aim for Orlando

Hotshots vs Apollos

Credit: Arizona Hotshots

 

The 2-3 Arizona Hotshots hope to accomplish a feat no AAF team has yet, to defeat the 5-0 Orlando Apollos. The Hotshots are coming off three consecutive losses and are in desperate need for something positive to happen. Nothing could be more positive than knocking off the seemingly untouchable Orlando Apollos but the Hotshots will have their work cut out for them.

What to Expect

Offense

The offensive side of the ball should be fun, the Apollos have the AAF’s best offense averaging 402 yards per game, meanwhile, the Hotshots are second in the league in total offense averaging 343 yards per game. This would suggest that the scoreboard could be lit up Saturday but the Hotshots stats can be deceiving as they have struggled at times on offense during their three-game losing streak.

The Apollos are led by quarterback, Garrett Gilbert who is the only AAF quarterback to not throw an interception this season and leads the AAF in passer rating with a 110.7 rating. Gilbert is the only quarterback with a rating over 100 on the season.

However, Gilbert is not the only weapon for the Apollos, wide receiver Charles Johnson leads the AAF in receiving yards with 493 and is tied for second in touchdown receptions with 2. The Apollos also have a skilled running game that has been led by three different backs at some point in the season. The main two threats out of the backfield this week should be D’Ernest Johnson and De’Veon Smith. In five games, Johnson has rushed for 251 yards and a touchdown, and Smith has rushed for 239 yards and 2 touchdowns. If the Hotshots hope to keep the Apollos in check, they will have to force the Apollos to be one dimensional which no team has accomplished yet.

As I said before, this matchup does feature the top two offenses in the AAF, so, not all news is bad for the Hotshots. The Hotshots have the premier weapon in the AAF, wide receiver, Rashad Ross. On the season, Ross has the second most receiving yards in the league with 401 and the most receiving touchdowns with 6. However, unlike the Apollos, the Hotshots don’t have a full complement of weapons. The Hotshots do have a talented trio of running backs in Justin Stockton, Jhurrell Pressley, and Tim Cook, but none of those backs have proven to be a workhorse back and instead work in tandem.

The key for the Hotshots in this game will be the quarterback, John Wolford. Will the Hotshots get the Wolford that has thrown for a league-leading 10 touchdowns or that has thrown a league-leading 6 interceptions? If the Hotshots want any chance at victory, the good Wolford will be a requirement. Unfortunately for the Hotshots, the good Wolford hasn’t appeared since week two, their last win.

The Apollos should have the advantage overall on offense, their players have been a lot more consistent and trustworthy compared to the Hotshots. The Hotshots are also still dealing with chemistry issue on the offensive line and that issue will not be fixed overnight. While this game does feature the top two offenses in the AAF, the difference between number one and number two is staggering.

Defense

One might assume that in a game with the league’s two best offenses that defense may be in an issue, but in the case of the Orlando Apollos, you would be wrong. The Apollos boast the second-best overall defense in the AAF giving up 294 yards per game and equally stingy against the pass and run.

The Apollos defense is led by ball-hawking cornerback, Keith Reaser. Coming into this game, Reaser has 3 interceptions on the season, 2 of which were returned for touchdowns. To put that in perspective, if interceptions returned for touchdowns counted as touchdown receptions, Reaser would rank second in the AAF. That means Reaser has scored as many touchdowns as all of the receivers in the AAF, except for Hotshots wide receiver, Rashad Ross. Much like Ross on offense for the Hotshots, Reaser is the ultimate weapon on defense for the Apollos.

The Hotshots defense has been up and down all season. Currently, the Hotshots rank as the fifth best defense in the AAF giving up 310 yards per game. Unlike the Apollos defense, the Hotshots defense has not been stingy, especially against the run. The Hotshots give up 122 yards rushing per game and lack the ability to be super physical up front. In a game where it will be imperative for the Hotshots to make the Apollos one dimensional, the ability to stop the run will be pivotal. Will the numbers prove the Hotshots struggle up front or can they turn things around and defy the numbers?

However, not all is lost on defense for the Hotshots, defensive back, Erick Dargan has been a bright spot. Dargan currently leads the team and ranks sixth in the AAF in tackles with 35 and also has an interception. This is both good and bad news for the Hotshots, it means Dargan is doing his job but others need to step up as having someone in the third level of defense leading in tackles is usually a bad sign.

Hotshots linebacker Steven Johnson also appears to be ready to play after missing time with an injury. Johnson’s return coupled with the solid play of fellow linebacker, Steve Beauharnais should help provide better support at the second level and defense and possibly take some pressure off of Dargan.

While the task is tall, I would not be surprised to see the Hotshots secondary have a solid game. A week after getting torched by Commanders quarterback, Logan Woodside, I expect the Hotshots secondary to have a chip on their shoulder. I am not saying they will force the Apollos to be one dimensional, but don’t be surprised if they can keep Garrett Gilbert and company in check early. Unfortunately, the Hotshots will need to be able to keep them in check for the entirety of the game and that is a lot to ask of a defense that so far has been no better than a middle of the road defense.

Special Teams

In a league where points can be hard to come by, good special teams are essential for success. In a game where the Hotshots will be the underdog, special teams is often an area where advantage can be taken if the superior team is sloppy. However, the Apollos are anything but sloppy on special teams. Punter, Ben Turk ranks second in the league in punts downed inside the 20 with 9 while having the second-fewest punt attempts with 16. Kicker, Elliott Fry is also a perfect 11/11 on field goal attempts this season.

On the other side, special teams have been a mixed bag for the Hotshots. On the good side of things, punt returner, Deion Holliman leads the league in punt return average with 14 yards per return. However, the bad has outweighed the good so far, punter, Jeff Locke is next to last in the AAF in net punting average with 38 yards per punt and kicker, Nick Folk is 7/10 on field goal attempts this season.

If the Hotshots want to pull off the upset, it won’t be special teams that wins it for them. However, if the Hotshots can force the Apollos into some mistakes on special teams and be better than usual themselves, special teams could keep the Hotshots in the game. The old adage when you’re an underdog is “just get to the fourth quarter” and special teams is an effective way to stick around in a game.

Final Thoughts

While no one has been able to defeat the Apollos, a handful of teams have been able to stick around against them. Both the Memphis Express and San Antonio Commanders had effective game plans. I believe that should be the goal of the Hotshots, to be effective. The Hotshots should ignore the scoreboard, play for pride, and give it their all and let the results be what they may. If the Hotshots play like they did the first two weeks, they have a shot, but if they play like they have the last three things could get ugly. I believe we will see a Hotshots team somewhere in the middle. I have joked that the first two weeks we saw Colorado Rick Neuheisel and the last three we have seen UCLA Rick Neuheisel, well if the Hotshots find the middle ground, we should be prepared to see Washington Rick Neuheisel. Unfortunately, that will not be good enough to beat the Apollos. Hotshots give it a tough effort but Apollos win.

Final Score Prediction: Apollos 29 Hotshots 16


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