04/09/2010 8:03 AM
WR Huey Whittaker (above, #17) had his best season in the AFL as a member of the Blaze in 2008.
- It isn’t hard for the Spokane Shock to stay motivated, especially with Rob Keefe as their Head Coach.
After coming up short in an offensive shootout last week against the Milwaukee Iron, Keefe and the Shock are anxious to get things back on track with their first win of the season.
Like most coaches, Keefe likes to take things one game at a time. Right now, the only thing standing between Keefe and his first win is this week’s opponent, the Utah Blaze.
“I think Utah’s playing us on a bad week, because we’ve got a lot of guys that are irritated,” Keefe explained.
Even though it is early in the season, the fact that this will be Spokane’s first road game coupled with the fact that Utah is in Spokane’s division makes the game even more important to Keefe.
“This is a huge game,” Keefe said. “You’ve got to get wins against your division opponents, and then obviously you look to the conference. But winning games in your division is first and foremost.”
Utah was idle last week, so much like last week, Keefe could not prepare for this game with the benefit of game film. Instead, the Shock spent the week studying last week’s game against Milwaukee and continued to perfect the fundamentals.
“In this league, wins are hard to come by, and if they’re hard to come by, you can’t make mistakes. We learned what not to do, last week,” Keefe explained. “Practice was great this week. Our game plan is to do what we do. If you don’t have tape on a team that’s 0-0, that hasn’t had a scrimmage, that hasn’t set its starting roster, you just perfect yourself.”
First-year Blaze Head Coach Ernesto Purnsley has stocked his roster with 14 rookies and six AFL vets. Amongst the veterans, the Shock will have to pay close attention to WR Aaron Boone and DB Toure Carter.
Carter, in his sixth AFL season, spent the 2008 season with the San Jose SaberCats. In 2007, Carter played in a career-high nine games for the Austin Wranglers and collected 35.5 tackles with one interception.
Offensively, Spokane will need to stop Utah fan-favorite Boone who had his best season with the Blaze in 2008. That season, Boone collected 135 receptions (3rd in the AFL), for 1, 527 yards (8th in the AFL) and 23 touchdowns. Boone was an integral part of Utah’s potent 2008 offense that had three receivers record at least 1,500 yards with at least 100 receptions and 20 touchdowns, known as the “Three Amigos.”
The remaining members of that trio have moved on to other teams in the division; JJ McKelvey is in Arizona and Huey Whittaker is now in Spokane.
Last week, in Whittaker’s first game with the Shock, he picked up right where he left off in 2008 and collected a team-high 14 receptions for 102 yards and four touchdowns.
Defensively, the Shock hope to put pressure on rookie QB Michael Affleck who at press time was named the starter for Utah. Affleck will be making his first AFL start after spending the 2009 season with the AIFA’s Utah Valley Thunder. As a member of the Thunder, Affleck completed 58 touchdown passes with 3,037 yards.
Last week, the Iron’s QB Chris Greisen had a quick release that limited pressure from the Shock’s defensive line. But this week, Utah has a young offensive line and a young QB that the Shock plan to pressure early and often and limit Boone in the process.
In four seasons in the af2, the Shock maintained a 28-4 record on the road. Although this is the team’s first road game in the AFL, Coach
Keefe expects his players to treat it like a “business trip.”
“It is a business trip. It’s work. This is a job, you get paid for it. It’s not semi-pro football, it’s not high school football,” Keefe explained. “I want them coming on that plane ride home feeling good about themselves.”
Maybe that’s all the motivation they need.
Kickoff is set for 6 PM with live radio coverage on 700 ESPN Radio with Dennis Patchin and Keith Osso. SWX will also carry a tape-delayed broadcast – to accommodate the NFL network’s game of the week – Friday night at 8 PM.
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