Danny White, coach and general manager of the Utah Blaze, may seem overly optimistic about his team's future. But the fact of the mater is that he's right when he says things are not nearly as bleak as the Blaze's 0-6 record might indicate.
"We can still reach all of our goals for the season," White said with a straight face.
Utah isn't in as bad of shape as one might expect because the Blaze are in the weaker of the two Arena Football League conferences. There are only eight teams in the AFL's American Conference, and six will make the playoffs. Of the eight teams in Utah's conference, only one, the 4-2 Chicago Rush, has a winning record. In Utah's four-team Western Division, the San Jose SaberCats lead with a 3-3 mark. Five of the eight teams in the conference, meanwhile, have two or fewer victories.
So a win tonight against the 2-4 Los Angeles Avengers at the Staples Center will get the Blaze right back into the thick of the playoff race, believe it or not.
"There just has to be two teams (in the conference) beneath us for us to make the playoffs," said White. "With as many division games as we have left, we still have plenty of time to turn this thing around."
Five of Utah's remaining 10 games are against divisional foes, as they face L.A. and San Jose twice each and Arizona one more time.
"Everybody knows that we're not out of this yet," said Blaze defensive back Eddie Canonico.
Regular-season games in Los Angeles have been good for the Blaze. Two years ago, Utah picked up the win on a touchdown pass from Joe Germaine to Orshawante Bryant on the last play of the game. Last year, the Blaze faced the Avengers in the final game of the regular season with a playoff spot on the line and won.
Then again, the Avengers got some revenge the next week, winning a first-round playoff rematch last June.
This year, Los Angeles got off to a fast start with two consecutive wins. But the Avengers have lost four games in a row.
"L.A. is a team that is almost as desperate for a win as we are," said White. "It should be a good game because the energy will be high and both teams will be playing hard."
Utah's offense, as usual, has been potent. The Blaze, paced by Germaine, lead the AFL in total yards and are fifth in the league in scoring average (56.7 points per game). Utah's defense, on the other hand, is last in the league, giving up 64 points per outing.
"We're focusing on trying to get sacks and turnovers this week," said White. "We need to find ways to get stops. The best teams in the league are the teams with the best turnover ratio, and we don't have a good turnover ratio."Following tonight's game, the Blaze will return home for a game scheduled for next Friday night at home against San Jose. That game could be moved to Saturday, however, depending on the Jazz playoff schedule.
Blaze on the air
BLAZE ON THE ROAD
Utah Blaze (0-6) at L.A. Avengers (2-4)
Tonight, 8:30 p.m.
TV: none Radio: 1230 AM
E-mail: [email protected]