Having put together back-to-back wins after a miserable 0-9 start to the season, the Utah Blaze truly have believe it or not put themselves back into the Arena Football League's playoff chase.
And a win tonight on the road against defending ArenaBowl champion San Jose would serve notice that the Blaze may truly have turned things around. Kickoff at HP Pavilion is set for 8:30 p.m. MDT.
Of course, beating the division-leading SaberCats will not be an easy task. Utah upset San Jose in the first game of the franchise's history in 2006 but has lost four straight to the SaberCats since then including a 61-40 drubbing last month at EnergySolutions Arena.
Yet after two wins in a row, Blaze coach Danny White and Co. sound confident things can be different this time around.
"Morale is good, and it gets better with each win," said White. "It will be really good next week. ... We have every belief in the world that we can beat them."
Ironically, White said watching the game film of last month's loss by three touchdowns actually gives him hope.
"The things that made the difference in the game were things that we did," said White. "Receivers not being on the same page. We dropped a couple of passes. We blew a coverage. It wasn't anything that they did. ... We've got to be sharp and just not beat ourselves. If we do that, we match right up with them."
The Blaze, led by quarterback Joe Germaine, have put up outstanding offensive numbers all season. Defensively, however, Utah struggled through the first nine games of the year. That has changed the past two weeks, however, as the Blaze have given up an average of just 43 points per game in wins over Kansas City and Colorado. By comparison, the Blaze gave up an average of 66 points per game in the first nine.
"It's a process. We've got to get our confidence back, and that doesn't happen overnight," White said of the Blaze defense, which has now moved up to third in the 17-team AFL in fumble recoveries, with 13 for the season.
San Jose has been the class of the Blaze's Western Division for years, but that doesn't mean it's unbeatable. The SaberCats are just 6-5 this season, although they are 4-0 against division rivals. They can clinch another playoff berth this weekend with a win over the Blaze and losses by Arizona, Colorado and Kansas City.
The SaberCats are led by veteran QB Mark Grieb, who is second in the AFL to Germaine in passing yardage with 3,133. He also has 58 touchdown passes. The San Jose defense is the best in the league at rushing opposing quarterbacks, with 19 sacks on the season.
Utah, meanwhile, doesn't even necessarily have to win all of its last five games to make the playoffs. White believes three more wins for five total could be enough.
Six of the eight teams in the AFL's American Conference will qualify for the playoffs and, entering this weekend's games, six of those teams have four or fewer victories Utah, Kansas City, Grand Rapids, Arizona, Los Angeles and Colorado. The Blaze, after facing 8-2 Chicago next week, ends the season with games against Grand Rapids, Los Angeles and Arizona."We've looked at the schedules and nobody has a really tough schedule and nobody has a really easy schedule (remaining)," said White. "We control our position. If we (beat) Arizona, L.A. and Grand Rapids, we'll be in contention (for the playoffs), at least. Having said that, we're not looking past San Jose as a possible win."
Blaze on the air
Utah Blaze (2-9) at San Jose SaberCats (6-5)
Tonight, 8:30 p.m.
Radio: 1320 AM
E-mail: [email protected]