SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Blaze return home after regaining sole possession of first in the West Division with their win against the defending champion Jacksonville Sharks.
Utah (3-2) squares off against Iowa for the second time this season at EnergySolutions Arena at 7 p.m. on Friday. The Blaze torched the Barnstormers in the first meeting in Des Moines, 69-49, while setting an AFL all-time record with 10 total sacks back in Week 2 of the season.
"It's always tough to play a team twice in such a short period of time," Blaze head coach Ron James said. "Iowa is a team playing with great confidence as of late and we will have to be up to the challenge."
The Barnstormers, subsequent to starting 1-2, have won two consecutive games against Pittsburgh, 55-42, and league powerhouse Arizona Rattlers, 56-54.
In the first meeting, Utah held Iowa to 204 yards in total offense, while forcing six turnovers.
The Barnstormers are known for outstanding play behind center, most notably two time NFL MVP and Super Bowl Champion, Kurt Warner.
Although J.J. Raterink doesn't quite sport the same credentials as Warner, he's currently completing 65 percent of his attempts in the sky. In five games, the former Wyoming quarterback has thrown for 1,319 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Utah will need to have similar success pressuring Raterink the second time around to limit the connections with superstar wideout Jesse Schmidt. The do-it-all receiver averages 10 catches per game with 16 scores on the season, including six last week.
"Our defense is led by the pass rush," James said. "We need them to rise to the occasion again as we face a strong Iowa offense."
If the game turns into a shootout, considering Utah ranks third (61.8 ppg) and Iowa weighs in at sixth (58 ppg) in scoring production, the Blaze have shown capable of producing within the chaotic pace.
Utah signal caller Tommy Grady was named the AFL Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 325 yards and 10 touchdowns in the air while completing 76 percent of his attempts. He also added another TD with his feet. Behind his guidance, Utah scored on all 11 possessions to top the Sharks, 75-67, in a topsy-turvy pace.
Grady currently ranks fourth in the AFL for passing yards per game (316.6) and has thrown for 1,533 yards and 35 touchdowns on the season.
Utah will need to take advantage of Iowa's struggles on the dark side of the ball. The Barnstormers rank 17th in total defense (320.2 ypg) and passing defense (307.6 ypg) while giving up the 13th most points per game (58).
Aaron Lesue will be the main benefactor with Iowa's secondary woes. He currently leads the AFL with 19 touchdowns and individual scoring average (23.2 ppg).
Back at home
Barnstormers (3-2) at Blaze (3-2)
Today, 7 p.m.
Radio: 1280 AM