Three weeks ago, the Week Six matchup between the Arizona Hotshots and the Orlando Apollos looked like one of the best games in the week. Back in Week Two, Arizona and Orlando had the undisputed two best quarterbacks in the league complemented by good defense and a strong grouping of skill players.
Fast forward to the present and that is no longer the case. While Orlando remains undefeated as the class of the league, the Arizona Hotshots are in the midst of an ugly three-game losing skid. Arizona needs to get their season back on track to salvage their playoff hopes, but do they have what it takes to bring down the undefeated Orlando Apollos?
AAF Game Preview: Arizona Hotshots at Orlando Apollos
When the Hotshots Throw
Arizona Hotshots quarterback John Wolford hit the ground running, throwing four touchdowns in the AAF season opener. However, since that point, the Wake Forest product has been a disappointment. Since his fantastic Week One performance, Wolford has completed thrown for just 187.8 passing yards per game, six touchdowns, and five interceptions. He’s one of the better quarterbacks in the league, but he’s not a difference maker. In Week Five, Wolford threw three first-half interceptions and fumbled the ball on a potential go-ahead drive to seal Arizona’s loss.
The Orlando Apollos passing defense struggled earlier in the season but improved their play in recent weeks. Led by cornerback Keith Reaser, the Orlando Apollos defense enters Week Six allowing just 199 passing yards per game. They’ve allowed just four passing touchdowns all season long, with one of them coming in garbage time during Week Five’s blowout win over Birmingham. This matchup clearly favors Orlando.
What the Hotshots Run
Arizona features a run-first offense led by New Mexico alumnus Jhurrell Pressley. Pressley enters Week Six with 263 yards on 62 carries. While he’s yet to find the endzone, Pressley currently has the third-most rushing yards of any back in the AAF. He’s far from Arizona’s only running threat, as the Hotshots currently average 115 rushing yards per game, second-best in the league.
The Orlando Apollos are good at just about everything, so it’s no surprise that they’re adept at stopping the run. Through six weeks of action, the Apollos allow just 86.0 rushing yards per game, third-best in the league. Additionally, the Apollos have allowed just three rushing touchdowns on the season, an impressive feat considering they’ve already faced Trent Richardson and the Birmingham Iron rushing attack. Orlando won’t make it easy, but the Hotshots best chance of pulling the upset comes from controlling the clock and the ground game.
When the Apollos Throw
There has yet to be a team to completely slow down Garrett Gilbert and the Orlando Apollos passing attack. Gilbert is easily the best quarterback in the league and enters Week Six completing 62.8% of his passes for 1,357 yards, eight touchdowns, and zero interceptions. His passing yardage leads the league and he’s the only Week One starter yet to throw an interception. Gilbert threw for 286 yards and two touchdowns against a formidable Iron secondary in Week Five, so it’s hard to imagine any defense slowing him down.
The Arizona Hotshots defense ranks fourth in the league against the pass, and that’s bad news for the Hotshots’ fortune. So far through the season, Arizona has allowed five passing touchdowns and 203.4 passing yards per game. They don’t have a cornerback capable of matching up with star wide receiver Charles Johnson, and nobody in the league is good enough to stop Garrett Gilbert. Orlando has a significant advantage in this matchup.
When the Apollos Run
The Orlando Apollos offense is just unfair. As if worrying about Gilbert wasn’t enough, Orlando has perhaps the best two-headed running back monster in the entire league. D’Ernest Johnson and DeVeon Smith ranked fifth and sixth in the league with 251 and 239 rushing yards, respectively. Both players average more than 5.5 yards-per-carry and most enviable explosiveness and vision. Orlando’s run blocking is second to none, but these two are capable of making plays on their own every time they touch the ball.
Just like with their passing defense, Arizona’s run defense ranks right around the middle of the league. Through five weeks of action, the Hotshots are allowing 96.2 rushing yards per game, fourth-best in the league. While this might be good enough to stop weaker AAF rushing attacks, it won’t be enough to stop Orlando’s ground game.
Orlando should be the heavy favorite in this one, but Arizona stands a fighting chance. The Hotshots are one of the better running teams in the league, and Orlando’s defense can be run upon by the right attack. However, it’s hard to imagine a world where Arizona’s defense figures how to stop Orlando’s offense from marching up and down the field. Look for Orlando to pull out a comfortable 23-11 victory.
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