The Orlando Apollos will look to stay undefeated when they head to Salt Lake City to take on the Stallions Saturday night. Steve Spurrier’s Apollos have gotten to 3-0 behind the Alliance of American Football’s (AAF) top offense (98 points, 1,179 yards) while Dennis Erickson’s Stallions (1-2) are coming off of their first win of the season.
For all of the attention the Spurrier-coached Orlando offense gets, the defense has done its job as well, holding teams to less than 18 points per game. Salt Lake has turned up the defensive intensity lately (27 points allowed in last two games) and has been the stingiest team against the run in the early going.
The Stallions knocked off previously undefeated Arizona last week at home. Can they make it two weeks in a row against the Apollos?
Orlando at Salt Lake
Kickoff: Saturday, March 2 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium (Salt Lake City)
TV: NFL Network
Three Things to Watch
1. How do you slow down Orlando’s offense?
That is the primary challenge that awaits Salt Lake. The Apollos’ offense has been far and away the AAF’s most productive through the first three weeks of the season. They have scored 98 points, 25 more than the next team (Arizona). In fact, Orlando has outscored both Atlanta and Memphis combined (65 points) and those two teams have played three games each.
The Apollos have gotten contributions from quarterback Garrett Gilbert (827 passing yards, 5 TDs, no INTs); running back D’Earnest Johnson (171 rushing yards, 6.6 ypc), and the wide receiver trio of Charles Johnson, Jalin Marshall, and Chris Thompson (27 catches for 555 yards and 3 TDs combined), so there’s no one aspect the Stallions can focus on. Instead Dennis Erickson’s team needs to build on the success it has on defense the past two games, holding Birmingham and Arizona to a total of 27 points, and then take things to another level.
2. Expect the Stallions to run the ball
One way that Salt Lake can keep Orlando’s offense off the field is to try and control the clock and game flow with its running game. Behind Joel Bouagnon and Branden Oliver, the Stallions are averaging 111 rushing yards per game, one of the reasons why they are second in time of possession (32:37). If Salt Lake can find success running the ball against the Apollos, who are giving up 129 yards per game on the ground, it should lead to fewer opportunities for Gilbert and company on offense.
3. Somebody’s defense could step up
While both teams have made some noise with their offenses, neither defense can be completely ignored. For all of the points Orlando has scored, the defense is holding opponents to less than 18 per game. The Apollos also have already picked off six passes, with linebacker Terrance Garvin an cornerback Keith Reaser responsible for five of those. They also are the only players in the AAF that have returned a pick for a touchdown thus far.
Salt Lake has done a good job of getting to the other team’s quarterback as Karter Schult leads the league with four of the team’s eight sacks. The Stallions have been particularly stingy in the fourth quarter (12 points allowed) and have given up just two touchdowns combined in the last two games. Will either defense steal the show on Saturday night?
This could be the best game of the Week 4 slate, so it’s no surprise the AAF flexed it from it’s original Saturday afternoon kickoff to the primetime slot on NFL Network. But Orlando is undefeated for more reasons than just Steve Spurrier’s offense. The Apollos are balanced, disciplined and have too much talent on both sides of the ball. Salt Lake keeps things close but in the end the Apollos keep the train moving.
Prediction: Apollos 28, Stallions 23
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of AAF.com)