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Salt Lake Stallions v San Diego Fleet – Game Preview

We wrote about the entirety of the Week 5 schedule yesterday, but since we are a Utah-based site, and because we have adopted the Salt Lake Stallions as our Alliance team, we wanted to write a more in-depth review of the game this week against the San Diego Fleet.

The game will kick off from SDCCU Stadium in San Diego on Saturday, March 9th at 6:00pm MST (8:00pm EST). The Stallions will be looking for the their first road victory of the season (0-2), while the Fleet have yet to lose a game at home on the season (2-0).

Last week, the Stallions lost 20-11 to the Orlando Apollos at home, falling to 1-3 (and fourth place in the Western Conference). The Fleet are also coming off a loss, losing 26-23 to the Memphis Express (the Express’ first win of the season), pushing the Fleet to 2-2 and into a three-way tie at the top of the conference. 

Here’s a look at what to expect from the teams based on their performance this season:

Salt Lake Stallions

When the Stallions have the Ball

To say the Stallions have struggled on offense this season would be an understatement. Their high output on the season was last week against the Apollos, when they accumulated on 265 yards of total offense. This boosted their season average to 254.5 yards per game, which is only ahead of the Memphis Express on the season.

The offense was also dealt a blow last week when running back Branden Oliver injured his groin during the game, which ultimately led to him being placed on injured reserve yesterday, shutting him down for the remainder of the season. Oliver was the Stallions leading rusher on the season, averaging 52.5 yards a game and teaming with Joel Bouagnon (47.3 ypg) to form a relatively formidable rushing attack. It will be interesting to see who the Stallions turn to in his absence – Matt Asiata has had issues holding onto the ball in extremely limited action, while Terrell Newby has only four carries all season long.

Regardless of who takes on the rushing burden, quarterback Josh Woodrum has been good (not great) since returning after missing Week 2’s loss with a hamstring injury. He is the third-highest rated quarterback in the league currently – but is averaging only 114 yards passing per game. De’Mornay Pierson-El leads all Stallions receivers with 15 catches (on 21 targets), but is averaging less than 10 yards per catch.With a lot of offensive drives stalling out, the Stallions have relied a lot on kicker Taylor Bertolet to secure points, something he has been unable to do on less than half of his attempts. He is tied for the longest field goal in league history (53 yards), but has only connected on three of seven attempts on the year.

When the Fleet have the Ball

Defensively, the Stallions are similarly inconsistent, which has already led to a change in defensive coordinators before last week’s game. They’ll have stretches in some games where they cover well and force punts, only to turn around on the next drive to allow multiple third-down conversions. This is evidenced by having the third-worst defense in total yards allowed (315.8 per game) despite leading the league in rushing yards allowed (96.3 ypg). In a passing dominated league (60%/40% passing/rushing yardage split), this leads to problems.

They defensive line does well enough at getting pressure on the quarterback; Karter Schult leads the league with four sacks and 10 quarterback hits (despite missing a lot of time last week with a back injury), and Greer Martini and Gionni Paul always seem to be around the ball. But the defense has only forced two turnovers on the season, and when your offense is struggling to move the ball, having a short field every once in a while would be a big help.

San Diego Fleet

When the Fleet have the Ball

The Fleet have the fourth-best offense in the league (318.5 ypg), and it’s a fairly balanced one at that, with a 53/47 pass/run mix. That said, however, the Fleet will be starting a new quarterback this week after losing Philip Nelson to a broken collarbone last week. Ineffective Week 1 starter Mike Bercovici will be taking the reins of the offense once again, and will likely be hoping for more success than he found during the that Week 1 loss at San Antonio.

Bercovici will have some help, with league-leading rusher Ja’Quan Gardner (287 yards and three touchdowns) and Terrell Watson (175 yards) sharing the offensive burden out of the backfield. He’ll also find help on the outside, with three receivers – Dontez Ford, Gavin Escobar, and Nelson Spruce – accounting for more than 50% of the receiving yards on the season.

If Bercovici has difficulty finding the end zone, he can rely on kicker Donny Hageman to come away with a field goal more often than not. The San Diego State product has converted eight of nine attempts this season, with a long of 47 yards, showing much more consistency than his compatriot on the other sideline.

When the Stallions have the Ball

The Fleet defense is second in total defense (275.5 ypg) and third in scoring defense (16.0 ppg), so I don’t expect the Stallions to perform much different than they have all season when they have the ball. The Fleet defense also finds the quarterback a lot, with 11.5 sacks and 30 quarterback hits on the season.

Safety Ryan Moeller is a defensive standout, with two of the team’s five interceptions to go along with 16 tackles and three passes defended. He gets some help from the front and their seemingly constant pressure, something I expect to continue against the Stallions.

Who Comes Out on Top

It’s hard to pick against the Fleet; the seemingly lead in nearly every category and have consistently been better on the season from week-to-week. That said, I expect the Fleet to struggle on offense a bit, at least in the beginning, behind a quarterback who struggled in his other action this season.

If the Stallions can find a way to get their running game going, even in the absence of Branden Oliver, it would allow them to slow up the Fleet pass rush. This would enable Josh Woodrum to find some time with play action, finding Pierson-El or even his tight ends to keep the ball moving and the Fleet offense off the field.I don’t think there will be a ton of offensive fireworks for either team, but I think the Stallions pull this one out on the road, securing their first road victory of the season. Both clubs would be 2-3, and the standings chaos in the Western Conference will persist for yet another week.

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