TEMPE — The inaugural Alliance of American Football season for the Salt Lake Stallions began Sunday, but they found themselves stumbling out of the gate early.
“They kicked our rear ends, that’s pretty basic football,” Stallions head coach Dennis Erickson said. “It’s pretty simple to me. We need to get it straightened out here pretty quick.”
What Erickson is referring to is the 38-22 defeat at the hands of the Arizona Hotshots — a game where the Stallions defense gave up 416 yards of offense to the Hotshots.
Salt Lake had a particularly tough time containing the run, allowing Arizona’s quarterback John Wolford opportunities to take shots downfield. Wolford’s favorite target of the night was Rashad Ross, who torched the Stallions’ secondary for five receptions and 103 yards and two touchdowns.
Erickson pointed to the fact that the Stallions have only played in one preseason game and the turnaround for the AAF is different from he’s used to. Erickson has coached in the NFL and in college, but admitted that this league is full of new challenges.
“Everybody is kind of in the dark, I mean you have a couple practices against other teams, you have a preseason game and you don’t know who is going to make the team and who isn’t,” Erickson said. “It’s really kind of hard to tell how it is when you play. I think we found that out.
"We've got nine games left, there’s a lot of football left.”
Josh Woodrum, the Stallions' starting quarterback, left the game after the first half with a hamstring injury. Replacing him in the lineup was Matt Linehan, who last saw live game action a few years ago at Idaho. Linehan finished the game 7-of-13 with one touchdown and one interception.
“When you get thrown in there, it’s never the easiest thing,” Linehan told media. “My last action snap was in November of 2017, so taking that first hit, it’s good to get it out of the way.”
The Stallions defense allowed 149 rushing yards, but their lone bright spot was how effective they were on third down. They stopped the Hotshots on third down (4-of-12), but the Hotshots did their damage mostly on first and second downs.
“I thought we would play better against the run,” Erickson said.
Three turnovers for the Stallions certainly didn’t help either. Every time the Stallions turned the ball over, it set up the Hotshots with tremendous field position.
“We just made way too many mistakes,” Erickson said. “Anytime you turn it over three times in a short game like this, you’re not going to win. Gotta give them credit, they made a lot of plays, and I thought they ran the ball against us better than we thought they could, but they did.”
With such a short time between the team’s first and only preseason game, and the lack of more than one padded practice, Erickson said the team needs to check the tape and reevaluate themselves before their next game. His faith in his team isn’t wavered by the opening weekend loss; it just goes to show that this new league can surprise anyone involved.
“It’s really kind of hard to tell how it is when you play, and I think we found that out. I know we gotta to go back and look at the mistakes we made and correct them,” Erickson said.
“It’s professional football,” Linehan said. “There are guys out here who should be in the NFL on all these teams. You gotta be ready for the speed and all the athleticism out here.
"The thing that surprised me the most is how good the talent is in this league.”
Marcos Aragon is a junior at Arizona State University, where he studies Sports Journalism.