SALT LAKE CITY — It’s the franchise’s first nationally televised game of the 2012 season, and the Utah Blaze are definitely ready for the camera.
The Blaze (11-5) will host the the Cleveland Gladiators (7-9) on Friday at EnergySolutions Arena. The game, which will air live on the NFL Network, has a scheduled kickoff of 6 p.m.
Utah is fresh off another successful road trip after taking down the top-ranked Arizona Rattlers in Phoenix, 62-49. The victory keeps the Blaze in the running for the West Division crown, as Utah now owns the tiebreaker over the Rattlers with a 4-2 divisional record.
On the same night, Cleveland suffered a 34-55 defeat at the hands of the Orlando Predators (3-13) and sits in second place in the East Division.
Cleveland’s greatest strength lies on defense, where the Gladiators boast the Arena Football League’s top scoring defense (49.1 ppg), as well as its second-ranked total defense (272.9 ypg) and passing defense (252.8 ypg). The unit is adept at getting its hands on the football, and places fifth with 24 total interceptions on the season.
This week’s matchup should make for an intriguing battle, as Utah owns the most prolific passing attack in the AFL. Led by record-setting quarterback Tommy Grady, the Blaze have posted over 60 points in five of their last seven contests. WR Tysson Poots has been scorching opposing defenses as of late, racking up 62 receptions for 609 yards and 19 touchdowns over the past five games.
“Cleveland has a strong defense that has a knack for forcing turnovers,” said UTah coach Ron James. “We’ve been able to play very efficiently on offense recently. Tommy is playing at a very high level right now and we’ll need another mistake-free effort in order to be successful.”
The Gladiators offense is guided by 12-year Arena Football veteran John Dutton, who’s thrown for 3,907 yards with 76 touchdowns this season.
s a group, Utah has played stifling defense in recent weeks, allowing just 43 points per game in its last five outings.
“It’s always tough when you’re facing a quarterback with as much experience as John Dutton,” said James. “He understands the nuances of the game and has a solid group of receivers around him. We will need another strong outing from our defense this week, both up front and in the secondary.”