The Spokane Shock have been here before.
As recently as last April, in fact – which might explain Coach Rob Keefe’s complete lack of panic over the 76-48 Arena Football League thumping the San Jose SaberCats put on his team in last weekend’s season opener in San Jose, Calif.
“I’d rather get this out of the way now, like we did last year,” said Keefe, whose Shock bounced back from a 74-62 season-opening home loss to the Milwaukee Iron in 2010 to finish 15-3 and win an ArenaBowl championship in their first season as an AFL franchise. “There’s nothing wrong with it, as long as you figure things out and bounce back.”
The Shock (0-1) will get a chance to do just that Saturday evening when they entertain the Cleveland Gladiators (0-0) that kicks off at 7 at the Arena. And Keefe, based on the way practices have gone this week, likes his team’s chances of evening its record.
“Our guys have responded beautifully this week, they really have,” he said. “And I mean that in every sense of the word. We only had two weeks of camp before our first game, so we’re still working on the basics. What I was most proud of last weekend was that our guys kept fighting, so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.
“Now we will have a problem if they come out and make the same mistakes (tonight). That’s when we start making changes.”
For now, however, the Shock will stick with most of the same schemes and personnel they used against San Jose – and hope the execution is better this time around.
“Every year you have a test, or, maybe, a series of tests,” said Shock quarterback Kyle Rowley, who threw for 364 yards and five touchdowns, but was also picked off three times, in last Saturday’s loss. “And it’s how you bounce back from things like that matters most.
“And from what I’ve seen at practice this week, we’ve got a bunch who are going to respond in the right way on Saturday.”
Rowley, by his own admission, was not as effective against San Jose as he needs to be for the Shock to successfully defend their AFL title.
“I made a couple of poor reads and tried to freelance a little too much,” he said, of his season-opening performance. “I need to just get back within the system – although part of (the problem) was being down by a couple of scores early. That was something we did last year, was put our opponents against the wall like that and they say, ‘Okay, now that you’re down two scores, what are you going to do about it?’
“That really affects the way you have to play, because you can’t dink and dunk and take what the defense gives you if you need to make up three scores in 15 minutes.”
In Cleveland, the Shock will face a team that features a 10-year AFL veteran and two-time ArenaBowl champion quarterback in John Dutton, who threw for 5,104 yards and 100 touchdowns in 2010.
“He’s been around, and he knows what he’s doing,” Keefe said of Dutton, “so it’s crucial for our defense to put some pressure on him and keep him extremely uncomfortable.”
The Gladiators split a pair of games against the Shock in Spokane last season, winning the first 72-68 and losing the second 55-50.
Spokane was able to clinch the Western Division championship by virtue of its victory in the rematch.
That might, in the eyes of some, provide some additional incentive for Cleveland, which had a first-week bye. But Rowley was quick to downplay such an idea.
“I don’t know what they’re motivations are,” he said of the Gladiators. “But I do know what ours are, and they have nothing to do with last year.
“They have everything to do with improving our record to 1-1, getting our first win of the season and getting on track to win the division, win the conference and, hopefully, set ourselves up for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.”
The Spokane Shock have been there before, as well.