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Shock need to pick up ground in West

Shock coach Andy Olson is plotting a way to improve in the West. (Jesse Tinsley)
Shock coach Andy Olson is plotting a way to improve in the West. (Jesse Tinsley)

Spokane is doing its part to get back into the West Division race by winning two straight games, but division rivals aren’t cooperating.

The Shock resides in last place at 3-3. Arizona, San Jose and Utah are 5-2 and ranked in the top five. While Arizona and San Jose have outscored opponents by more than 100 points, Utah is just plus-12 in scoring margin and has pulled out wins by one, one, three and eight points.

Welcome to life in the Arena Football League’s toughest division.

“It’s the toughest by far, I don’t think anyone can deny that,” Shock coach Andy Olson said. “We started out slower than we had hoped, but there’s still plenty of time left to get back to the top of the division.”

To do so, Spokane will have to start winning divisional games with its next opportunity Friday against Utah at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City. Spokane is 0-2 vs. the West, but it has been strong on the road with a 2-1 mark.

Utah ranks fourth in the AFL in scoring offense (61.9 ppg) and first in passing offense (309.7 yards). Quarterback Tommy Grady has tossed a league-leading 51 touchdown passes, but he’s also tied for first with 10 interceptions. Aaron Lesue ranks among AFL leaders in receptions, yards and touchdowns.

Offensive coordinator Matt Sauk was an assistant with the Shock in 2008 and 2010, working with Olson (a wide receiver) and current quarterback Kyle Rowley. Sauk was a finalist for the Shock coaching job that went to Olson last August.

“They’ve won a lot of close games, which means they’re doing the right things in clutch situations,” Olson said. “Sauk is very good at clock management. I think there will be a lot of points on the board and whoever has the ball last is probably going to win.”

Utah yields 60.1 points per game, 15th out of 17 AFL teams. Former Shock players Caesar Rayford (DL), Al Phillips (DB) and Antwan Marsh (LB) are expected to start. Former Spokane defensive back Will Mulder is on injured reserve.

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