Spokane has had a lot of time to ponder what went wrong in Arizona and how to make corrections heading into another rivalry game.
The Shock (1-1) had a bye last week after enduring their fifth straight loss in Phoenix, the latest a 68-49 decision March 23. Spokane struggled when faced with adversity – linebacker Terence Moore was ejected in the first quarter, receiver Adron Tennell left with a high-ankle sprain and defensive back Paul Stephens exited with an undisclosed injury. Arizona scored 27 unanswered points to take control.
The time off was good for healing purposes. Tennell is optimistic he’ll play in Friday’s road game against Pacific Division-leading San Jose (2-1). Head coach Andy Olson said he’ll know more on the status of Tennell and Stephens later in the week.
Olson stressed prior to the season that Spokane needed to play disciplined football and cut down on penalties and turnovers. All three were glaringly absent against two-time AFL-champion Arizona.
Spokane lost the turnover battle 3-1 and committed nine penalties to Arizona’s six.
“In the heat of the moment, that is when we made mistakes, when our stars made mistakes,” Olson said. “Our star players have to be better in the right moments. Down in Arizona we always seem to have a cloud over us and we can’t really seem to break it.”
Quarterback Erik Meyer was intercepted twice. Brandon Thompkins had a costly fumble late in the first half when Spokane was trying to build on a two-point lead. The defense came up with one interception but Rattlers quarterback Nick Davila was 22 of 27 and tossed eight touchdowns.
“We have to find a better way to come through that adversity,” Meyer said. “We have to make sure we’re having fun and competing, and when things go bad, which they will in every game, there’s a situation where we have to step up and we have to find those guys, including myself.”
Moore’s ejection forced Diyral Briggs to move from defensive line to jack linebacker. Moore said he reacted emotionally when a Rattlers’ player spit on him.
“I’ve been in situations like that before and I just have to control myself better,” Moore said. “I don’t know if it was the heat of the moment or the rivalry of playing Arizona that got the better of me, but I have to conduct myself like a pro, respond in the right way and not put my team in a bad predicament.”
Olson addressed the topic during meetings this week.
“It’s disrespectful for someone to spit on you but it’s always the second person that gets kicked out,” Olson said. “We can’t allow someone else to dictate how we act.”
Olson said there isn’t a talent gap between Spokane and Arizona. He called Spokane’s mistakes “correctable”, adding that the Shock will have to play clean football to win in Phoenix. Spokane is 4-1 against Arizona at home.
“Discipline is what it comes down to,” he said.
Spokane made noticeable improvement in one area. The offensive line performed much better than Week 1 against Iowa, when the unit allowed two sacks and Meyer was scrambling on several occasions just to throw the ball away.
“The line played much better,” Olson said. “Erik had time to throw the ball. The receivers weren’t getting as open as they should have and Erik didn’t play his best game. We put it on those star players. They have to be better in the clutch.”
Arizona sacked Meyer once. He finished 27 of 44 for 352 yards.