06/30/2011 10:42 AM -
This Friday, July 1, 2011, The Jacksonville Sharks (13-1) will take their thirteen game win streak across the country to San Jose (5-9), when they take on one of the most storied franchises in the AFL, the San Jose SaberCats. While the Sharks have remained on fire throughout the season, the SaberCats have cooled off in the midst of a seven game losing streak. The SaberCats have never lost more than 9 games in a season, and they will look to keep that intact when they defend their home field against the number one team in the league.
The SaberCats are coming off of one of the biggest losses in AFL history, after getting blown out by Cleveland 21-82. The Saber Cats are 4-3 at home this season, and the Sharks cross country trip is something the SaberCats will look to take advantage of in San Jose. The SaberCats are rounding out the 2011 season as one of the more damaged teams in the AFL. With San Jose Utility Player Mervin Brookins on IR, the SaberCats have struggled in replacing him. However, San Jose has had much success this season in the rushing game. Fullback Chad Cook ranks second in the league in rushing touchdowns, just under Dallas Derrick Ross. Cook is averaging 16.7 yards per game, and 1.8 touchdowns per game. Veteran Quarterback Mark Grieb, has plenty of experience dealing with difficult situations. Although this has been one of the more difficult seasons for Grieb, he still ranks towards the top in many statistical categories. Grieb ranks fifth in total offense with 4006 total yards. The leading receiver for the SaberCats is Ben Nelson, with 687 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns.
The Jacksonville Sharks have been on a rampage since losing their first game of the season to Arizona. The Sharks rank first in the league in scoring offense and pass efficiency. The Sharks are also ranked first in sacks allowed, giving up just six sacks this season, and they are also tied for first in sack against with 34. Even with a banged up receiving core, the Sharks, led by Quarterback Aaron Garcia, have opened up the door for new stars to emerge in Jacksonville. Garcia is coming off of a game where he threw for 288 yards and 9 touchdowns, but six of those touchdowns were to Receiver/ Kick Returner Jeff Hughley, who has stormed his way onto the AFL scene. Hughley now ranks third kick return yards and fifth in all-purpose yards. The leading receiver for the Sharks is Jomo Wilson, who now has 1357 yards and 34 receiving touchdowns, ranks fifth in the AFL in receiving touchdowns and sixth in the league in scoring with 15.6 points per game.
Although the Sharks are statistically favored to win this match-up, there are still many reasons why the SaberCats should not be counted out of turning this into an instant classic. The Sharks are 0-2 when traveling to Phoenix, AZ or farther west, including the loss at Arizona at the beginning of the 2011 season. The Sharks are bringing a lot of momentum into this game, but a franchise like the SaberCats should never be counted out of a big game.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
-Will Chad Cook be able to bounce back against the leagues fourth best rushing defense after getting shut down in a 5 yard performance against Cleveland? Cook is averaging 16.7 yards per game, and the Jacksonville defense is allowing 17.1 yards per game.
- Will Jeff Hughley be able bring the same intensity across country to San Jose? Hughley is coming off of a 324 all purpose yard performance against Tampa Bay, afterwards he was honored by the league with both the Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Week Award and the Cuttlers Catch of the Week Award. The SaberCats are last in the league in total defense, giving up 319.5 yards per game.
- Will Mark Grieb be able to get back to his winning ways? Grieb is currently at 20 interceptions on the season, 3 away from the all-time record set by Ryan Vena in 2010. He also has only thrown for 69 touchdowns this season. Grieb will look to take advantage of the Sharks passing defense that ranks 16th in the league and is giving up an average of 282.6 yards per game.
- Will the Jacksonville Sharks be able to take advantage of turnovers? The turnover differential between the Sharks (rank 2nd) and the SaberCats (rank 17th) is 35 turnovers, which have likely been the key to both the Sharks success and the SaberCats depression.