Defense wins championships. While that statement has been infinitely tested over the last two decades, few games would be a better indication of the truth or falsity of that time-worn maxim than Saturday evening’s contest between the Memphis Express and the Arizona Hotshots.
Arizona opened the season showcasing one the league’s most interesting offenses, routinely running a one back set in shotgun formation. In a league dominated by coaches who’s most recent work has been at an NFL level, Rick Neuheisel is one of the few coaches who has most recently been in a college program. And in recent years most or all offensive innovation has taken place at the college level.
In the season opener against Salt Lake, Hotshot quarterback John Wolford showed an ability to move and throw accurately, and run when necessary. He got the ball out quickly and was accurate on slant plays which are almost impossible for the defense to cover. In addition, Wolford showed an ability to throw the accurate, deep ball. These types of plays should stretch out an Express defense that was allowed to concentrate on Trent Richardson for much of the game last week against Birmingham.
While Hotshot back Jhurrel Pressley did not reach the 100-yard mark in his opener, he and fellow running back Justin Stockton showed a lot of moxie which will serve any up and comer in this league well. Six Hotshot players had multiple catches and were led by Brian Brown, Gavin Escobar, and Dontez Ford, all of whom had more than 50 total yards receiving.
The Memphis Express defense was the shining unit in the first week, doing a great job of stiffening in the red zone and singlehandedly keeping the Express in the ballgame. The only possibilities of Express points were set up by the defense. In the end, it was a result football fans had seen before: A very good and honorable defense heroically did it all, without much help, never bending until weariness set in.
DeMarquis Gates is one of those guys you want on defense. He is capable of running down a ball carrier or passer from anywhere on the field. He can be on the line or back in coverage. He is a force. Anthony Johnson, Channing Stribling, and Arnold Tarpley III have all shown the ability to keep their team in the game.
Christian Hackenberg will start again in week two at QB for the Express. The Express defense will have to play lights out. And the Express will need to dent the score board for the first time this season against a team that is likely to dent it often. We may not learn the truth behind whether or not defenses win championships from this game. But it will give us a huge indication.