Finishing Drives Key to Force Success

In the Force in Focus, Robert Pannier discusses the struggles of the offense in the red zone, and how this is hurting the team’s success early on this season. Plus, he previews Saturday night’s game against the Salina Liberty.

Wichita Force Need to Improve in Red Zone

Last Saturday’s loss to the Omaha Beef was a disappointing one on many levels. Not only did they turn the ball over four times, but were unable to finish off drives, costing them this game.

Twice the Wichita Force found themselves in scoring position early in the game. On their second drive of the contest, Wichita was second and goal at the one but came away empty-handed. They then got great field position deep in Omaha territory after a blocked kick gave them the ball at the Beef nine. However, an interception ended that drive, as it was the Beef who go on top when the interception was returned for a touchdown. What should have been a 14-0 lead was instead a 7-0 deficit.

This clearly had to have been the focus for the coaching staff this week. Head Coaches Rick Lee and Jerry Taylor were focused on finishing drives. Taking advantage of the opportunities they have so they can allow their defense to control the tempo.

A True Competitor

Despite being 1-3 this season, one thing that must be admitted is that the Wichita Force have not been manhandled. Even with the 51 point loss at Duke City to start the year, this team has played well, often gaining more yards than their opponent.

That was the case last week, where the Force outgained the Beef 211 to 178. The defense even held Omaha QB AJ Nocciolo to 9 of 19 passing for 107 yards, but turnovers and red zone execution were the difference.

That has been the story for the team this year. Through the first four games of the season, the team has had 25 red zone opportunities, but has scored just 12 times, and only seven times have they scored a touchdown. Their 28% TD success rate inside the red zone is seventh in the league, and that is where things will need to change.

Early on Lee and Taylor were more accepting of getting the points, opting for field goals, but have been more aggressive over the last two weeks. That is a great philosophy in a league where three points is a victory for the opposing defense but, to make that decision worthwhile, the offense has to deliver.

Quarterback Joe Hubener has to be more careful with the ball, and the offensive line has to dominate the line of scrimmage. On that drive that had Wichita second and goal at the one, Mikhail Lindsay was held to no gain on the second down play, then dropped for a two yard loss on third down. That set up a fourth down where Hubener’s pass fell incomplete and the team had nothing to show for an 8 play, 35 yard drive. The line has to make some holes for Lindsay in those situations.

Give Me Liberty!

The Wichita Force close out their three game road trip on Saturday when they travel up I-135 to take on the Salina Liberty (1-2). Salina has proven to be a very formidable offense this season, second in the league at 60.7 ppg. They have been in every game this season, falling to Amarillo in Week 2, 63-57, then rolling over Sioux City, 65-45, before falling to the Texas Revolution last week, 67-60.

The Liberty are led by quarterback Andrew Jackson (ironically enough), who has thrown for 16 touchdown passes with just 3 interceptions this season. Jackson is second in the league in passing yards per game (219.7), third in touchdown passes, and third in yards per attempt (6.5).

This has not been a one-man show by any stretch of the imagination. Salina has the No. 2 rusher in the league in Tracy Brooks, averaging 83.7 yards per game. Brooks has 7 TDs and is averaging an impressive 5.2 yards per carry.

This is a very deep offense that can hurt opponents in many ways. It is going to be a real challenge for this defense to try to at least slow down the Liberty to give their team a chance in this contest.

The real challenge, however, is going to be for the offense. They cannot score 40 points and expect to win this game. They are going to have to put up points, which means that Hubener is going to have to have his best game of the season, and the offense is going to have to finish drives. Field goals are not going to win this game. When they are in the red zone, and they will have their opportunities, they are going to have to score. Salina is allowing 58.3 ppg. Wichita will likely need 60 to win.

Force Facts:

The Wichita Force have scored the least number of rushing touchdowns in the league (4). A big part of the lack of better red zone success…This contest pits the top two teams in the league in terms of time of possession. Salina averages 34:56 per game while Wichita is second at 31:44…Jack Tomlinson is second in the league in average yards receiving per game (74.5). He had his seventh touchdown reception of the season last week, third in the CIF.

Featured Image by Ed Bailey

By Robert Pannier