May 30, 2010

1983: Long & Spencer Run Blitz to Win Over Wranglers

George Allen was a defensive-minded coach who preferred a conservative, run-based offense. With the Chicago Blitz of the United States Football League, the formula was unchanged from what it had been in the NFL. On May 30, 1983 the ground game lifted the Blitz to a win over the Arizona Wranglers before a sparse crowd of 13,952 at Soldier Field.

The running tandem of Kevin Long, an NFL veteran with five years of experience with the New York Jets, and rookie Tim Spencer (pictured above) keyed an attack that ran up 253 yards on the ground. It was especially welcome in that an inexperienced first-year quarterback, Tim Koegel, was getting his first start in place of 36-year-old veteran Greg Landry, who had suffered a broken ankle the week before.

Arizona, with a 4-8 record coming into the game, scored first when QB Alan Risher connected with WR Neil Balholm for a 21-yard touchdown pass play. The Wranglers went for two points and successfully converted for an 8-0 lead. Frank Corral put Chicago, 8-4 entering the contest, on the board later in the first quarter with a 40-yard field goal.

The Blitz took control in the second quarter, scoring 21 points on two more field goals by Corral, a 36-yard TD pass from Koegel to WR Trumaine Johnson that was followed by a successful two-point conversion, and a 40-yard punt return by WR Lenny Willis.

The Wranglers never got back into the game, with a 36-yard field goal by Phil Denfeld in the third quarter accounting for their remaining points. Chicago added two more field goals by Corral, a one-yard touchdown run by Spencer, and a safety to win the contest handily, 36-11. The margin could have been wider – while the veteran kicker Corral connected on four field goal attempts, he also missed three.

Long was the top rusher for the Blitz, gaining 102 yards on 19 carries. Spencer added another 90 yards on 16 attempts, including the short TD. Reserve RB Mack Boatner accounted for 47 yards on 8 runs. In all, Chicago ran the ball 50 times and averaged 5.1 yards-per-carry. Meanwhile, Koegel completed 12 of 29 passes for 202 yards with an interception and a touchdown. Trumaine Johnson had a typically solid outing, leading the receivers with 4 catches for 117 yards and a score.

The Blitz defense throttled Arizona’s offense. The Wranglers accumulated only 62 net yards of passing offense and gained 46 yards on 21 running plays. Chicago ran up five sacks, with DE Junior Ah You leading the way with two (Koegel wasn’t sacked at all). Arizona had just seven first downs (as opposed to Chicago’s 25) and was forced to punt 9 times. They also suffered 9 fumbles, losing 4 of them (the Blitz turned the ball over three times).

RB Calvin Murray led the Wranglers in rushing with 34 yards on 9 carries. Alan Risher threw 24 passes and completed 15 of them for 104 yards and the lone touchdown while having none picked off. Both Murray and RB Steve Howell caught 6 passes, with Murray’s 36 yards topping the receivers.

The Blitz, preseason favorites to dominate the USFL, failed to live up to expectations, but nevertheless concluded the regular season with a 12-6 record; that put them in second place in the Central Division behind eventual-champion Michigan due to tiebreakers. It was good enough for the lone wild card spot, but they lost to the Philadelphia Stars in the Semifinal round of the playoffs. Arizona fell to the bottom of the Pacific Division, continuing to lose the rest of the way and ending up with a 4-14 tally. Oddly enough, these franchises ended up switching locations for the 1984 season.

Both Tim Spencer and Kevin Long (pictured below) rushed for a thousand yards in ’83, with Spencer, despite nagging injuries, placing fourth in the league with 1157 yards on 300 carries (3.9 average) and six touchdowns and Long ranking sixth with 1022 yards on 262 attempts, also for a 3.9-yard average but with 12 TDs.