August 12, 2022
By Adam Ruffner
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The Salt Lake Shred began their year with a high-octane 24-22 win in Week 1 over the two-time reigning divisional champion San Diego Growlers. Since then the Shred have not slowed down, winning 10 regular season games—including both matchups with San Diego—in their inaugural regular season, and ranking second in scoring with one of the youngest rosters in the league. But the Growlers have represented the West in back-to-back seasons at Championship Weekend, and their core of all-star veterans is ready for another deep playoff push.
Jordan Kerr has been a supernova of offensive production for Salt Lake in his first season with the Shred. He leads the league in assists (78) and is second in total scores (107), while racking up 461 total yards per game. Kerr has punished the Growlers this season, repeatedly exposing the SD defense with back corner throws to the tune of 14 assists combined in their two matchups. Joe Merrill is undoubtedly Kerr’s favorite target and will consistently be on the receiving end of his throws on Saturday night.
But Salt Lake is most potent when Kerr and the Shred offense can spread their attack and open up their deep game, with Sean Connole and his big throws bombarding defenses with hucks over the top. Jacob Miller, Luke Yorgason, and Jensen Wells have all contributed, but the team has struggled to find a consistent third playmaking option to complement Kerr and Merrill since rookie Will Selfridge went down with an injury early in the season.
And even absent some defensive starters, the San Diego defense forced Salt Lake into a season-high 24 turnovers in their last meeting. Jordan Queckboerner has been the most disruptive player on the SD D-line in his second season, accumulating 15 blocks in 10 games, including two against the Shred on June 24. The Growlers have the worst defensive conversion rate of any team in the playoffs, but Salt Lake will give them ample opportunities; the Shred are committing nearly 22 turnovers per game in their last six games.
Defensively the Shred have been the most explosive unit in the league this season. They lead the league in takeaways (12.5 blocks per game), and are third in break scores per game (8.8). Joel Clutton and Ben Green are two of the premier block getters and single coverage defenders in the league, and they lead a deep and athletic Salt Lake coverage unit that feeds off of the big play; rookie Chad Yorgason has been the most potent counter-attacking scorer in the league in 2022, and is second on the team in assists while spending 91 percent of his playing time on defense.
Salt Lake will be tasked with figuring out a way to slow down one of the most efficient and experienced offenses in the league, led by AUDL veteran stars Travis Dunn, Sean McDougall, Paul Lally, and all-time assists leader Goose Helton. Dunn is continuing a four-season stretch of MVP-level play as an offensive striker, and is averaging 6.3 assists per game over his last six starts. McDougall has complemented Dunn perfectly downfield as a receiving partner in his first season with the Growlers, and has found his rhythm over the last month of play, averaging 4.4 goals and 260 receiving yards per game in his last five. Helton is enjoying his most efficient offensive season ever at the age of 38, with 41 scores and 3,207 total yards in just eight games in 2022.
But it might be Lally who has been this team’s MVP through the first 12 games. Lally is seventh in total yards (6,182), and second in both completions (619) and hockey assists (43) while totaling 34 assists and 17 goals. The second-year Growler has anchored an O-line that while not always efficient, is championship-level tough and determined; San Diego ranks ninth in offensive efficiency, but are fourth in opponent defensive efficiency (read: Growlers are the fourth hardest team to score a break against this season).
Salt Lake swept the season series, but may have already played their best games of the season; the Growlers are as hard as any team in the AUDL to beat three times in a row. The Shred are near impossible to beat at home when they start fast and get their loud crowd behind them, as their fans and players alike feed on the energy. But San Diego has the postseason experience to handle a tough road environment, and could show why they’ve been here before.
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