The Blue Raiders will not have to wait long to find out how far they have progressed during preseason camp when they travel to Maryville High School Saturday for an appearance in the Blount County Bowl. Cleveland, under the direction of quarterback Chad Voytik will have its hands full challenging the seven-time running state champion Alcoa Tornadoes.
It is a challenge head coach E.K. Slaughter said the Raiders are looking forward to, especially in anticipation of a large crowd in a small stadium.
“We’re excited about it. It’s going to be a great venue and there will be a ton of people. It will be fun to get out there and crack it up like that,” Slaughter said.
“I think it will be great — and I think it will be good for our season. We’re going to play in front of some big crowds. I know Week 9 when we play here there will be a huge crowd and there will be a couple other crowds that will be close to that. I think will be a great way for us to get that under out belt and learn to start dealing with pressure and tough environments. It will just make us better.”
Slaughter expects Voytik to be back and in top form after a disappointing jamboree that saw the University of Pittsburgh commitment throw a pair of interceptions.
“We didn’t even watch the film. We knew what the deal was when it happened,” Slaughter emphasized. Sunday, when he came in for quarterback workouts we just put (our game plan for) Alcoa right in and moved on. He’s fine.”
Voytik and Slaughter both know what they are up against. Even if the Raiders perform flawlessly on offense, defensively they will have to play just as well or better to snuff the Tornadoes.
“They are probably the best rushing team in the state. They are really, really, really physical up front and they have three out of five linemen back. They are just massive up front and they have athletes behind them. They’ve got a little extra dimension they haven’t really utilized in the past. It’s just a different look, not that their other teams didn’t have it, but their quarterback is a dual threat guy. So, I think they may incorporate a little bit more option game into what they do,” said the Cleveland coach.
“I believe we are (ready to go). We’ve got a couple more days of work we have to get in this week and then we will go get after it on Saturday.”
Slaughter said he and his staff have not changed anything fundamentally for the game as far as adding any new looks on offense or defense. Both teams run the same basic defensive sets and the Raiders simply need to recognize which one Alcoa throws at them.
“It’s really important when you play good teams to just focus on what you do and not try to get carried away with trying to trick them and do all kinds of crazy stuff. We’ve been focusing on ourselves, focusing on fixing things we have not been doing well in certain positions and fundamentally working on some technique. We will have a couple of small wrinkles in there, but not much at all. A lot of it is just formation recognition defensively, understanding our jobs and offensively working a couple of fundamentals out,” he said.
“Defensively, they’ve changed from a 4-3 to a 3-4, which has been good for us because that is what we see in practice, because we also run a 3-4. I expect them to run the ball and try to establish a physical game early. We’ve got to answer the call. Defensively, I think they will mix some things up, try to disguise some coverages for Chad and try to pressure him from time to time. But, I feel good about him being able to pick all that stuff up.”
Still, the Blue Raiders know they are up against a team that never seems to have to rebuild, only reload. And when the Tornadoes reload, they have the knack for reloading with bigger, stronger and more versatile ammunition.
“You know, Alcoa is not a team that just has a couple of good players here and there. Their whole team is really good. They all concern me,” admitted Slaughter. “They have a 260-pound tight end, they have an offensive line that is huge; they have a quarterback that can run, they’ve got tailbacks that can run the ball and they have a 6-foot-4 receiver that can catch it. They’ve got guys everywhere. It’s not like there is just one guy we can focus on.
“Our biggest focus is going to be stopping the run. We’re going to sell out as much as we can to attempt to do that.”
The coach went on to say stopping the Alcoa train is a next to impossible task in itself, but if it can be slowed down to a reasonable speed, the Blue Raiders have a realistic chance of riding to an upset in Week Zero.
“I think we have to slow them down offensively. We’re not going to be able to shut down the run, but we’ve got to slow it down. We need to get ahead early. We need to have some good stuff happen offensively early. We don’t want to play from behind. If we can slow them down in the rushing attack and get them behind the chains from time-to-time, it frees us up to do some things with our defense and be aggressive with some blitzes, movements and stuff like that,” he said.
“We’ve got to get them behind the chains and get off to a good start offensively. Obviously, we’ve got to protect the football and not turn it over. One turnover against a team like this could break you for sure. We’ve got to take care of the football.”