The second XLeague semifinal features two teams that have been ranked #1 at some point this season. Panasonic dropped to the #3 slot in the power rankings after the quarterfinals based solely on the fact that they didn’t completely blow Lions (a Battle 9 side) away. When it’s a bad day at the office though and you are still unbeaten it says a lot.
2017 November 26 (Sun): Kincho Stadium (13:10)
We had the Osaka based team number one in preseason and still wouldn’t bet against them going all the way. In fact given the way they’ve played this year so far, and the teams they’ve defeated, anything less than a national championship will be a huge disappointment to their players.
IBM conversely have had an up and down season but are coming back into the form that saw them get a first ever win over Obic Seagulls in week one. This matchup might be much closer than many fans expect.
That said though Impulse do have an edge in both history and the current state of the squads. Big Blue have only ever reached the X Bowl once, going down heavily in the 2014 championship game to Fujitsu.
Impulse conversely have appeared in the big game 14 times – by far the most of any side.
Panasonic also have a loaded roster with players at almost all positions among the best in the XLeague. Their imposing defensive line, which already had Carlton Jones and David Motu, was beefed up with the arrival of Aaron Anher and Shoichi Kelly Igwe. Both men have experience playing college football in the states. Not that Big Blue are slouches themselves when it comes to heft up front. 178cm / 107kg Yuki Fukuoka, a large man in most situations, looks like a child when lined up alongside James Brooks and Charles Tuaau. The giant bookends, when they get going, can be a nightmare for offensive lines. Their battle with the powerful Impulse front is going to be one of the key factors in the game.
Panasonic have been able to impose their will in the run game all season and if IBM hope to make it to Tokyo Dome next month they are going to have to make stopping that a priority. The biggest difficulty there is containing QB Benjamin Anderson. The elusive signal caller is a Randall Cunningham clone who is just as likely to hurt you with his feet as his arm. Big Blue had difficulty containing a similarly mobile QB in week three when they faced Devin Gardner of Nojima Sagamihara Rise. Gardner racked up 100 yards that day on 11 carries in a wild high scoring victory. IBM can’t just focus on Anderson, but if they continuously let him get outside the pocket it could be a long day.
On the other side of the ball it’s not going to be much easier for the Chiba based side as Panasonic have one of the best defenses in the league. IBM though have shown can score against anyone. They proved that last time out by hanging 51 points on Lixil and opened the season with 38, 52 and 42 points in their first three games. Production dipped in the second half of the season but that was more to do with injury than anything else.
If the game becomes a shootout Big Blue might have the edge. We know they can rack up the points, but can Impulse go toe to toe with a top team if the score starts edging above 30~35 points? Your gut says yes but only scoring 20 against the Lions has opened a crack of doubt.
A finally fully healthy IBM offense is going to challenge the Panasonic D in a way no team has yet so far this year. Big Blue runs a load of different short and intermediate plays with their halfbacks heavily involved in the passing game. Nojima found some success with runs up the center against Impulse and IBM have several players that carry the ball well. The screen game too and bunch formations with quick passes to the flat will test the ability and endurance of that big Panasonic front.
Indeed with the two teams featuring such size on the respective D-Lines, both offenses will hope to string together long exhausting drives and then exploit the inevitable tiredness.
On special teams Impulse have been more consistent when it comes to kicking but they haven’t had to deal with the height and elevation of Brooks and how well they do there could decide a close game.
While it’s possible to see an IBM win and it’s tempting to pick that way, Panasonic since the spring just have had the feel of a side that’s going to go all the way.
However it shakes out the game is certain to be a physical one. In that sense it’s appropriate both teams play in black and blue.