The Michigan Panthers and the New Jersey Generals will be looking for their first win of the USFL season after suffering a pair of tough losses last week. With a 10-week season, it's important for both teams to avoid the dreaded 0-2 start that could potentially all-but-eliminate them from the playoffs off the bat.
Related: What You Need to Know About the USFL
On Sunday afternoon, Michigan dropped a 17-12 defensive slugfest to the Houston Gamblers. Michigan moved the ball up and down the field for 364 total yards, led by Shea Patterson's 17-of-25 outing for 192 yards and a touchdown, but three turnovers proved to be costly. That performance should give head coach Jeff Fisher some hope about the potential of the passing game for the rest of the season. However, as this team moved forward, they had to clean up the ball security because the Panthers fumbled the football nine times, losing three of them, which was unacceptable, even considering how rough a day it was weather-wise.
The Generals will be better rested after playing on Saturday night, as New Jersey rode a strong rushing attack to put itself in a position to win. But despite running the ball 44 times for 222 yards, led by quarterback De'Andre Johnson's 98 on 12 carries, it wasn’t enough in a 28-24 loss to Birmingham. Luis Perez completed Johnson nicely in the passing game as he completed 13-of-18 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns. Randy Satterfield scored the first touchdown of the USFL on a 49-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter. The kicking game had issues as Nick Rose missed a pair of field goals, which was huge in a one-score loss since those six points would have been enough to secure victory.
Michigan (0-1) at New Jersey (0-1)
Kickoff: Friday, Apr. 22 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Protective Stadium (Birmingham, Ala.)
Spread: Generals -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Michigan running game
The quickest way to get the Panthers back on track will be to emphasize running the football. It’s arguably the simplest way to give your offensive line the confidence it needs to be successful. Stevie Scott III led Michigan with 72 rushing yards on 18 carries and one touchdown. Cameron Scarlett added 66 rushing yards while averaging 4.4 yards per carry. The offensive line is going to play a key role in establishing the run, and they should take a step forward after having another week of practice under their belts. Penalties will be another thing to keep an eye on because the Panthers can't afford to get into long-yardage situations and be forced to throw the football.
2. New Jersey offensive balance
Running the football effectively is job No. 1 for the Generals' offense this week as well. The offensive line should not lack confidence in running the ball after doing a nice job of opening holes against the Birmingham defense. The quarterback situation needs to settle in as Perez did the best job throwing the football, and if New Jersey wants to make the playoffs, it needs to be more balanced on offense. Johnson is a great weapon on designed quarterback runs, but his accuracy needs to improve. Johnson completed three of eight passes for 59 yards, for a 37.5 percent completion percentage, which won't cut it over the duration of the season. In contrast, Perez completed 72.3 percent of his passes last week, which put him in the drivers' seat to pull away and win the job as the season rolls on.
3. Michigan defense
You can expect to see plenty of eight-man boxes in the early stages of this contest. The Panthers must do what they can to force New Jersey to beat them by throwing the football and not relying on their ground attack. Last week, the defense performed admirably in the red zone, allowing only one touchdown in three red zone attempts. Overall, the defense kept Houston in check as they limited the Gamblers to just 174 total yards. Frank Ginda and Terry Myrick combined for 18 tackles last week and will need to produce more of the same to give the Panthers a shot to win.
One of the most encouraging things about the first week of the USFL was how competitive the games were, for the most part. If Michigan gets off to a better offensive start, it will set these two teams up with an opportunity to keep this game interesting into the second half. New Jersey should have more success than Houston did in moving the ball against the Panthers' defense, which will be a fun storyline to watch because Perez is the best quarterback on the field. In the end, the Generals will rally this time around and win this game late to get back to.500 on the season.
Prediction: Generals 20, Panthers 16
– Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Contributor Network.