We've now reached Week 5 of the 2022 USFL season, and the top-tier teams are starting to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. This week's slate will begin with two teams in major need of a victory, as the Michigan Panthers do battle with the Tampa Bay Bandits. The Panthers (1-3) lost 26-25 last Friday to Philadelphia as Michael Carrizosa's potential game-winning 21-yard field goal attempt with three seconds left bounced off the left upright.
Related: Week 5 Picks for Every USFL Game
On Saturday night, The Bandits (2-2) couldn't protect a three-point halftime lead against undefeated Birmingham. The Stallions outscored Tampa Bay 9-0 in the second half to keep their perfect record intact with a 16-10 victory. Both the Bandits and Panthers enter Week 5 in third place in their respective divisions but still very much alive for a playoff berth.
Michigan (1-3) at Tampa Bay (2-2)
Kickoff: Friday, May 13 at 8 p.m ET
Where: Protective Stadium (Birmingham, Ala.)
TV: USA Network
Spread: Bandits -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Contrast in styles on offense
Michigan has leaned on its running game all season long and with good reason. The Panthers lead the USFL in rushing at 190 yards per game on the ground. That production helps them rank fourth in total offense (289.0 ypg), but also means they are dead last in passing yards per game (99.3 ypg).
Running back Reggie Corbin is third in the league in rushing yards with 308 and leads the way at 7.5 yards per carry. He's also the reigning Offensive Player of the Week after gashing Philadelphia for 152 on just 12 carries (12.7 ypc) last week. Included in Corbin's impressive performance was an 88-yard touchdown run, the longest run of the season by any player.
Michigan has been so run-heavy because quarterback Shea Patterson has struggled in the early going. The first quarterback taken in the position-specific draft back in February, Patterson is completing 54.5 percent of his passes for 431 yards, which places him seventh in the league. He also has three interceptions compared to just two touchdown passes. Unless Patterson takes a big step forward, look for the Panthers to continue to stay grounded on Friday night.
Tampa Bay has been more productive throwing the ball compared to Michigan, but that's not saying much and on the flip side, the Bandits have struggled to run the ball. Quarterback Jordan Ta'amu is second in the league in passing yards (627) and completions (62), but he also has more picks (four) than touchdowns (three) through the air. One of the issues for Ta'amu has been protection or holding onto the ball too long as he's been sacked eight times, placing him second in the league.
Despite Ta'amu's statistical production, Tampa Bay is last in total offense because the running game is averaging 95.3 yards per game. BJ Emmons leads the team with 134 yards but he's averaging a meager 2.5 yards per carry. As a team, the Bandits are averaging 3.3 yards per rushing attempt. Head coach Todd Haley and offensive coordinator Bob Saunders may need to get creative on Friday night, especially considering this matchup.
2. Defensive differences
Michigan may have struggled on offense but the Panthers have gotten it done on defense, and then some. Jeff Fisher's D is No. 1 in the USFL in scoring (13.2 ppg) and passing defense (131.0 ypg), second in total (237.8 ypg) defense and third against the run (107.2 ypg). This unit has done all of this despite not producing a bunch of takeaways (six, tied for third) and with a pass rush that has generated the fewest sacks (three) thus far. So Michigan's defense has done an excellent job in making opponents fight for every yard.
Tampa Bay has been much more generous when it comes to yards allowed (297.0 ypg, sixth) but has somewhat managed to limit the damage done on the scoreboard, holding teams to 19.3 points per game. The Bandits really need to come up with more takeaways as they have just one on the year but they are in the middle of the pack in sacks (seven). Point prevention is key but Tampa Bay needs to make more plays behind the line of scrimmage or create a turnover, especially if they can't find a way to slow down the Panthers on the ground.
3. What it will take to win
Entering Week 5, the formula for success for both teams seems somewhat clear-cut. Michigan wants to pound Tampa Bay's defense with its rushing attack to control the clock while continuing to play strong defense. The Bandits need to come up with more explosive plays when they have the ball, not turn it over and try and force the Panthers to have to throw the ball.
Unless the Bandits can tighten up that defense to limit Michigan's ground game or create a couple of turnovers, the Panthers will win the battle in the trenches and pull out a close win.
Prediction: Panthers 17, Bandits 14
— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.