Week 9 of the USFL season begins with a division title-clinching opportunity for the New Jersey Generals when they take on the Michigan Panthers. New Jersey (7-1) made it seven wins in a row last week by becoming the latest team to have its way with the Pittsburgh Maulers. On the other side, Michigan (1-7) dropped its fifth straight in a blowout loss to the surging Philadelphia Stars.
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Besides extending their winning streak, the Generals can wrap up the North Division with a victory on Saturday or a loss by the Stars (vs. Maulers) on Sunday.
New Jersey (7-1) at Michigan (1-7)
Kickoff: Saturday, June 11 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Protective Stadium (Birmingham, Ala.)
Spread: Generals -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback carousel
In New Jersey's 29-18 win over Pittsburgh last Friday, Luis Perez started and played the whole game with fellow quarterback De'Andre Johnson nursing an ankle injury. Perez did fine flying solo, completing 18 of 24 passes (75 percent) for 220 yards and a touchdown.
If Johnson is able to go, head coach Mike Riley will likely return to his two-QB approach, especially considering Johnson has been the USFL's top rushing threat at QB (273 yds, 4 TDs, 5.0 ypc). Michigan also has used two signal-callers on offense, but the circumstances for the rotation are completely different.
Back in February, the Panthers took former Ole Miss and Michigan starter Shea Patterson with the first pick in the position-specific draft. After six games, the team waived Patterson, whom New Orleans quickly claimed. Michigan also drafted Paxton Lynch, but he's dealt with a leg injury that has caused him to miss several games. Josh Love, claimed off waivers after Pittsburgh cut him in Week 3, has also seen time.
Love nearly led his new team to an upset of the Breakers two weeks ago, but Lynch, finally healthy, got the call last week against Philadelphia. He was productive, throwing for 251 yards (27-of-40) with two touchdowns and a rushing score, but he also tossed a pair of interceptions and lost a fumble as the Stars won in a 46-24 rout. Head coach Jeff Fisher may give Lynch another start on Saturday or could give the nod to Love. Either way, it's highly likely both quarterbacks will get their opportunities to lead the offense.
2. Both teams can run the ball as well
Quarterback conversations aside, both New Jersey and Michigan rely heavily on their running games. The Generals and the Panthers are the top two teams in rushing offense, with New Jersey averaging 165 yards per game and Michigan 152.5.
The Generals' Darius Victor leads the USFL in rushing yards (524) and touchdowns (nine), and Trey Williams (403) checks in at fifth overall. Not to be outdone, the Panthers' Reggie Corbin is third with 514 yards while averaging a healthy six yards per carry. Corbin had a rough outing last week against Philadelphia, which held him to minus-two yards on three carries, but look for him to get plenty of touches on Saturday as Michigan tries to slow down New Jersey's attack.
3. It could be a defensive battle
Both teams rank in the USFL's top half in many of the main categories. The Generals lead the league in total defense (258.1 ypg) and run defense (74.4 ypg), while ranking second in scoring defense (17.0 ppg). As for the Panthers, they're fourth in total defense (285.9 ypg) and third against both the pass (166.5 ypg) and the run (119.4 ypg). The Generals tend to struggle against the pass (183.8 ypg, sixth), while the Panthers have been giving up a lot of points in recent weeks (23.8 ppg, sixth).
Both teams rank in the bottom two in sacks — Michigan with 11 and New Jersey last with only nine. And when it comes to takeaways, the Generals are fifth in the league with nine and the Panthers have registered eight. So this could very much be an old-school type of game where running the ball and playing defense could be the determining factors.
While both teams seem to be evenly matched in some areas on paper, there are obvious reasons why New Jersey and Michigan are mirror images when it comes to their records. The Generals won the first meeting, 10-6 back in Week 2. This time, the Panthers should put up more points but the Generals' talent and coaching will produce the same result.
Prediction: Generals 21, Panthers 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.