Week 3 of the USFL season will wrap up on Sunday night with a nice contrast of styles as the New Jersey Generals and Philadelphia Stars will meet for the first time this season. Both North Division teams are 1-1, looking to take a step forward and get that critical second win in a row to generate further momentum in the young season.
Related: Week 3 Picks for Every USFL Game
New Jersey outlasted the Michigan Panthers 10-6 last Friday night in a good old-fashioned slugfest. Luis Perez was accurate, completing 13 of his 18 pass attempts, but he managed just 97 yards and had an interception. The running game grinded out 113 yards on 32 carries and did just enough to help the Generals get a win. Chris Orr and Dravon Askew-Henry paced the defense with a combined 19 tackles. New Jersey also put the clamps on the Michigan offense, limiting the Panthers to just two trips inside the 20-yard line.
Philadelphia got back on track with a 30-23 win over the Pittsburgh Maulers last Saturday. Bryan Scott threw for 272 yards and three touchdowns, helping to support his case for the title of best quarterback in the USFL. Maurice Alexander caught eight passes for 87 yards and two touchdowns. The Stars also converted the first three-point conversion in league history. Scott was sacked four times but that's an improvement over the six times he went down in Week 1. The defense gave up 348 yards but hung in and battled and came up with the big play – Channing Stribling’s interception with 38 seconds left – that put the game away.
New Jersey (1-1) at Philadelphia (1-1)
Kickoff: Sunday, May 1 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Protective Stadium (Birmingham, Ala.)
Spread: Stars -1
Three Things to Watch
1. New Jersey's marching orders on offense
The Generals must find a way to shorten the game this week. A good target for New Jersey would be to keep the Philadelphia offense limited to around 10 possessions. Head coach Mike Riley and his staff can work toward this goal by establishing the run early with running back Darius Victor and also mixing in wide receiver KaVonte Turpin on fly sweeps. Victor is averaging better than four yards per carry. Another running threat is quarterback D'Andre Johnson, who is fourth in the USFL with 125 rushing yards. Any production on the ground takes pressure off of the offensive line and will allow Luis Perez and Johnson a chance to find their rhythm when they drop back to throw the ball. The signal-callers need to be willing to take what the defense gives them even if it means longer, sustained drives. The Generals also need to focus on putting the ball into the end zone as field goals probably won’t cut it in this game.
2. Will Stars other than Scott come out on offense?
Bryan Scott is the only quarterback to throw for at least 200 yards in each of the first two games this season. That is a huge plus for Philadelphia's offense, especially given the line's struggles with pass protection and a lack of support from the running game in the early going. Last week, the Stars managed a total of 45 rushing yards on 16 carries against Pittsburgh. Darnell Holland, Paul Terry, and Matt Coburn have each received eight or more carries thus far but they have totaled 95 yards with one touchdown. As a team, Philadelphia is dead last in the league in rushing with 118 yards and it's not even close. Tampa Bay is next with 194 yards. This puts even more pressure on Scott and the passing game to produce, which it has done by and large, but more balance is needed for the Stars to have sustained success.
3. Generals' plan of attack on defense
New Jersey's defense should be battle-tested after facing Birmingham and Michigan due to a contrast in styles. The Generals probably won't be able to completely shut down Philadelphia's attack this week, especially if Scott continues to play well, but that doesn't mean the defense still can't be effective. The keys will be to step up in the red zone, take advantage of the Stars' issues with pass protection, and create a turnover or two. If the Generals can hold serve often enough, even if that means forcing Philadelphia to settle for a field goal, it will buy time for the offense to get its act together. Defensive end Tyshun Render is someone to keep an eye on after posting seven tackles, including two for a loss, in New Jersey's win over Michigan last week.
This should be a back-and-forth affair on Sunday night as both teams will come into this game understanding what is at stake. New Jersey quarterback De'Andre Johnson is an x-factor in this game because if he can get rolling with his legs then Philadelphia's defense could be in trouble. However, the Stars should be able to eventually find an answer for Johnson, and once again the defense steps up with a crucial turnover late to salt the game away.
Prediction: Stars 23, Generals 17
– Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Contributor Network.