The New Jersey Generals and Tampa Bay Bandits will meet on Saturday to kick off Week 7 in the USFL. The Generals (5-1) are coming off a dramatic win over the Houston Gamblers, while the Bandits (3-3) fell to the Philadelphia Stars in another high-scoring contest.
Related: Week 7 Picks for Every USFL Game
New Jersey escaped with a 26-25 win over the Houston Gamblers late in the fourth quarter as Luis Perez punched in a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-goal with two seconds left to give them the victory. If you were to look at the stat sheet, it would make you wonder how in the world was the game even close? The Generals held the football for more than 40 minutes and ran 73 plays to just 38 for the Gamblers. Turnovers (two fumbles) helped keep things interesting but the bottom line is that New Jersey showed great resolve by finding a way to win a game it could have easily lost.
Tampa Bay is looking to get back on track after a 35-28 loss to the Philadelphia Stars last week. The Bandits are still in the mix to make the playoffs as they trail New Orleans by one game in the South Division for the second playoff spot with four to play. Jordan Ta’amu threw for 333 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception while completing 67.5 percent of his passes. The defense kept Philadelphia in check from a total yardage perspective but in the end, gave up one too many touchdowns.
New Jersey (5-1) at Tampa Bay (3-3)
Kickoff: Saturday, May 28 at 12 pm ET
Where: Protective Stadium (Birmingham, Ala.)
TV: USA Network
Spread: Generals -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Generals' offense seize command early?
New Jersey, currently two games up on the Philadelphia Stars for first place in the North Division, the Generals have an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot this week with a win over Tampa Bay or losses by both Michigan and Pittsburgh. But after last week's last-second escape against Houston, head coach Mike Riley would probably prefer his team not allow the Bandits to hang around as long.
Quarterback Luis Perez was the hero last week, scoring on the game-winning sneak and he was in the game after De'Andre Johnson went down with an injury. New Jersey claimed Kyle Lauletta, who started the season with the Pittsburgh Maulers, off of waivers earlier this week. That doesn't necessarily bode well for Johnson's status moving forward, so this could be Perez's offense for the foreseeable future. That could mean a heavy dose of running back Darius Victor, who is fourth in the league in rushing with 365 yards and tops in touchdowns on the ground with five. Riley also will want to get the ball into the hands of KaVontae Turpin, the league's leading receiver with 341 yards on 29 catches. Last week, he caught 10 passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns.
The Generals are leading the USFL in total offense (365.3 ypg) behind the top rushing attack (177.5 ypg) and the second-ranked passing game (187.8 ypg). Riley could lean a little more towards the run on Saturday in an effort to try and wear down the Tampa Bay defense and control the clock.
2. Bandits' offense needs to steal the spotlight
Jordan Ta’amu must have his best game of the year if Tampa Bay is to pull off the upset. Not only because New Jersey boasts the USFL's most productive offense but also because Tampa Bay is averaging less than 100 rushing yards per game. That puts even more pressure on Ta'amu, who is second in both passing yards (1,167) and touchdowns (nine), but he's also thrown five interceptions. Ta'amu will need to make good decisions when he drops back to pass but also not be afraid to use his legs to make things happen. He ran for 61 yards on nine attempts last week and is leading his team in that department (204 yds.) for the season. But it's critical that someone else on the Bandits' offense steps up and makes some plays because it's too much to expect Ta'amu to out-produce a balanced Generals attack by himself.
3. Which defense will step up and break serve?
This game has a little bit of a tennis match feel to it as it will require one of these defensive units to force field goal attempts in the red zone. New Jersey is best equipped to get this done, entering the game tied with New Orleans for the fewest points allowed (99).
The Generals also have the No. 1 defense in terms of yards allowed per game (246.2) while Tampa Bay is giving up 310 per contest. New Jersey's game plan has worked all season while the Bandits will be the team that needs to try and force the issue by coming up with a turnover to flip the field and keep the pressure on Perez (or Lauletta if he gets the call) to try and disrupt New Jersey's offense. Sacks and turnovers aren't really either team's calling card on defense so those factors could be huge in determining how this game plays out.
New Jersey should be able to find a way to control the clock with yet another balanced offensive attack. Tampa Bay may find some success throwing the ball as Ta'amu has put up decent numbers this season, but the Bandits will struggle once again running the ball consistently. The Generals show why they are a first-place team, secure their playoff spot, and get one step closer to locking up the North Division title with a satisfying victory on Saturday.
Prediction: Generals 27, Bandits 20
– Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Contributor Network.