The USFL’s return has been a solid success so far, and is the first spring football league besides TSL to play a full season in a long time. Chief among their many success stories was the Birmingham Stallions’ ride atop the South Division, that included an 8-game winning streak as the team went 9-1 into the playoffs.
While there’s still a lot of good football left in the 2022 season and we’re all excited for the playoffs, it’s a great time to look back at how Birmingham got here. Watching this team play football has been a great time, and if there’s one word to sum up their success, its adaptability.
We’ve seen this team win shootouts, defensive matches, ground and pound victories and everything in between. There hasn’t been one predictable formula to their success on the field, making it all the more difficult for opposing teams to plan for them in off the field.
As I’ve pointed out time and again throughout the year, they have locked it down in all three phases of the game, and besides one off week vs Houston, it’s been a sure recipe for victory.
As with many USFL teams in the 2022 season, it’s been a tale of two quarterbacks in B-Ham. They started the season with their first round QB: Alex McGough at starter. After an ankle injury early in Game 1, J’Mar was called up, and led the team to three straight victories. Week 4, when an illness came in and put 12 Stallions on the injury report, J’Mar was among these and McGough came back to lead the team to a grind-it-out 16-10 win over Tampa Bay. J’Mar was back for 4 more wins before the team fell to Houston, and the two split time in the season closer vs Tampa Bay.
Of the two, J’Mar put up more consistent performances as a passer overall, but McGough’s scrappiness and rushing ability came up clutch for this team when he was called on. They were a great 1-2 at QB this season, and the camaraderie was pretty clear.
Now that’s just wholesome.
These two have had a deep and talented cast of targets to air it out to, and while we didn’t see one receiver dominate in targets or stats, the trio of Marlon Williams, Victor Bolden Jr. and Osirus Mitchell was intimidating to say the least. Williams is a tough Deebo-esque who just always seems to find gaps in coverage, Bolden Jr. has been a great big-play threat and Osirus Mitchell’s just big, always able to get up and over these little defensive backs.
Cary Angeline had a great run to start the season at TE, though he’s been inactive through June. Sage Surratt has stepped up since then, and they’ve had steady play from the tight end position all year.
The rushing attack has been steady as well, and CJ Marable/Bo Scarbrough/Tony Brooks-James is a heck of a platoon. That’s lead back/power/speed respectively, though they all have enough of each. Marable led this stable in rushing and receiving, but Scarbrough and Brooks-James have each played a valuable spell role.
This line has done an admirable job up front for this offense, and Guard Cameron Hunt was named All-USFL for his performance here. However, this team does rank 2nd leaguewide in sacks with 25 in 10 games, and honing in pass protection in the playoffs will be key.
This unit as a whole has performed incredibly throughout the season. John Chavis has done an excellent job of fielding an effective unit through injuries, short rosters, and a short leadup time to integrate his system. As a group, they allowed the least yards/game in the USFL at 26.8, and the second least points/game at 16.1, they were also first in sacks (27.0).
The stars of course, are Demarquis Gates, Scooby Wright III and Jojo Tillery. Gates lead the team in tackles (62), tackles for loss (11) and sacks (6.5) on his way to an All-USFL nod. His speed off the edge has come up big for this team, and Gates has undisputedly been the cornerstone of this D. Jojo Tillery made a huge impact at safety, both in the run and pass games, and Scooby Wright has been an absolute brawler at the point of contact, blowing up plays left and right.
The strength of this defense however, was the fact that Shark-Dogs run in packs. When Scooby was down with a calf injury, the guys around him stepped up. Terrill Hanks and Brody Buck played well in relief, and everyone else were able to fill the gaps. This defensive line had great production all around the board. Willie Yarbary (3.5), Jonathan Newsome (3.5), Keyshon Camp (2.0), Dondrea Tillman (1.5), Chauncey Haney (1.5), Jordan Thompson (1.5), Willie Henry (1.0), and Doug Costin (0.5) all notched sacks.
After the USFL draft, I was excited about the depth and experience of this secondary, and they’ve gelled together perfectly. The trio of Brian Allen, Tae Hayes and Josh Shaw has been effective all year, holding opponents to the 4th least pass yards despite the fact that they were often airing it out, playing from behind. Opposite Jojo Tillery, Christian McFarland and Tyree Robinson were solid, as the depth and flexibility of this defense continues to be a strong point.
Victor Bolden made All-USFL as both returner and receiver, and was an impact performer in both the kick and punt return games. He averaged 24.7 yards/KR and had a long of 41, and averaged 8.5 yards/PR with a long of 28. His speed was on full display this season, and he was the most consistent returner in the league.
Brandon Aubrey had a white-hot start to the season, and proved himself a natural football player in his first year on the gridiron. He had some big hits out there in returns, and led the league in points with 76. He went 18-of-22 on field goals with a long of 49, and was 22-of-24 on extra points. His 82% FG percentage was good for second in the league, behind just Michigan’s Cole Murphy, who attempted 10 less field goals on the year. Aubrey was also named to the All-USFL team.
Colby Wadman averaged a glowing 45.1 yards/punt, while taking second in the league for punts downed inside the 20 yard line (17). The former Denver Bronco was a big part of establishing the team in the field position battle, and proved himself a steady veteran presence on special teams here.
As it stands, the Stallions and Generals (both 9-1) are favored to make it to the championship, but Birmingham cannot look past the New Orleans Breakers this week. They’ll need to get their offense firing on all cylinders to outgun Kyle Sloter & co, and this is shaping up to be one of the most electric games of the season.
After that? Let’s hope these guys can cap off their incredible run with a championship trophy in 2022. The Stallions will take on the Breakers this Saturday at 8:00 PM Eastern on NBC.
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