The Birmingham Stallions began their title defense on Saturday night and came away victorious to start the 2023 USFL season, defeating the New Jersey Generals, 27-10. The Stallions appeared to be in control from start to finish, commanding a seven-point halftime lead before the defense pitched a second-half shutout to keep the game from getting close.
Let’s take a look at some of the top performers while also taking a look at some key injuries sustained in Saturday’s win.
Quarterback Duo Impresses
Birmingham’s offense was led by both of its uber-talented quarterbacks, J’Mar Smith and Alex McGough. Smith started the game and completed a 61-yard touchdown early give the Stallions the lead and never looked back. He finished 10-for-15 passing for 160 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
However, a lot of the fireworks on the field happened when McGough led the offense. He threw for 68 yards and one touchdown on 11 pass attempts. Additionally, he rushed six times for 51 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown where he ran around and through defenders to score.
Both quarterbacks had impressive outings to start the 2023 season. They complement each other’s game, but what’s most commendable is McGough’s ability to come off the bench and immediately make an impact. His energy is infectious. It not only makes him play better but the entire unit does, as well.
If it’s a preview of what is to come, the Stallions are in store for another great year.
Jace Sternberger shines in USFL debut
You couldn’t have asked for a more impressive debut if you wanted. Jace Sternberger did it all for the Stallions in Week 1, finishing with five receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown.
The 26-year-old receiver made one impressive catch after another, including some key receptions on third down. With the receiver room getting slightly thinner, Sternberger proved to have great chemistry with his quarterbacks and will likely be used in a greater capacity these next few games.
It appears that Sternberger will be the top tight end option in Birmingham for the foreseeable future, as Thaddeus Moss was moved to the inactive roster. This makes Sternberger the only active tight end on the team. Regardless, he is going to present some issues for opposing defenses.
Defense overpowered an overwhelmed Generals offense
While the offense was making highlight-reel plays, the Stallions played a bend-but-don’t-break style of defense that caused plenty of problem for the Generals, as starting quarterback De’Andre Johnson finished 4-for-13 for 29 yards. The Stallions defense finished the game with two sacks and two forced fumbles.
Birmingham was swarming to the ball, causing the Generals to struggle converting on later downs. They went 4-for-13 on third downs while going for it on fourth down five times and only generated a new set of downs once. New Jersey was moving the ball well and totaled a league-best 361 yards in Week 1, but it doesn’t mean much when it doesn’t generate points. The Stallions knew that and thrived down the stretch.
Safety Christian McFarland led the USFL in tackles with 12. Defensive end Dondrea Tillman recorded five tackles and two pass deflections.
Marlon Williams (achilles)
This one stings.
Marlon Williams was set to have a massive year in 2023 but suffered a torn achilles in the first half against the Generals and will miss the rest of the season. Williams had a bright year ahead of him after leading the team in receiving yards last season, but his 2023 campaign was cut short before it really even began. You could feel his pain and see sadness in his eyes when he was talking with FOX’s Brock Huard.
Fortunately for Birmingham, they have six other receivers on the roster: Deon Cain, Davion Davis, Michael Dereus, Myron Mitchell, Austin Watkins, and Adrian Hardy. Davis led the unit in receptions with four for 27 yards. Watkins, meanwhile, had one reception on a deep post that turned into a 61-yard score.
It’s going to be tough to replace a guy like Williams. It’s going to take a collective effort to fill the void, but the Stallions have plenty of depth to work with along with having a standout tight end in Jace Sternberger.
Scooby Wright III (calf)
Scooby Wright III is the heart and soul of the Stallions defense and commands a lot of responsibility. Unfortunately for him, his night was cut short as well, as he was seen limping along the sidelines in sweats without his pads on. Prior to exiting the game, Wright was making plays early and often, and even helped force a fumble to set up the offense in good field position.
Heading into the game, Wright was listed as probable to play with a right calf injury, and it appears he re-aggravated the injury in the season opener. At the moment, it’s unclear if the injury will force him to miss more time, but it wasn’t a pleasant sight to see him take the pads off so soon in the game.
For a status update, follow the Stallions on twitter for when they post the injury report prior to next week’s game.
Overall, the Stallions impressed from the get go and backed up all the praise the team garnered leading into the season. Although it wasn’t the most complete performance, it’s unrealistic to expect a team to have a perfect outing in the first week of the season. Behind a solid quarterback duo and an aggressive defense, they won by multiple possessions and start the 2023 season 1-0.
There are some question marks moving forward, though. Will the run game improve? Who is going to step up and replace Marlon Williams? Will Scooby Wright III miss time and for how long?
Nevertheless, Birmingham will take the win in stride before hosting the Memphis Showboats this Saturday night at Protective Stadium.