The Birmingham Stallions look to improve to 9-0 on the season Saturday when they take on the 1-7 Houston Gamblers.
It’s a tale of two completely different seasons for both teams. Birmingham has been on a roll all season long as they haven’t had a single loss on their schedule and looked poised to finish the season undefeated. Houston’s season has gone downhill since week two as they are riding a seven-game losing streak with five of those losses being by one possession.
J’Mar Smith has been electric since taking over for Alex McGough in week one as Smith has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league with minimum turnovers to his name. Running back Bo Scarbrough has proven his worth the last few weeks as he has recorded 283 yards in four games. The receiver position has been tough of late with injuries, but with Victor Bolden and Marlon Williams getting healthy, the offense should be firing on all cylinders.
Scooby Wright’s health has been a concern all season, but the team is getting him back at the perfect time as he will be needed to make a playoff run. The defense was stellar against one of the best passing attacks in the league in New Orleans. Despite Kyle Sloter passing for 251 yards, the defense created three interceptions in the 10-9 win. Birmingham has proven that throughout the season, they can make offenses one-dimensional whether it’s just running the ball or just passing it.
Not much can be said about Houston’s offense in last week’s 13-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Bandits. With Clayton Thorson, Mark Thompson, and Isaiah Zuber out, the offense was not able to move the ball down the field at all. Kenji Bahar couldn’t get into a rhythm with any deep throws as he would complete short-yard passes and use his feet to create plays. Dalyn Dawkins and Devwah Whaley combined for 46 rushing yards on 16 carries. Teo Redding was the only receiver with a catch of 20 plus yards, but nothing much from the pass catchers
Their defense was a completely different story with Chris Odom recording 2.5 sacks in the game to put his season total at ten to lead the USFL. Not many offenses have had answers for Odom or Donald Payne who continue to be the highlights to the defense. Despite losing to the Bandits, Sunday’s performance was one of the best for Houston’s defense all season. They recorded four sacks and two turnovers in the game as well as holding the Tampa Bay offense to 214 total yards. Safe to say they did their part to try to win the game.
Betting Odds via FoxBet
Spread: Birmingham -12.5, Houston +12.5
Money Line: Birmingham -714, Houston +450
Total Points: O/U 43.5, -110
Injury Status/Inactive List
With the ankle injury being a concern all season, it appears that Alex McGough will not be backing up J’Mar Smith for Saturday’s game which will leave Montell Cozart to fill in that role for him. The return of Victor Bolden Jr. is a major win for the Stallions as he can make an impact in the passing game, running game and special teams. Fans will have to watch out for the running game as Birmingham’s top two backs are a bit banged up going into the game with Scarbrough dealing with knee/wrist injuries and CJ Marable dealing with a knee injury himself.
The biggest highlight from these lists is the return of Zuber and Thompson to the active roster as they both appear to be ready to return for Saturday’s game. Thompson returns at the perfect time with Dawkins being knocked out of the game leaving Whaley and Thompson as the two backs for Houston. In a season where the secondary has seen its share of injuries, Manny Bunch’s injury is a hit for Houston as it leaves them with two safeties on the roster.
Key Players to Watch
Victor Bolden Jr., Birmingham Stallions
Nobody does more for the team than Victor Bolden Jr. does game after game. Bolden leads the league with 1,023 all-purpose yards with the work he does catching the ball, running it, and returning on special teams. He can do it all and break loose at any point in the game. Bolden has proven to be one of the most electrifying players in the USFL.
The biggest thing to watch is how he bounces back from his injury and how quickly he can get back into shape. He is going to be a key player once the team makes their trip to the playoffs in Canton, Ohio. The offense took a tumble without him in the lineup last week with ten total points so look for Skip Holtz to get the ball in his hands early and often.
Chris Odom, Houston Gamblers
The USFL’s sack leader has not been easy to block all season. Week after week, fans have seen Odom bulldoze over offensive linemen to get his hands on the quarterback to create sacks and turnovers. It’s been clear all season that Odom is by far the best pass rusher in the league and will most likely get multiple looks from the NFL come this summer or fall.
Birmingham’s offensive line has been one of the best in the league when it comes down to running the football. While Odom’s specialty is sacking the quarterback, Houston will need him to play the role of the run stopper and make sure Scarbrough and Marable don’t break loose any yards. Smith is an elusive runner when he scrambles, but Odom has proven to have good closing speed so it shouldn’t be a problem for him to get to the quarterback.