The second USFL Northern Duel is complete, and the New Jersey Generals find themselves victorious against the Michigan Panthers as the Generals came from behind to defeat the Panthers 25-23. The Generals have won their 8th straight game and doing so clinched the Northern Division Championship while the Panthers fall to 1-8 and continue to follow the tradition of poor professional Michigan football.
The Generals began the game starting Luis Perez under center as DeAndre Johnson was active however, would be used sparingly. The Panthers came out with Josh Love under center and were off to a hot start, however, a knee injury would force USFL rookie Eric Barriere into action as he would make his professional debut in Week 9.
Love and Barriere were able to combine for almost 300 passing yards 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. This week 9 contest was a coming out part for Joe Walker who scored 2 touchdowns and totaled 129 receiving yards. Walker whose role has continued to expand over each week has continued to improve each week with each opportunity given. Walker was complimented by Ishmael Hyman who caught 5 passes for 62 yards and an impressive 25-yard touchdown reception. Despite the success the Panthers had through the air the rushing attack was non-existent. Reggie Corbin was inactive this year and Stevie Scott took the majority of the snaps. Scott was able to 36 yards on 13 carries while and added 12 yards on 1 reception. The loss of Corbin was obviously felt as the Panthers only totaled 53 rushing yards.
Perez and Johnson weren’t didn’t combine for the most dynamic Generals offensive output but they didn’t need to. Perez threw for 92 yards and was able to lead a game winning drive with his lone touchdown pass to Darrius Shepard. Johnson who didn’t start this game came in for a couple series however, only managed 60 yards passing an interception and 4 yards rushing. The Generals rushing also didn’t really take off either only totally 108 yards, with USFL leading rusher Darius Victor rushing for 19 yards on 7 carries. The real star of the offense was Darius Shepard who not only caught the game winning touchdown but also, the had 8 receptions for 99 yards. Overall the Generals as they have done so many times this year, found a way to get the win. Though it wasn’t pretty the Offense managed to make big plays when it mattered most.
The Generals Defense was able to pick up the team for most of the game. The Generals defense took advantage of a weak Panthers offensive line and was able to continue to put up an impressive pass rush. The Generals defense forced three interceptions, a sack, 3 tackles for loss and held the dynamic Panthers rushing attack to only 53 yards on the ground.
The Panthers defense though admirable was aided by Generals kicker Austin Jones. Jones missed two field goals and two extra points leaving eight points on the board, aiding the Panthers Defense in limiting the damage. Frank Ginda was once again the leading tackler for the Panthers totaling 10 tackles and 1 TFL. The Panthers did manage to pick off DeAndre Johnson and even managed to total two sacks, along with four TFLs. Where the Panthers continued to struggled was containing Darius Shepard who managed to bring down the game winning touchdown. The Panthers even managed to limit the damage of the Generals All-pro rushing attack to 108 yards (with a long of 24 on a WR rush) however, between the constant turnovers by the Offense and a Generals return touchdown the Panthers valiant effort didn’t have much of a shot to be rewarded with a victory.
A tale of two units for the Generals first Austin Jones kept the Panthers in the Game by missing two field goals and two extra points, leaving 8 points on the board and allowing the Panthers to stay in the game. The star of the Special Teams this week for the Generals was KaVontae Turpin. The Deebo Samuel of the USFL (who also leads the league in receiving) took a punt 71 yards for the first USFL punt return of the season. Turpin continues to impress on multiple facets of the game and is a Bonafide star in this league. Turpin’s 184 punt return yards now lead the league.
Cole Murphy missed an extra point but did give the Panthers the lead with 6:40 left in the game. The Panthers punting may have actually been the Achilles heel of the special teams unit. Panthers Punter Kyle Kramer, is averaging 53.5 per punt, which looks like they are essentially outkicking their coverage. On the Turpin return Kramer’s punt traveled over 50 yards and by the time the punt was caught by Turpin, the Panthers closest defender was 12 yards away. The Panthers Special teams has been a mess this whole season and it seems that the Kicking and Punting have not been on the same page all year, hopefully moving forward the Panthers can tweak this unit as it does have the potential to become one of the strongest units in the USFL.
The Generals now 8-1 have nothing to play for other than get healthy for the 2022 USFL Playoffs in Ohio. I’d like to see them rest plenty of their players and maybe even see Kyle Lauletta get the start to give him a shot at sticking around the USFL next year. For the Generals it’s all about getting these players healthy and ready to go for their matchup v.s. the Stars.
The Panthers last week of the season is all about figuring out who is here to stay and who the Panthers need to move on from. Josh Love and Eric Barriere both seem to have a better understanding of the Panthers offense moving forward then Shea Patterson and were a lot more effective this whole season in the passing game. Other players like Frank Ginda, Reggie Corbin, Cole Murphy, and Sean Williams playing extremely exceptional for the Panthers it is possible that the Panthers rebuilding process may be a lot harder than expected. With spring football offseason a bit of an unknown and obviously NFL teams getting ready to poach USFL talent the, the 2023 Panthers may be a completely different team than the one we watched this year.