The New Jersey Generals opened the USFL season with an extremely tough last-minute 28-24 loss against the Birmingham Stallions.
The Generals Let One Get Away
Going into the league’s premier game on Saturday night, everyone knew that the Generals’ task on opening day would be challenging. After all, the Stallions are everyone’s road game in Birmingham in a neutral site league. At least New Jersey got this one out of the way first.
The Generals drew the toughest draw because it was the Stallions’ debut game before their home crowd. So the loss itself isn’t as debilitating as one would suspect. However, the fashion in which the Generals lost is most disheartening.
New Jersey had control of the entire game and didn’t put Birmingham away when they had the chance.
Let’s review some of the negatives and positives from the Generals’ Week 1 performance.
New Jersey Generals Week 1 Review
On the positive side of things, you have to give Mike Riley and his staff credit for getting the team ready in a short time frame. It wasn’t an easy task, with New Jersey having just a few weeks to prepare.
Mainly because the Generals lost their starting quarterback, Ben Holmes, to a foot injury two weeks before the season started. New Jersey also missed their starting running back Mike Weber in week one.
The team played hard. It wasn’t always pretty. But the effort level was excellent. The Generals were ready to play.
Two-Headed QB Play
As expected, the Generals utilized a two-headed QB rotation system with the late-arriving Luis Perez and the uber-athletic De’Andre Johnson.
To their credit, both quarterbacks played their part well. Luis Perez was 13/18, 72% completion percentage, throwing for 143 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson was only 3 of 8 passing for 59 yards, but he paced the team on the ground, rushing for 98 yards and a touchdown.
With Luis Perez still learning the playbook and De’Andre Johnson’s inexperience. The expectation in week one was that both quarterbacks would split plays. But this doesn’t look like a temporary solution or a short-term fix, and the Generals will probably be employing the same game plan at QB every week.
Ground And Pound Overkill
New Jersey dominated the line of scrimmage and time of possession.
The Generals had the football for 37 minutes, rushing for a staggering 244 yards.
Darius Victor (15-66), and Trey Williams (13-54), combined for 120 yards. The offensive line opened up run lanes and executed the team’s blocking schemes against an over-aggressive Birmingham defense.
But the team’s over-reliance on their ultra-conservative approach offensively, most prominently in the second half of the game, backfired on them. The Generals went through one stretch of the game where they ran the ball 24 consecutive times.
Going into the opening game, the expectation was that there was a chance of inclement weather with steady rain throughout the evening. So a run-only approach was understandable, given the potential circumstances.
But when that didn’t happen, the team needed to open things up more than they did. And the Generals attempted to do that early on with some success. But Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Steve Smith abandoned what was working in the passing game, and ultimately, it was to the team’s detriment.
A Tale Of Two Halves Of Mike Riley
Mike Riley coached a Jekyl & Hyde type game. In the first half, the game plan was more aggressive. The team took shots down the field and went for it on two successful fourth-down plays—one early in the game in a goal-to-go situation.
It was a different story in the second half despite Luis Perez and De’Andre Johnson successfully throwing the ball down the field to Randy Satterfield (5-100-1td). The Generals’ brass decided to take the air out of the ball.
Game management by Mike Riley also left a lot to be desired. In one sequence late in the first half. With the Stallions backed up in their own end of the field, facing a third and long with 1:43 left. The Generals allowed the Stallions to run the clock down before eventually punting.
New Jersey got the ball back with 50 seconds left and, with time withering away, had to settle for a long 47-yard field goal that Nick Rose missed wildly before the half. As a result, the Generals squandered the momentum they had built up late in the second quarter.
At the end of the game, to his credit, Mike Riley, with less than two minutes left, on 4th and 2, trusted his struggling kicker Nick Rose to make a 47-yard field goal. And Rose rewarded Riley’s faith by connecting on the go-ahead kick. However, the first guess was that the Generals should’ve opted to go for it on fourth down. They left too much time on the clock when they attempted the long field goal. And Birmingham made the Generals pay.
Generals Defense Surrenders
The Generals’ defense had its moments early on. But like the team’s offense, they took their foot off the gas pedal late.
Early on, Chris Dishman’s defense was frustrating and confusing Birmingham’s blockers upfront. And the Stallions’ passing tandem of J’Mar Smith and Alex McGough nearly turned the ball over several times. The Birmingham duo completed only 51 percent of their passes in this game.
Safety Shalom Luani, eight tackles, two passes defended, and one interception. And Defensive Linemen Deyon Sizer had terrific outings. Sizer had six pressures, one sack, and two tackles for loss. They were standouts for the Generals’ defensive unit.
But late in the game, the Generals’ defense fell apart. A lot of that had to do with a lack of discipline. New Jersey committed two offsides penalties that helped extend Birmingham’s second to last td drive in the 4th quarter. The Stallions’ up-tempo pace on offense caught the Generals off guard.
And late in the game, with the Stallions just out of field goal range, Christian Orr committed an egregious facemask penalty that helped the Stallions get deep into the red zone. The penalty would ultimately aid Birmingham in pulling out a last-minute victory. The Stallions went from itching towards attempting a tying field goal with first-time pro-kicker Brandon Aubrey to going for the jugular near the end zone.
The Generals’ D came undone when the game counted most.
Every Rose Has Its Thorn
While there were some bright moments from punter Brock Miller, returner Ka’Vontae Turpin, and Trae Elston, for better or worse, The focus on the Generals’ special teams in week one will rightfully be on the two big misses from kicker Nick Rose.
His 48-yard misfire before the half can be excused, although that kick never had a chance, as it veered dramatically to the left. But it was Rose’s shank of a 22-yard attempt that would have put the Generals up ten, late in the third quarter, that was a backbreaker.
Nick Rose’s late-game go-ahead kick and his previous connection with Mike Riley in San Antonio might give him a reprieve for week two. Because usually, when a kicker struggles as he did, it costs him his job.
0 and 1 But Not Done
Despite the tough opening loss for the Generals. There is a bright side.
After week one’s USFL games, half the league will be winless. Plus, New Jersey’s loss came against a nondivisional opponent. So losing the opening game, albeit in crushing fashion, isn’t a season-ender.
New Jersey has to forget about week one in rapid fashion. They will be playing the Michigan Panthers on Friday night, and it will start a three-game stretch for the Generals against divisional opponents.
It sounds far-fetched to label Friday’s game as a must-win. But in a ten-game season, it can get late relatively early.