In Week One, The Jeff Fisher-led Panthers fell behind early to the Gamblers, only to scratch and claw their way back but fall short in a 17-12 loss to Houston.
Mike Riley’s Generals let one slip away late in a 28-24 last-minute loss to the Birmingham Stallions in the league’s opening game.
The South laid waste to the North in Week 1, leaving all four Northern division teams winless.
Depending on how you measure the content in your cup. Every team in the North is either tied for first or last place. But come Saturday afternoon, because the Philadelphia Stars and Pittsburgh Maulers will be clashing in Week 2. Two of the teams in the North will remain winless.
The Generals and Panthers are hoping to avoid that fate. An 0-2 start wouldn’t be a death knell, but with only ten weeks in the regular season, the loser of tonight’s divisional game could be creating a hole too deep to recover from.
New Jersey Generals- Michigan Panthers Week 2 Preview
Although, New Jersey is technically listed as the home team in this encounter. In a league of eight teams, where only one is playing home games in the USFL’s season-long hub site of Birmingham. There is no such thing as a home-field advantage for anyone other than the Stallions.
The USFL is getting the first phase of divisional games out of the way from week two to four. Northern and Southern teams will play each other for three consecutive weeks, and the last stage of divisional contests will occur in weeks 8 through 10.
The Generals and Panthers won’t play each other again until the second to last week of the regular season. So tonight’s divisional clash between New Jersey and Michigan takes on added importance in the race to get out in front of the North.
Betting Odds/Weather Report
FOXBet Sportsbook has the New Jersey Generals as slight 1-point favorites over the Michigan Panthers. The over/under is set at a modest 40.5 points. Both teams were very run-heavy and conservative in week one, so the oddsmakers project this as a close, low-scoring affair.
A week ago, the weather in Birmingham was a concern heading into the USFL’s slate of games. The league avoided any issues last Saturday night, but Sunday was another story altogether, delaying Michigan’s game nearly an hour and postponing the late game to Monday.
The forecast for tonight’s kickoff at 8 pm ET/7 pm CT is much more favorable. The Panthers-Generals game calls for clear skies, light wind, and temperatures in the low 60s at Protective Stadium.
There was a level of uncertainty for spectators and the teams themselves heading into week one of the USFL season. In many ways, the opening week was a feeling-out process.
While USFL teams are still trying to find their footing and establish their identities after a short training camp, New Jersey and Michigan showed early signs of the style of football they may be playing on a weekly basis. And in many respects, it was as if both teams were mirror images of one another.
Call it stubbornness, working out the early kinks, or a tribute to a bygone era. The Generals and Panthers both relied heavily upon run dominant offensive gameplans a week ago.
Michigan rushed for nearly 200 yards last week. Meanwhile, New Jersey produced a staggering 244 yards on the ground, utilizing a three-pronged attack, which saw backup quarterback De’Andre Johnson lead the way with 98 yards.
It’s reasonable to expect more of the same in Week 2 from both teams. Mainly because both teams are banged up at receiver and tight end heading into this contest.
The quick turnaround and limited roster sizes are not aiding Michigan or New Jersey heading into this contest.
New Jersey has two tight ends on the shelf in Braedon Bowman (ankle) and Nick Truesdell (groin). The Generals signed well-traveled veteran TE Wes Saxton to help fill in at the position. He will pair with third-string TE Woody Brandom, who was listed with a knee injury this week.
Week 1 break-out star Randy Satterfield, who caught five passes for 100 yards against Birmingham, was limited with a chest injury this week. He will play. WR J’Mon Moore will miss week two with a hamstring injury. KaVontae Turpin was limited with a knee injury but is a full go. Alonzo Moore (illness) and Darius Shepherd (hamstring) practiced sparingly this week but will be in the mix tonight. Cam Echols Luper has been called up from the PS to help with depth.
OL Mike Brown, who started at guard in week one is out. Former five-star recruit offensive lineman, Calvin Ashley will make his regular-season and professional debut tonight. A week ago, Terry Poole and Garrett McGhin started at offensive tackle, with Corbin Lacina at center, and Evan Heim on the interior. It’s possible that Ashley could play guard tonight in place of Brown.
The most significant absence tonight for the Generals on defense will be starting DT Destiny Vaeao, who is dealing with a quad injury.
The Michigan Panthers’ last game status report had some key names listed. Most specifically, at the WR position. Four of the team’s top five receivers showed up on the injured list. Jeff Badet (Hamstring) will miss tonight’s game. As will Joe Walker, who has been transferred to the inactive roster.
Second Option Passing Offenses
Mike Riley’s Generals deployed a two QB rotation heavily in week one. And did so with success, rotating veteran Luis Perez and De’Andre Johnson frequently in each offensive series. Because of Perez’s newness to the squad, having only shown up two weeks before the season started. The expectation was that he wouldn’t handle most of the snaps immediately. But it appears that the Generals’ gameplan and usage of their Quarterbacks will be a staple of their offense all season long.
However, many would argue that Riley’s usage of his quarterbacks and his over-reliance on the ground game in the opener, where New Jersey took the air out of the football in the second half, cost them their first victory of the season against Birmingham last week. The Generals need to show more balance on offense if they want to win against Michigan. Long drives that rely on field-goal attempts could backfire on New Jersey again tonight.
The Panthers started week one, rotating Paxton Lynch into the action as a change of pace behind Shea Patterson. In many ways, Michigan was looking to utilize Lynch in their offense, the same way that New Jersey did with De’Andre Johnson. But based on how poorly Lynch played and how well Shea played in rallying the Panthers late. Unlike New Jersey, this appears to be a one-person show at signal-caller for Michigan moving forward.
Defense/Special Teams Matchups
Very quietly last week, despite the loss to Houston, the Panthers’ defense played a solid game, holding the Gamblers to only 174 yards of total offense. Part of that had to do with the time of possession (36-24) in favor of Michigan. But Houston’s offensive attack barely completed over half of its passes rushed for under four yards per run play and was held scoreless in the second half. If not for a fumble return for a touchdown by their defense. The Gamblers would’ve produced only ten points on the day.
Michigan will look to slow down the Generals rushing attack and put pressure on New Jersey’s pass protection, which gave up three sacks last week.
In week one, New Jersey’s defense is coming off of a disheartening performance. Defensive Coordinator Chris Dishman, who will be on the opposite side of the sidelines against his former coach Jeff Fisher, saw his defensive unit fall apart in the fourth quarter in week one. The Generals played a solid game for three quarters but played undisciplined football in crucial moments.
New Jersey has to do a better job of getting to the quarterback tonight. They only produced one sack in the opening game. A week ago, the Panthers had their fair share of struggles in pass protection, giving up countless pressures against Houston, allowing three sacks.
The big news coming out of the USFL this week not involving pizza over chicken salad choices was the league choosing to go with a kicking ball over the balls they used in week one, which had large chips inserted in them. Specialists around the league complained about the weight and rotation of the football, and the USFL listened and made the quick change for week two.
Michigan and New Jersey’s kickers struggled last week. But it was Generals’ kicker Nick Rose who stood out more prominently in week one, missing two of three field goals, one from 22 yards out. The return of a standard K ball could produce better results. But if Rose struggles again tonight, despite his successful history kicking for Mike Riley, he could be out of a job come Saturday.
If New Jersey and Michigan adopt the same offensive gameplans from week one. This game could be over in two hours flat. And with both teams having banged-up receiving corps. Run first conservative approaches could be the course of action for the Panthers and Generals in week two, out of necessity and preference.
This game is nearly a pick-em. But the Panthers’ defense, if they can slow down the Generals rushing attack, appears to have the advantage over New Jersey’s defense, which was underwhelming a week ago.
This game is genuinely a flip of the coin. But I’ll take Michigan to win the contest late in ugly fashion.
Michigan Panthers 20 New Jersey Generals 19