USFL SEASON MIDWAY POINT HAS COME AND GONE
We are officially through week 5 of the USFL Season. The storylines are slowly coming together, but one that no one expected in week 5 was one of the most disliked teams in the USFL due to chicken salad, the Pittsburgh Maulers, who got their first win since May 27th, 1984, nearly 38 years to the date with the original rendition of the USFL. The Pittsburgh Maulers came into yesterday rated as the worst team in the USFL. With a bright new star Quarterback signed just five days ago, the Maulers would get a stand-out 21-20 walk-off fashion victory over the now 1-4 Houston Gamblers, who struggle to close out games.
The Houston Gamblers came into yesterday’s game 1-3 on the season after a tough loss to the New Orleans Breakers in week four. They came back with an impressive 32-second drive that left the Gamblers with no time on the clock to make a comeback; if it wasn’t a nearly exact copy and paste ending again for the Gamblers. The Maulers were down by five with 3:34 left on the clock, and newcomer Quarterback Vad Lee who signed on with the team just five days before the game, led the Mauler’s offense on a 15 play 71-yard drive to get a walk-off touchdown to win the game 21-20.
KIRBY WILSON’S FIRST WIN AS A HEAD COACH
Getting that first win after four grueling weeks of suffering and even a shutout, the Pittsburgh Maulers and coach Kirby Wilson celebrated their first victory as a team and for him as a head coach with a locker room celebration. In the Post Game Presser, Coach Wilson gave an opening statement that he stated, “We talked about the phases. We were strangers. Then we developed into a team. The next goal was to develop into a professional team today. We grew up”.
This opening statement showed the doubters that no matter what you do in the game of football and no matter who you put together on a team, they will overcome adversity. It’s incredible how just one player can completely change the group’s future, and that’s what the new Sheriff did yesterday; that new Sheriff, of course, is no other than newly signed Quarterback Vad Lee, who entered the game early in the 2nd quarter. With Lauletta going 5/9 with a 55.6 completion rate for 51 yards, the Mauler’s offense still looked defeated with nothing to show for it.
Vad Lee entered the game and changed the attitude by going 19/32 with a 59.4 completion rate for 170 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception with a QB Rating of 81.5 and being credited with the winning drive that Wide Receiver Bailey Gaither caught to finish the game.
Kirby Wilson may have a new Sheriff in town with Vad Lee, but it will be an uphill climb for the Maulers to come close to a playoff spot over the next five weeks.
THE UPHILL BATTLE TO CANTON
With only five games remaining in the season and what appears a near-impossible uphill battle for Kirby Wilson and The Maulers remaining five weeks to try to pull off the ultimate come back to get a birth in the playoffs in Canton, OH on June 25th. The Maulers have quite the schedule ahead, starting with this upcoming weekend’s game against the Breakers.
Week 6 – New Orleans Breakers (3-2) Sunday, May 22nd at 12 PM ET/11 AM CT/10 AM MT/9 AM PT airing on Fox Sports 1.
Week 7 – Birmingham Stallions (5-0) Sunday, May 29th at 2 PM ET/1 PM CT/12 PM MT/11 AM PT airing on FOX
Week 8 – New Jersey Generals (4-1) DATE/TIME AND NETWORK TBD (Week 8 games will be at historic Legion Field in Birmingham)
Week 9 – Philadelphia Stars (2-3) DATE/TIME AND NETWORK TBD
Week 10 – Michigan Panthers (1-4) DATE/TIME AND NETWORK TBD
As we can see from the schedule alone, they face some elite teams in the USFL over the next three weeks. It makes or breaks for the Maulers. Even with wins in most of these games, they would still need help from the Philadelphia Stars and Michigan Panthers to secure that second playoff seed.
USFL: Pittsburgh Maulers Midseason Grade (D-)
The season started for the Pittsburgh Maulers, with Kirby Wilson getting his first gig as a head coach of a football. Fans were curious about what he would bring because he spent most of his coaching career as a Defensive Coordinator for Southern Illinois and Wyoming. Starting in the nineties, he would begin a 25-year career as a running backs / wide receivers coach with ten different NFL Teams, most currently the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders. Racking in two Superbowl rings with the Buccaneers and the Steelers. With a coaching background similar to Kirby, it would be no surprise that the Maulers were poised to be a great team.
Still, it all came to a halt when FOX aired the first episode of the behind-the-scenes reality show “United by Football,” where Coach Kirby Wilson appeared to release future running back star De’Veon Smith in a hotel room at the league’s headquarters in Birmingham, AL. Wilson told Smith that he violated numerous protocols after asking a hotel staff member for Pizza instead of the Chicken Salad served to the team that day. Wilson stated that Smith’s disrespect of hotel staff and team officials over the issue led to him losing his job with the team. Wilson said in an interview, “He crossed the line, so we had to deal with it.”
I gave the Maulers a D- in my mid-season grade only due to the fact they won this game this past Sunday; We cannot forget what brought them to an 0-4 start of the season with Quarterback Josh Love and Kyle Lauletta sharing Quarterback duties through the first four weeks.
In week one against the Tampa Bay Bandits on Monday night, the Mauler’s dual use of their quarterbacks didn’t resort to much other than going 11 for 26 for 129 yards averaging just 3.0 yards per play, with no Touchdowns and having to punt six out seven drives to start the game along with turning over on downs. It wasn’t until a field goal with 4 minutes and 39 seconds left in the third quarter, and then the rest of the game went another four drives ending in turnover on downs or having to punt the ball away. The Maulers walked away defeated and looking rough.
In week two, the Maulers faced their state rivals, the Philadelphia Stars, for the battle of Pennsylvania, and in week two, they lost the game in the 4rh quarter, with the Stars scoring nine unanswered points to beat the Maulers 30-23. This game, though, only saw Josh Love get the start and play the entire game going 21 for 39 for a 53.8 completion percentage for 236 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, leaving the game with a 67.9 QB Rating.
Only to play week three in the battle of the losing teams in the North Division against the struggling Panthers and get completely shut out. Again, Love and Lauletta share duties at the Quarterback position and combine for 19 for 31 completions, with a 61.3 completion percentage for 124 yards. Even the running game didn’t do much as Madre London and Garrett Groshek only got 21 attempts for 97 yards. The defense only had one sack all around.
Week 4 saw the Maulers face the red-hot New Jersey Generals, who were on a winning streak since dropping the first USFL game of the season against the Stallions. The Generals scored quick and continued touchdowns in the first, second, and third quarters going into the 4th up by 11; the maulers tried to make a late-game comeback, only being down by one touchdown, but the Maulers would end up turning the ball over on downs and ended up losing 13-21. This game would see only Kyle Lauletta getting the start and would be Josh Love’s last game with the team before being released. Lauletta went 15 for 32 completions with a 46.9 completion rating and 169 yards with a 63.2 QB rating. London and Groshek held down the rushing core for 91 yards, and Groshek scored one touchdown.
It would all lead to week five, which would bring many questions to the Maulers and many fans calling on the USFL to fire Kirby Wilson as head coach of the Maulers. Later in the week, the Maulers would sign free agent Vad Lee, which we all know would lead to their very first win.
The plus side I must give to the Maulers over the first five weeks is something that other teams in the league are dealing with, and that is turnovers. In their first five games, the Maulers with four turnovers, a total of 3 by interception and one with a fumble loss. One part of the Maulers deserves a B grade, but the overall team’s performance in 3 out of the five weeks shows the issues with the call playing and the constant excuses Kirby Wilson brought up. It paid off in this week’s five performances and earned Wide Receiver Bailey Gaither a possible Offensive Player of the Week with the eight receptions, 108 yards for two touchdowns, which you can vote now on USFL’s Twitter account.
Timing is everything for the Maulers.
Time itself will tell if this past weekend’s win was a fluke or if the turning point for Kirby Wilson and his Maulers is genuinely going to happen. It will be something off the field that joins the group more together by letting go of the weekly meme of Pizza and Chicken Salad. It will take everyone in this group to make a change, stand up, and play their hearts out like every game is a playoff game. The Pittsburgh Maulers can change the history books for the better and will attempt to do so this upcoming weekend.