Week 8 is upon us and the last 3 games for the Panthers are extremely crucial. Though not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention the Panthers face an extremely difficult path to Ohio. First in week 8 they take on the 4-3 Philadelphia Stars. The Stars, who are currently second in the Northern Division defeated the Panthers in week 4 due to then Punter/Kicker Michael Carrizosa missing a 21-yard field goal in the final seconds. Since then, the Panthers have lost three games in a row, and now sit in third place at 1-6.
The Panthers enter week 2 of the Josh Love era. Love, who was a 12th round pick out of San Jose State originally was brought in by the Pittsburgh Maulers who not only released Love, but also QB Kyle Lauletta. Love in his first game was 18/37 for 176 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Love showed decent poise while under center for the Panthers and also was able to make a big first down conversion on 3rd down. Love definitely looked rusty in his first time to field in several weeks but overall wasn’t terrible. The Panthers rushing attack continues to lead the way for the offense and will be heavily relied upon this week against the Stars. Led by Reggie Corbin, the Panthers currently are 2nd in the USFL in Rushing averaging 161.6 yards a game. Last week while Corbin did the heavy lifting (rushing for 108 yards and returning kicks for 107 yards) with Scarlett and Scott each contributing a touchdown on the ground. The Panthers three headed rushing attack is crucial for the offense to continue to stay alive in the playoff run. Right now, it is clear if the Panthers are going to contend in this game the Offense will continue to utilize the ground in effort to set up the passing game for Josh Love to get the ball to Lance Lenoir, and La’Michael Pettway their premier pass catchers. It also helps that the Stars do have the worst rushing defense in the USFL right now as well.
Frank Ginda and Sean WIlliams continue to lead a Defense that keeps the Panthers in games. The Panthers currently rank 2nd in rushing defense and 2nd in passing defense, while averaging 18.9 points allowed a game. The Panthers defense has steadily improved in the Pass Rush as the recent signing of Vantrell McMillan has yielded positive results so far. The pass rush also has been aided by Jaquan Bailey and Justin Hughes garnering more playing time where recently Bailey was nominated as a USFL Defensive player of the week for week 7. With the Stars playing in a Bart Andrus Offense expect the Panthers Defense to have plenty of opportunity to rush the passer. The Stars have attempted 221 drop backs as a team which is currently second in the USFL. In their week four matchup the Stars threw 30 times and the Panthers were able to sack Case Cookus twice. If the Panthers want to be successful utilizing the re-vamped pass rush of Dan Carrel’s Defense is key moving forward.
Ironically since the release of Michael Carrizosa the Panthers have signed Cole Murphy who has taken the league by storm and has been named USFL Special Teams Player of the Week twice in a row. Murphy has had field goals of 56 and 60 and has been electric since joining the team. Murphy’s 26 points in three games have been a welcomed addition to the Panthers special teams unit which is now considered a strength of the team. Punter Kyle Kramer also has been a solid replacement punting 7 times for 298 yards averaging 42.6 yards per punt which was better than Michael Carrizosa. In the return game the Panthers continue to rank in the bottom o f the league averaging 21.6 yards in the kick returns and 7.5 in the punt returns. With field position always critical the Panthers are in desperate need for boom in the return game to grab the upper hand on the Stars.
Case Cookus has filled in admirably since Spring League legend and Bart Andrus favorite Bryan Scott was place on the inactive roster due to a leg injury. Cookus has led the Stars to a 4-3 record while throwing for 787 yards and 6 touchdowns. Cookus has provided a steady presence under a Stars team that was facing a lot of uncertainty due Scott’s injury. Though not as dynamic on the ground (ranking 6th) the Stars have been to stay consistent and turnover free on Offense to where they’ve managed to stay in the hunt. The Stars strong receiving corps of Jordan Suell, Bug Howard and Diondre Overton, have all aided Cookus in providing a non-flashy consistent approach that has the Stars secured in the second seed for the Northern Division playoffs.
The Stars Defense is led by Defensive End Adam Rodriguez and Cornerback Channing Stribling. Rodriguez is currently 2nd in the USFL with seven sacks and leads a unit that has totaled 21 sacks this year (1st in the USFL). Stribling also brings a fair amount of star power to the Stars leading the USFL with 5 Ints. The Stars also lead the league in interceptions totaling nine as a unit. As a whole the Stars do utilize the bend but don’t mentality. They have given up the 2nd most number of yards per game and the 3rd most points per game. They also are ranked as the worst rushing defense surrounding 163 yards on the ground a game which when going up against the three headed monster of Corbin, Scarlett, and Scott, doesn’t bode well for them.
The Stars boast a weak kicking game that currently sits at 5/11 in field and 16/20 in extra points both good for seventh in the USFL. Their returning stats are better as they average 27.3 (1st) kick return yards and 13.8 (2nd) punt return yards. Overall if the Stars are relaying on their special teams to win them this game, they probably aren’t in a great spot.
Bringing It All Together
Overall, I think the Stars boom or bust defense will not be enough for them in week 8. In week 4 the Panthers Shea Patterson threw for only 67 yards and 3 interceptions; Josh Love will not do that. The consistent turnover free play of Love will stimulate the rushing of Corbin and the Panthers Offense. The Panthers Offense rushed for 250 yards in week 4, and I expect a dynamic performance once again. Overall, I see the Panthers being able to out rush and play mistake free football over this steady Stars team. Unless the Stars defense makes a play via a sack or turnover the Panthers should win this. Final prediction Panthers 27 Stars 17. The Panthers win and are allowed to fight for another week.
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