We’ve been talking about the USFL for almost a year now on Football Sapient, and it’s finally kickoff weekend. The first game of the season will be simulcast on FOX and NBC tonight at 7:30 PM ET.
The entire league’s regular season will be played in Birmingham, Alabama, as the league looks to set their initial footprint without the expense of traveling teams and sending players and staff all across the country. The hope is to have profited enough from the first season to move teams to their respective cities for year two. The post season will be played in Canton, Ohio.
In this matchup, former long time Oregon State and XFL head coach Mike Riley will lead the New Jersey Generals into battle against the Birmingham Stallions under Skip Holtz, who was most recently fired from Louisiana Tech at the end of the 2021 college football season.
Practice squad decisions and injury reports
The practice squads give us a better understanding of the structure of the teams this week in the first game of action. We know who the players and coaches are, but we don’t have a great understanding of the schemes and what we can truly expect from both teams.
As the injury report paints for the New Jersey Generals, their practice squad is built mostly by their injuries. Key players like Calvin Ashley and Mike Weber were put on the practice squad to allow them to heal up and get ready for the rest of the season. It’s also worth noting that Paris Ford was once projected as a day-two pick in the 2021 NFL Draft by some NFL draft analysts, and now he’s a healthy scratch in the USFL.
The Nick Truesdale injury is very important and needs to be watched. He’s the best tight end on this roster, which includes Braedon Bowman and Woody Brandom. Truesdale is the best receiver and if he can’t go, it could force the Generals into a heavy-running strategy. It’s hard to run the style of offense that I think the Generals are going to try and run without an effective tight end.
The Birmingham Stallions outlook
While the Birmingham Stallions have a couple of players who are injured and will miss the week one matchup that they put on the practice squad, but there are a couple of interesting decisions here that are very intriguing and worth mentioning.
Sage Surratt, a former Wake Forest wide receiver attempting to move to tight end, was put on the practice squad and leaves just one tight end (Cary Angeline) on their active roster. This suggests that the Stallions intend to run a spread offense and leave the field wide open, and that they think Surratt is stuck in a “tweener” spot where he’s not good enough to get on the field as a wide receiver and not good enough to play tight end.
New Jersey Generals offense
Led by head coach Mike Riley, the New Jersey Generals will probably be running a more balanced approach to their offense, running a lot of 12 personnel and trying to establish the running game early before throwing over the top.
The biggest question that remains is how the Generals will play their quarterbacks. Between Luis Perez and De’Andre Johnson, the Generals have all of the tools and traits you could want from the position, but it’s evenly divided between the two players. If they want to play more vertical, Johnson has the arm strength and athleticism to stretch the field. If they want a west-coast style of offense, Perez is their guy – a patient, accurate, good decision maker.
#2 – QB (Texas A&M-Commerce) 6’3″ 220 lbs
Luis Perez has dominated three different alternative leagues already in his career, seeing success at the AAF in 2019, the XFL in 2020, and The Spring League in 2021. Perez has been an efficient quarterback his entire career and continues to be one of the underrated prospects in the lower leagues of football.
Speed is everywhere
They have some real speed around the roster. KaVontae Turpin ran a 4.37 forty-yard dash coming out of TCU. Alonzo Moore, who played for coach Riley at Nebraska, ran a 4.47 inn 2017. Then between the running backs, Darius Victor and Trey Williams, there is a great mix for the offense to take on several personas.
I think they will remain more of a west coast offense in an attempt to keep the Stallions defense on the field and control the ball throughout the game.
How they match up against the Birmingham Stallions defense
Based on their practice squad decisions and general philosophy, the Stallions will probably be running a couple varieties between a 3-3-5 and a 3-2-6 defense in this matchup. If the New Jersey Generals tend to stay with their power personnel groupings, this could cause an early advantage to the Generals as they will run the ball downhill and force the Stallions defense to pinch. Once they get the Stallions to that point, the question is what will the Generals do to open the playbook?
The Stallions have one of the better defensive fronts in the league, featuring Chauncy Haney, Willie Yarbary, and Jonathan Newsome who are the projected starters. They have a solid group of linebackers too, between DeMarquis Gates and Scooby Wright, they can get downhill and fill run gaps very quickly. They didn’t put any real secondary players on their practice squad, and it’s because they are deep across the board. Between Brian Allen, Tae Hayes, and Bryan Mills, they have length and speed on the perimeter. The safeties are solid between Christian McFarland and Tyree Robinson.
The Stallions are going to be prepared to take away the pass and they’re going to have to adjust to the run. Once they hit that point, you have to hope that they will have the athleticism to keep the speed that the Generals threaten with.
Birmingham Stallions offense
The Birmingham Stallions should come into the game and try to utilize a lot of run-pass option type schemes integrated with spread influences. Based on the personnel that are active for the game, the Stallions will be running a lot of 11 and 21 personnel, utilizing their fullback Bobby Holly most likely out of a pistol set. Alex McGough is the projected starting quarterback, but you have to wonder if the Stallions will have a package of plays designed for J’Mar Smith, head coach Skip Holtz quarterback in 2019 at Louisiana Tech.
#11 – RB (Coastal Carolina) 5’11” 194 lbs
A star running back at Coastal Carolina and the 2021 Hula Bowl MVP, CJ Marable brings a blend of speed and power to the Stallions backfield and is a capable receiver out of the backfield. He played briefly with the Chicago Bears last season and is hoping to show out in the USFL to show NFL teams that he is a higher-level player.
The running game
There should be a lot of pistol RPO designs regardless of who the quarterback is, and the Stallions should try to use the size of receivers Marlon Williams (5’11” 209 lbs) and Osirus Mitchell (6’5″ 206 lbs) to out body receivers and open up the field for the speed of Victor Bolden Jr (4.53 forty yard dash). Between CJ Marable and Tony Brooks-James out of the backfield, they have a lot of speed in the backfield to stretch the field from their pistol looks.
I think the Stallions are going to try to pick up quick plays initially before they will be forced to open up the playbook and go to work.
How they match up against the New Jersey Generals defense
By all known accounts, it appears that the New Jersey Generals are going to run a 4-2-5 defense, which will keep an extra cornerback or safety on the field at all times. This is the best response to an RPO attack based on basic schematic principles. Between Tyshun Render and Bryson Young, the Generals can get after the passer. I like what Chris Orr and D’Juan Hines bring to the linebacker position.
The real strength of this defense will have to be on the back end in the secondary, between DuJuan Neal, Travon Askew-Henry, Mike Bell, and David Rivers III. The speed and physicality that they bring to the field will be a good setup against the RPO-spread that Birmingham will be attempting to run.
What to expect from the first game of the season
Right now, according to Vegas, the Birmingham Stallions are favored by 3.5 points across most platforms. I think it’s a no brainer to bet on the New Jersey Generals in this instance, I’d even take the money line!
The O/U is set at 41 currently as well. That’s a tougher guess, which could go either way. It depends how much both teams struggle initially. I think this could be a game that struggles to score 30 overall points. I would personally take the under, but a couple of big play touchdowns and busted coverages could quickly change that.
It’s not going to be an NFL game – it’s going to be sloppy. But, it’s going to be football.