An exciting weekend slate of USFL football wraps up Sunday, with the Houston Gamblers taking on the New Jersey Generals.
Both of these teams have seen ups and downs this season. The Houston Gamblers got off to a rocky start, yet have shown remarkable resilience, winning three straight. Curtis Johnson has done an excellent job in his head coaching debut, leading the team through a tough South Division.
Meanwhile, New Jersey lost a heartbreaker a week ago – yet still lead the North Division with a 2-3 record. They haven’t always been healthy, which has been a factor in their midseason slump.
When these two groups played in 2022, it was a nail-biter. New Jersey won in the final seconds, as Luis Perez walked it off with a dive into the endzone.
The last time the @USFLGenerals and the @USFLGamblers faced off, it came down to the very last second – with NJ pulling off the walk-off win.
Looking forward to seeing what's in store this weekend between these two talented teams. #USFLpic.twitter.com/KSmdL6uFf7
— James Larsen (@JamesLarsenPFN) May 19, 2023
Let’s take a look at the key factors ahead of this one, and what to expect from each franchise.
Kenji Bahar is expected to be back in the lineup, which is welcomed news for the team. Granted, Terry Wilson played magnificent in his absence – but, Bahar has been one of the league’s best quarterbacks through five weeks.
His return will certainly impact the offense, as his leadership and decision making has improved drastically since week one. His confidence has been elevated since taking the helm back in 2022, showcasing how the USFL can develop these budding athletes’ skill sets.
This is the Kenji Bahar we've been waiting to see in the #USFL this season.
Drops a dime to Justin Hall for the TD, and just like that we're tied up at half time. If @KBahar11 can consistently sling it as he did on that final drive, look out.pic.twitter.com/0GK33T2Ine
— James Larsen (@JamesLarsenPFN) April 22, 2023
New Jersey is in an interesting position. Starting QB De’Andre Johnson went down with an injury in week five, and didn’t return to the game. Kyle Lauletta took his place, seeing his first action of the season.
TIE GAME! TIE GAME! 🙌🎖️ pic.twitter.com/rULSnou1yR
— New Jersey Generals (@USFLGenerals) May 14, 2023
If Johnson isn’t ready to go for the Generals, it’ll be interesting to see how their offense adjusts. Lauletta is not nearly as mobile as De’Andre, which means that the schemes will be completely different than what they run with DJ. New Jersey can’t afford to lose this game, as that would result in the North being in someone else’s hands. They will need a solid performance from either Johnson or Lauletta – or potentially, both.
Both of these teams feature some of the USFL’s elite talent, many of which were included in our midseason All-USFL team.
Houston boasts RB Mark Thompson, who has been an absolute beast since making his debut in week three. He’s already rushed for 292 yards – and, eight touchdowns, which is simply ridiculous. Expect quite a bit out of Thompson this weekend, as he continues to carry the load due to T.J. Pledger’s injury.
Make it 3 TDs on the day for @InMarkWeTrust 😤 pic.twitter.com/KzGR88sOP7
— Houston Gamblers (@USFLGamblers) May 13, 2023
Justin Hall and Anthony Ratliff-Williams have been special at the WR position. Hall, in particular, has stood out from the get go, leading the USFL in receiving yards through five weeks. This Houston offense is electrifying to watch, no matter who is in at the quarterback position.
New Jersey has seen some stars rise up in their offense this season. Cam Echols-Luper has stepped up in a big way, making things happen for New Jersey in the absence of KaVontae Turpin and Darius Shepherd.
Wow. De'Andre Johnson just made one heck of a throw under pressure to Cam Echols-Luper, who takes it to the house, tying things up in Canton. What a play.
This @DredaDon14 x @Cam2xs duo is lethal for the @USFLGenerals. #USFL pic.twitter.com/1xcdqkiEOE
— James Larsen (@JamesLarsenPFN) May 7, 2023
Additionally, the ground game is phenomenal, with Darius Victor and Trey Williams picking up right where they left off a season ago. The tandem will need to have another big day to push New Jersey back on the right track.
Houston’s Stout Defense
To begin the year, Houston’s defensive unit had zero identity. They lost stars Chris Odom, Reggie Northrup, Will Likely, Donald Payne, and others in the offseason, as they pursued opportunities with the NFL and XFL.
This resulted in the Gamblers struggling to find much of a rhythm on defense, for the first couple of weeks. However, they have completely shifted the momentum – dominating opposing offenses for the last few weeks.
Catch of the Year? On DEFENSE???
Watch DB Elijah Jones snag this OBJ style INT and land himself on the Play of the Year list pic.twitter.com/Yp8qEX0aTD
— Gridiron USFL (@GridironUSFL) May 6, 2023
Week four’s game against Philadelphia was special. It was a dominant effort all around, showcasing just how versatile this unit can be. Ronheen Bingham, Elijah Jones, Khalan Tolson, Isaiah Chambers – the list goes on. Robert Morris, the team’s GM, has done an outstanding job of collecting talent that can develop in the USFL, and it has.
With how hot this defense is playing right now, New Jersey could be in for a long haul. It’ll be interesting to watch how they approach the Generals run-heavy offensive scheme. With New Jerseys’ instability at the QB position due to injury, this is something that Houstons’ defense could capitalize on.
Turnovers: A Problem For NJ
At the same time, New Jersey struggled severely with turnovers in week five, as Darius Victor fumbled three times. The team saw Philadelphia take the ball away from them on four different occasions last Sunday.
If the Generals are playing sloppy football with poor protection, expect Houston to exploit exactly that.
Something else to note: New Jersey’s defense has struggled to generate turnovers over the past two weeks. They’ve lost the ball five times, while taking it only once. The Generals boast an outstanding defense, with playmakers such as Toby Johnson, Chris Orr, Paris Ford, to name a few. However, an emphasis has to be put on creating takeaways moving forward.
New Jersey Generals | Mike Riley: Not many have been as consistent in the world of spring football than Mike Riley himself. However, he’s facing unfamiliar territory in the USFL, with his team under the .500 mark for the first time in modern history. Riley will have to get this team back on the right track against a surging Houston Gamblers organization.
Houston Gamblers | Curtis Johnson: I’ve been very impressed with the job Curtis Johnson has done in Houston so far. He’s been an excellent leader for the franchise since taking over just a few months ago. After such a rough start, Houston is firing on all cylinders both offensively and defensively. They wouldn’t be in this position without the direction and guidance of Johnson.
This matchup should be an entertaining one, no doubt. It’s a pivotal game for both teams. Again, with how close the USFL Divisions are right now, every single game matters.
With the way things are going, Houston certainly has the edge. They’re playing complete football, and are poised to have an exceptional second half of the USFL season. With that in mind, you can never count out Mike Riley’s New Jersey Generals. This one should be close.
The Houston Gamblers will host the New Jersey Generals on Sunday at 4pm ET on FOX.
What are your thoughts on this upcoming USFL matchup between the Houston Gamblers and New Jersey Generals? Which USFL players will make an impact? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!