Week four in the USFL features a pivotal matchup between the Michigan Panthers and Memphis Showboats, at Ford Field. It will be the second home game of the season for Michigan, coming off their opener in week three.
Heading into this game, both teams have had strikingly different stories in the USFL this season. On one side, the Memphis Showboats have struggled to put much of anything together, being the lone “winless” team in the USFL.
On the other hand, the Michigan Panthers have been dominant, but looked out of sorts against New Jersey in week three. Was this a fluke, or are they not as strong as we originally assumed?
Let’s take a look at the key factors heading into this game, and what to expect from both sides.
Starting with the Memphis Showboats, their QB play has been quite inconsistent. The first two weeks saw mostly Brady White at the helm. Then, Cole Kelley got his first start against Houston – and played decently well despite the loss.
With more development in Memphis’ system, Kelley has the potential to be “the guy” for the Showboats. He threw for 307 yards and two touchdowns in his debut, showcasing his strong arm throughout the game.
One issue that Kelley may be presented with this week, though, is his lack of mobility. Michigan’s defensive line is extremely aggressive, seeing much success. If Cole can’t move around in the pocket, it’s going to be tough for him to find a rhythm.
Meanwhile, Josh Love needs to re-discover his footing. His 2023 debut performance was spectacular – but with each week, his numbers have regressed. Josh is extremely talented, but will need to have a solid game in order for Michigan to get back in the win column. Against a weaker Showboats’ secondary, he should be able to accomplish just that.
There’s plenty of talent within both of these organizations. In the backfield, Alex Collins is one of the highest-profiled running backs in the USFL. He’s been solid so far, and will need to continue producing at a high level if Memphis wants to win. For Michigan, Reggie Corbin did get injured on Sunday – so his status is up in the air.
Michigan’s wide receiver room is quite deep. Joe Walker, Ish Hyman, Trey Quinn, Marcus Simms, etc. – they’ve got plenty of weapons. As long as Love and/or Strong make the right decisions in the pocket, each receiver should eat plenty against Memphis’ defensive unit.
If all goes according to plan, expect an abundance of dazzling plays from both teams this weekend at Ford Field.
Defense: Clearly A Favorite
While Michigan struggled to stop New Jersey in week three, there’s no doubt about it: their defense is one of the best in the league. They were phenomenal in weeks one and two, and will likely rebound against a struggling Showboats unit this weekend.
Breeland Speaks, Frank Ginda, Levonta Taylor, Corrion Ballard – the list goes on and on – these Michigan Panthers are always on the prowl. It starts with the front seven, who have done an excellent job in generating pressure, at least for the most part.
Now, they did stumble against DeAndre Johnson, who exposed their one weakness: their inability to slow down a mobile quarterback. That being said, Cole Kelley isn’t a dual threat QB, so this isn’t anything Mike Nolan will have to worry about.
Memphis has to figure out what to do defensively. Plain and simple, they’ve been terrible. They gave up 42 last week to Birmingham, and then let Houston march for the game winning 30th point on their final drive Saturday night. A lot of work needs to be done on this end of the football for the Showboats.
Memphis Showboats | Todd Haley: It hasn’t been a pretty season so far for Todd. His team is 0-3, and Haley has set a trend of complaining and tearing opposing coaches down on live TV. If things go wrong this week, it’ll be interesting to see his reaction.
Memphis Showboats HC Todd Haley seemed upset that Skip Holtz ran up the score in tonight's #USFL game.
I asked Haley about this in the post-game presser. His response: "They kicked our ass. They had our number all night…they can do whatever they want."pic.twitter.com/61XeHlNlCn
Michigan Panthers | Mike Nolan: On the other hand, Nolan has been special in his USFL debut as a head coach. After a 2-8 record under Jeff Fisher, Mike’s turned the ship around, as they already have two wins this season. It’s safe to assume that this team will bounce back in week four.
The Michigan Panthers are the clear favorites heading into this one. They have better coaching, stronger schemes – and of course, wins. From a talent perspective, both teams stack up to each other; but, Michigan’s defense is by far the fiercer unit.
With the Panthers looking to get their first win on their home turf this week, it’s safe to assume that they’ll be firing on all cylinders after New Jersey took them out the prior game.
It was a privilege to be a part of the @USFLPanthers home opener this weekend.
That Michigan crowd was electric. @Bill_Shea19 estimates around 15,000 in attendance; which checks out with what I've heard – and saw first hand. What a special moment for Michigan sports. #USFLpic.twitter.com/0UbVwcIatm
What are your thoughts on this upcoming USFL matchup between the Michigan Panthers and Memphis Showboats? Which USFL players do you expect to have an impact? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!