Week five in the USFL kicks off Saturday afternoon, with the Michigan Panthers taking on the Pittsburgh Maulers. The two will play at 12:30pm ET, broadcasted on USA Network.
Heading into this matchup, both teams are coming off of tough losses in the week prior. Michigan has actually lost two straight, looking nothing like the team they were to start the USFL season. Their two games at home have been rough, struggling to find any momentum at all.
🎶 You started, I finished, I told you we with it 🎶 @Legendaryking__ pic.twitter.com/ztvtJz13qL
— Michigan Panthers (@USFLPanthers) May 9, 2023
On the other hand, Pittsburgh has shown some growth, despite losing to Birmingham on Sunday night. Ray Horton’s unit has been playing cohesive football as of late, and seem to be turning the corner.
Let’s take a look at the key factors ahead of this game, and what to expect from both teams.
Michigan has been stuck in a rut with their quarterbacks. Neither Josh Love or Carson Strong have been able to provide the team with much stability since making their home debut. In week four against Memphis, the two combined for just 125 yards through the air – which is far from ideal.
Josh Love, in particular, has seen a drastic falloff. He played so well the first couple of weeks, even setting a USFL record in week one; completing over 90% of his passes. Mike Nolan and Eric Marty need to figure out how to get Love back into a rhythm, before things get out of hand.
TOUCHDOWN PANTHERS! 🐾@Josh12Love ➡️ @Legendaryking__ 🙌
🎥: @nbc | @peacock pic.twitter.com/6LWLfHiRKC
— Michigan Panthers (@USFLPanthers) May 7, 2023
Turnovers have also been an issue. Both Love and Strong turned the ball over in the red zone on Saturday, which killed what would have been scoring drives. With their offense averaging only 11.5PPG at home, something needs to be adjusted from a quarterback perspective.
Now, an interesting situation would revolve around Eric Barriere seeing some playing time. He’s been the third string QB this entire season. However, we know he has an arm – and could serve as a dual threat QB as well. While it’s unlikely that Barriere would start on Saturday, it might be worth having him as an active QB, to give him some flight as QB2.
Troy Williams has been special for the Pittsburgh Maulers. He’s 1-1 as a starter, but has elevated their offense to a whole new level. Granted, there’s still plenty of improvement to be made. That being said, the team is averaging over 20 PPG as an offense since he took over, which is much improved from weeks 1-2.
His dual threat capabilities have been vital to Pittsburgh’s success. On Sunday, he threw for over 200 yards, while adding 63 on the ground (including a touchdown).
TROY TAKES IT ALL THE WAY! ⚒️@TroyWilliams_3 pic.twitter.com/WhiYIWKGkw
— Pittsburgh Maulers (@USFLMaulers) May 8, 2023
Michigan has had a tough time slowing down mobile quarterbacks this season. If this trend continues, Williams is going to have a field day this weekend.
From a talent perspective, both of these teams have plenty. Michigan has a clear advantage in the backfield, as Reggie Corbin and Stevie Scott continue to impress week in and week out. The Panthers ran for 127 yards on Saturday – and if it weren’t for their passing woes, would have likely scored more than 10 points.
The Maulers rushing scheme has been carried by Troy Williams as of late, as he’s led the team in that category for two straight weeks.
Now that's a diving catch! 💪@BambinoTre pic.twitter.com/MCybNHwgCD
— Pittsburgh Maulers (@USFLMaulers) May 8, 2023
Pittsburgh features some elite wide receivers, as Tre Walker and Bailey Gaither are shining as they did a season ago. Matt Seybert is a solid tight end, and should become more involved as the weeks come and go. He runs smooth routes, and has excellent hands for a big-bodied TE.
A point of focus for the Michigan Panthers this week: get the wide receivers going early. Joe Walker has been sensational through four weeks, but can’t do it all on his own. This team is full of playmakers: Ish Hyman, Trey Quinn, Marcus Baugh, etc. – there’s no excuse for Michigan to only be scoring 10 points a game.
The Pittsburgh Maulers have been playing outstanding defense, throughout the entire season. DC Jarren Horton has this unit rolling. Despite the loss on Sunday night, Pittsburgh contained Birmingham quite well. Had it not been for a special teams blunder, allowing Deon Cain to return it to the house, the Maulers likely could have picked up their second win of the season.
Keith Gipson Jr with the pick!
Back-to-back interceptions for the defense tonight 😤 pic.twitter.com/DjHdDJWS08
— Pittsburgh Maulers (@USFLMaulers) May 7, 2023
Kyahva Tezino, Reuben Foster, Mark Gilbert, Boogie Roberts, etc. – this defense is absolutely stacked, and it shows on a weekly basis. Considering how much Michigan’s offense has stumbled the past two weeks, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to see Pittsburgh take full advantage of this situation.
Meanwhile, the Michigan Panthers have to get back to their roots on defense. It won’t be easy, as they’re missing multiple pieces due to injury. That being said, they have disappointed at home. Memphis’ offense has been quite poor for most of the season, yet they had no problems scoring against Michigan throughout most of the game.
It all starts in the trenches. Breeland Speaks, Garrett Marino, Frank Ginda – this group has to generate pressure early and often, something they failed to consistently do the last two weeks.
Breeland Speaks is having a monster outing for the @USFLPanthers today.
The former NFL standout is making an impact in the #USFL. It's safe to say you'll hear @Bspeaks9 name called quite a bit this season. pic.twitter.com/Wioa8aYCEb
— James Larsen (@JamesLarsenPFN) April 16, 2023
Additionally, they will be facing the challenge of slowing down a mobile quarterback. De’Andre Johnson had his best game of the USFL season against the Panthers defense. If this is any sign of what’s to come on Saturday, it’s not a promising one.
Michigan Panthers | Mike Nolan: After a red hot start, Mike Nolan’s team has suffered two tough losses in a row. Now, they’re in a must-win situation against a North Division rival. Nolan needs to coach his best game yet to get this team back on track.
Pittsburgh Maulers | Ray Horton: Pittsburgh’s seen some ups and downs in 2023, but they’ve been trending in the right direction over the past couple of weeks. Ray Horton has weathered the early storm, and will look to get his second win as a head coach this Saturday.
We should be in for an entertaining matchup, as the Pittsburgh Maulers and Michigan Panthers feature some of the USFL’s elite playmakers across the board.
If week four’s trends stay on track, Pittsburgh feels like the slight favorite in this one. They’ve discovered a new identity with Troy Williams. The key to victory in this one for Pittsburgh: can they score touchdowns in the red zone? Last week, they were held to four short field goals, which has been a Maulers’ staple all season long. Ultimately, it cost them big-time against Birmingham.
Michigan has to dig deep. It’s been a rough go the last two weeks, and the fans are eagerly anticipating a win. It’s bound to happen, sooner or later. The team risks falling under .500 for the first time this season with a loss.
The Michigan Panthers will host the Pittsburgh Maulers at 12:30pm ET this Saturday, on USA Network.
What are your thoughts on this upcoming USFL matchup between the Michigan Panthers and Pittsburgh Maulers? Which USFL players do you expect to make an impact? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!