Sunday’s slate of USFL games kicked off with the Michigan Panthers taking on the Houston Gamblers. A weather delay caused kickoff to be postponed for about an hour. Once things got underway, we were treated to another entertaining game of football.
Michigan is coached by Jeff Fisher, while Houston’s head coach is Kevin Sumlin. Both have plenty of experience in the world of football, and are now trying to lead their respective USFL franchises to a championship.
The opening game on Sunday was a bit sloppy at times, but proved to be another down-to-the-wire match as Houston barely beat Michigan.
Houston received the opening kickoff, and began to march down the field, into Michigan territory. A couple of offensive miscues killed their early momentum, however, forcing the punt team to hit the field.
The Panthers were backed up deep in their own territory, failing to move the football, so they punted it right back. Some solid running from Mark Thompson put Houston in scoring range, and Nick Vogel knocked through the kick to give Houston a 3-0 lead.
.@NickVogel5 knows a thing or two about making kicks in Birmingham
Despite excellent field position, Michigan’s offense continued to sputter. Shea Patterson was given very little time in the pocket, which led to poor chemistry from the get go. Houston could not take advantage, though, giving the ball right back to the Panthers.
Towards the end of the first period, Michigan had found a groove. Patterson settled into his starting role, creating opportunities for Michigan’s offense.
However, on the very first play of the second half, Patterson fumbled the football. Reggie Northrup (who had a huge impact in the first), picked it up, and took it 90 yards to the house. A successful two point conversion made it an 11-0 ball game, with Houston on top.
Paxton Lynch filled in for Patterson on Michigan’s next drive. While it got off to a good start, a dropped pass on third down forced the Panthers to punt again. Wet conditions certainly made an impact early, as multiple Michigan players struggled to maintain possession of the football.
The Panthers did score a touchdown on a punt return, but a penalty negated the score. This was unfortunate, as Lynch proceeded to fumble on the drive, with Houston recovering once again.
Houston took advantage, as Clayton Thorson made an incredible throw to Isaiah Zuber on the run, putting the Gamblers up 17-0. The two point attempt failed this time around, leaving the deficit at 17 for Michigan.
The woes for Michigan continued. Lynch was intercepted by Will Likely on the ensuing possession. It seemed like the Gamblers were going to pounce on another scoring opportunity, as Thorson continued to make excellent throws.
However, Vogel’s 27 yard field goal attempt hit off the left upright, keeping it a 17-0 ball game heading into halftime.
To start the second half, Michigan finally put together a good looking drive. Shea Patterson led the team down the field, before finding Lance Lenoir Jr. for the score. An unsuccessful two point attempt kept the score at 17-6.
Houston was forced to punt on their opening drive of the half, giving Michigan some life. A long drive down the field looked promising, but a missed kick left the Panthers empty, and the score remained 17-6 heading into the final fifteen minutes.
Houston’s offense really struggled in the second half, as they punted again. Michigan took advantage, marching down the field. Patterson converted on a crucial fourth and six, which then led to a touchdown run from Stevie Scott III. With plenty of time left, the Panthers trailed 17-12.
After review, it's a @USFLPanthers touchdown! We have a one-score game with 10 minutes to play. #USFL
Disappointingly for Michigan, the team failed to convert on a short fourth and one attempt, giving Houston the ball right back. But, to keep up with the second half trends, Houston was forced to punt the ball as well. The Gamblers couldn’t get anything going offensively, allowing Michigan to hang around.
The Panthers once again marched down the field, and had a chance to score the game winning touchdown. Luckily for Houston, the final hail mary attempt was ruled an incomplete catch.
Despite not scoring at all in the second half, the Gamblers hung on to win 17-12 in their USFL debut over the Michigan Panthers.
Compared to opening night, Houston vs. Michigan was a bit sloppy. This was to be expected, considering teams have only had a few weeks to work with one another. Not to mention, the weather was not ideal heading into Sunday.
That being said, we should expect to see teams improve their quality of play as the season continues. Both squads did show some solid signs of life during today’s matchup, especially Houston. Donald Payne racked up 19 total tackles on the day, leading Houston’s defense along with Reggie Northup to a dominant day against Michigan.
Michigan looked a lot better in the second half, but failed to capitalize in moments where they should have. Ultimately, Houston played the more complete game across the board, as their defense put it together on those final drives to stuff Michigan’s attempts to complete the comeback win.
Panthers QB Shea Patterson finished 17 of 24 for 192 yards with a TD.