Houston Roughnecks vs. Michigan Panthers | UFL Week 3 Preview

Houston Roughnecks vs. Michigan Panthers | UFL Week 3 Preview

The Michigan Panthers (1-1) will play host to the Houston Roughnecks (0-2) at Ford Field on Sunday afternoon. The Panthers are coming off a loss at home to the Birmingham Stallions – a game that was close throughout, but always felt as if the Stallions would come out the victors. The Michigan defense played very well, yet again, but the offense could not be consistent enough to pull off the upset.

The Roughnecks are coming off a tough road loss to the DC Defenders at Audi Field. Quarterback Reid Sinnett came in for an injured Jarrett Guarantano and almost led a surprising comeback in the final moments, but came up just short. Now, this is a conference matchup that both squads would love to take, with a second game set for later in the season, in week nine.

Roughnecks Offense vs. Panthers Defense

The Houston Roughnecks have not been able to find a rhythm on offense through the first two weeks of the season. Things won’t get any easier facing off against a very stingy Panther defense. Houston has scored two offensive touchdowns in as many weeks and is averaging 15 points per game. That’s the worst mark in the UFL and certainly not good enough to win consistently.

They’ll be without quarterback Jarrett Guarantano who left last week’s contest with a rib injury that did not look good. He was relieved by Reid Sinnett who played well in his first action of 2024, going 19/30 for 221 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately for Sinnett and the Roughnecks, his favorite target and leading receiver, Kirk Merritt, dislocated his wrist against DC and is likely out for the remainder of the season.

Wide receiver Justin Hall must step up with a big game and should get as many touches as possible.

Star running back Mark Thompson is questionable for this week’s game, but his presence would be huge for this offense. If they have any hope of coming out of Detroit with the win, they’ll need to establish the running game against a great pass defense.

The Michigan Panthers’ defense has been terrific, much like they were at several points last season in the USFL. They’re giving up 16.5 points per game and did it against the St. Louis Battlehawks and Stallions – two teams with a very good amount of offensive firepower.

This week’s matchup is their easiest of the season on paper, and one they should be able to dominate. They’re led by stud linebacker Frank Ginda, who leads the team with 19 tackles, and leaves his mark on every game he plays. Michigan also boasts the best pass defense in the league, only giving up an average of 170 yards through the air. The secondary is led by Keith Gipson Jr., who nabbed a pick in last week’s game, and Kai Nacua, a great safety who is second on the team with 14 tackles.

The Panthers should be able to make the Roughnecks one-dimensional and work for every yard from start to finish. Their weakness resides in their rush defense, however. They’re second worst in the league, surrendering 111.5 yards per game on the ground. Ginda and Nacua should help in that regard, with good run fits, and sure tackling. But Michigan certainly has to be better there as a whole. I expect that shutting down the rushing attack will be a priority for defensive coordinator Collin Bauer.

Panthers Offense vs. Roughnecks Defense

The Panthers’ offense is not doing much better than their conference counterparts. They’re averaging 15.5 points per game and are a bottom two offense in yards per game, right with Houston. They do have a weapon that the Roughnecks’ offense doesn’t, and his name is Jake Bates. The Panthers’ kicker has been sensational through two weeks, hitting two 60+ yard field goals, and another from 50+ yards. Quarterback EJ Perry and his offense will likely attempt to protect the ball and control the game via time of possession.

This can allow their excellent defense to do what they do best and play complimentary football. Typically, field goals instead of touchdowns don’t win games, but in this case, they might. With the kickoff rules in the UFL, two first downs likely land you in Bates territory, and that could be all the points they need. They’ll still look to lean on their speedy wide outs in Marcus Simms and Trey Quinn but are expected to try and go through running back Wes Hills. Hills looked great in week one, but struggled against Birmingham, only managing 29 total yards. He’ll face a very tough matchup on Sunday, and it may lead to the game being in Perry’s hands late in the fourth quarter.

The Houston Roughnecks’ run defense has been very good this year. That’s expected with a defensive line that boasts names like Toby Johnson, Chris Odom, and Adam Rodriguez. They’re allowing a measly 57 yards per game on the ground, and are giving up just 16.5 points per game, the same mark as Michigan.

Linebacker Reuben Foster has been a force, much like he was last year with the Pittsburgh Maulers. Foster has 13 tackles on the year, to go along with an interception, and a fumble recovery. He’s been terrific against the run and looks like he has improved in coverage as well. On the backend, cornerback Corn Elder had a pick-six off Defenders’ quarterback Jordan Ta’amu last week, as well as multiple key pass breakups. All of this is a recipe for success going up against a struggling pass attack that ranks dead last in the UFL.

The Panthers will look to establish the run, but that’s easier said than done. Houston should be able to make Michigan one-dimensional as well, and will likely try and force EJ Perry to beat them with his arm. The Panthers surrendered seven sacks last week to the Stallions, and the Houston pass rush should be licking their chops at the matchup. Still, the Roughnecks will need to go above and beyond in this game. They must try and force takeaways to set their offense up with a short field and keep this a low scoring game.

Final Thoughts

Both teams are expected to have very similar philosophies in this week three matchup, which is expected given how similar they are. Struggling offenses looking to do just enough to help out their stellar defenses. I expect a low-scoring defensive battle, which is why I took the under at 38.5 in my Best Bets article. Whoever wins the turnover battle should win the game, but I expect a one-possession final. Falling to 0-3 would be catastrophic for the Roughnecks and starting 2-1 would give the Panthers a lot of confidence. A Houston win knots these two teams at 1-2 heading into week four. Despite being so early in the year, this game has a lot of implications on the USFL conference playoff race.

Who do you think will win this weekend’s matchup between the Panthers and the Roughnecks? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below or join the conversation on Discord.