Memphis Showboats vs. Michigan Panthers | Week 5 Preview

Memphis Showboats vs. Michigan Panthers | Week 5 Preview

On Sunday, two UFL teams will clash in what is an incredibly important matchup in the USFL Conference. The Memphis Showboats host the Michigan Panthers, as the franchises will face off for the first time this season.

When these two teams played each other last year, it was a much different scene. Todd Haley and Cole Kelley were the faces of the Showboats, and Memphis got the road win 29-10 over Michigan.

This year, the Showboats are led by John DeFilippo and Case Cookus. They’re stuck in a rut as a team right now, losing three straight games. Most recently, they had a disastrous second half in a 32-17 loss to St. Louis.

The Michigan Panthers have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the UFL. One week, they’ll look like a well oiled machine. Then the next, the product will be exactly the opposite. Let’s take a glance at what we can expect in this showdown on Sunday.

Quarterback Play

The Memphis Showboats have some questions at the quarterback position. Case Cookus hasn’t been playing exactly to the level that one would expect, but the pressure has been brutal up front. Cookus has been sacked 13 times this year, tied for the most sacks any quarterback has taken.

However, his status is uncertain heading into this affair. Cookus took a hit to the elbow/shoulder area in the second half, which caused him to exit the game.

Troy Williams saw some action down the stretch, and did what he could to try and get Memphis back into it. There is certainly a good chance that Troy starts in this game, if Case isn’t able to give it a go.

Williams has spring ball experience, having been a starter for the Pittsburgh Maulers last year. He’s a dual threat quarterback that can open up the playbook for John DeFilippo with RPO actions. While he’s a backup as of right now, Troy no doubt has the potential to be a starter in this league.

For the Michigan Panthers, injuries are taking their toll. E.J. Perry was placed on the injured reserve list after suffering an injury against San Antonio. Danny Etling will take over, making his first UFL start this week.

Etling was thrust into action late in the third quarter against the Brahmas, and played relatively well. He threw for 105 yards and a touchdown. For Danny, he needs to protect the football, as he’s fumbled the ball twice on just six carries this year.

Standout Playmakers

With a retooled wide receiver room, Marcus Simms has emerged as the go-to guy in this offense. He has all three receiving touchdowns on the year for Michigan, and should continue to bloom into WR1 as this season continues.

Wes Hills has been pretty quiet as of late. Considering that the Showboats’ run defense is statistically one of the worst in the league – allowing over 100 yards to Jacob Saylors on Saturday – Hills could be in a position to get back on track this week.

The Memphis Showboats feature no shortage of targets for their quarterbacks. Daewood Davis, Vinny Papale, Jonathan Adams, Sage Surratt, etc. – Cookus or Williams have options. RB Darius Victor made an impact this week as well, rushing for over 50 yards for the first time all season.

The Offensive Line Dilemma

It’s no secret that both the Michigan Panthers and Memphis Showboats have had disappointing performances from their offensive lines in 2024.

According to PFF, the grades speak for themselves:

Michigan Panthers: 33.8 Pass Block (8th), 41.0 Run Block (8th)
Memphis Showboats: 48.9 Pass Block (6th), 46.0 Run Block (5th)

Case Cookus and E.J. Perry have both been sacked 13 times this year. No other quarterbacks come even close. If neither team can figure things out soon, it’s going to be tough to view either as a true Championship contender.

Tale Of Two Defenses

The Michigan Panthers have boasted one of the top defenses in the UFL throughout the entire season. Even in the games Michigan has lost, they have always been within arm’s reach because of the defensive play from Collin Bauer’s unit.

We saw just how impressive this team can be in the second half against San Antonio. After the Brahmas put up 16 quick points, Michigan adjusted, holding the Brahmas to three points in the final two quarters.

On the other side, the Memphis Showboats have lapsed defensively. Over the past two games, they’ve allowed 32.5 points per game to Birmingham and St. Louis. Carnell Lake’s defense has been far from stellar in the second half, as Memphis has been outscored 53-8 in fourth quarters this year. That has to change.

Special Teams

The Michigan Panthers have one of the top specialist groups in the UFL. Jake Bates, Brock Miller, and Jordan Ober have basically been perfect throughout this entire season. Obviously, Bates has gotten his flowers – but Miller and Ober deserve some love for the work they’ve done as well.

Memphis is in good hands with their specialists as well. The former trio from the New Orleans Breakers made their way over to the Showboats. K Matt Coghlin has had a couple of hiccups on field goal attempts, but other than that, Matt White and Turner Bernard have performed well.

Coaching Matchup

Memphis Showboats | John DeFilippo: DeFilippo is in his second year as a spring football head coach. His Showboats have not met expectations this year, losing three in a row. Last year, DeFilippo won his sole matchup against Mike Nolan, as the New Orleans Breakers topped Michigan 24-20.

Coach DeFilippo spoke to the press this week about how important this game is, especially with the conference implications:

“It’s a huge game for us. We need to come out and finish in the second half. In the games that have been close, we haven’t finished in the second half in all three key phases. That’s the key for us is to obviously get the lead early, and then close it out in the second half.”

Michigan Panthers | Mike Nolan: Last year, the Michigan Panthers were not a steady organization from week to week. This year, that trend is continuing. Mike Nolan has to find a way to get this offense to show up from week to week, and it starts with his offensive line coach Tim Holt.

Final Thoughts

The Memphis Showboats are averaging the fewest yards per game of any UFL team, at 213.3. Michigan isn’t too much better, but is a bit more respectable at 267 yards per game (5th).

Looking at the implications in the conference, this game couldn’t be at a more critical time. At this point, it’s unlikely either team catches up to the Birmingham Stallions. That said, Michigan is 2-2, and with a win here, can pull away by two games over Houston and Memphis.

If the Showboats find a way to win at home, though, they’ll jump past Michigan and grab the #2 spot in the USFL Conference. Even if Houston wins against Birmingham, Memphis has the head-to-head victory over them as well.

The Memphis Showboats will host the Michigan Panthers at 3pm ET this Sunday, on FOX.

Full Roster Breakdowns: Memphis, Michigan

What are your thoughts on this upcoming matchup between the Michigan Panthers and Memphis Showboats? Which UFL players do you expect will impress? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!