Michigan Panthers 2024 UFL Season In Review | Jake Bates, Jordan Ober, Brock Miller

Michigan Panthers 2024 UFL Season In Review

For a second straight season, the Michigan Panthers made it to the playoffs. This time in the UFL, Michigan was one of the top teams throughout the year, despite all of the roster turnover we saw throughout this campaign.

After making it back to the postseason – with a winning record this time around – the Panthers ultimately couldn’t find a way to get past the mighty Stallions; resulting in another loss in the Division/Conference Championship game.

It was a full year for Michigan, as the team had to sift through four different quarterbacks en route to a 7-3 regular season record. Mike Nolan earned Coach of the Year honors – which certainly was a deserved award. The entire coaching staff did a tremendous job this season navigating injuries, something that plagued Michigan down to the very end.

Jake Bates Takes Center Stage Early

The Michigan Panthers opened up their season taking on the favored St. Louis Battlehawks. In what was a rather ugly affair to start, Michigan seemingly was down and out with less than a minute to play, down by a point.

We’ve all heard the story by now, though, as an unlikely hero would arise. Kicker Jake Bates, who hadn’t kicked a field goal since high school, waltzed out and hit a 64 yard game winner twice, ultimately pushing the Panthers to victory as time expired.

The Bates-mania wouldn’t stop there. He made a 62 yard field goal the very next week, in a loss to Birmingham. Bates would finish the UFL season as one of the faces of the league, earning All-UFL honors after his incredible campaign. Jake has since signed with the Detroit Lions, remaining in Michigan.

With all of the changes the Panthers dealt with in 2024, their Special Teams unit was actually one of the few position groups that stayed consistent. Brock Miller and Jordan Ober were both excellent, with Ober also being named to the All-UFL list.

The Quarterback Debacle

Speaking of changes, no team saw more turnover at the quarterback position than the Michigan Panthers. It was an absurd season that resulted in four signal callers playing at some point – with three of them missing time due to injuries.

The year opened up with E.J. Perry leading the way. He was a late signee to the team last year, and broke out as one of the top QB’s in the USFL down the stretch. While he had some issues with turning the ball over early, the Panthers were 2-1 to start the season.

Week four would change quite a bit for Michigan. Perry would go down with injury, ultimately being placed on IR in a loss to San Antonio. Danny Etling stepped in, and led the Panthers to two wins in week five and six against Memphis and Arlington. Etling played well, and with the backfield seeing so much success, the Panthers were on a roll.

However, a shakeup would happen yet again. Etling got hurt in week six, which resulted in Brian Lewerke making the start the next two games. Additionally, newly signed Bryce Perkins saw some flight, and split time with Brian.

No matter who was starting at quarterback, Michigan found ways to win. It was pretty remarkable to watch. Perkins began to look like the best QB in that room – especially after leading Michigan to a come from behind win over Houston in week nine. With five straight victories, the red hot 7-2 Panthers simply had to find a way to top the mighty Stallions. It would turn out to be a feat that wasn’t so simple, after all.

Back To Back Losses In Birmingham

Of the four games Michigan lost in 2024, three of them came at the hands of the Birmingham Stallions. Despite outplaying Birmingham in week ten, the Panthers let their late lead slip away, and Jake Bates missed what would have been a game winning field goal.

One notable detail in that loss: Bryce Perkins injured himself badly. In a meaningless game, with both teams having clinched a playoff berth, Nolan decided to play both Etling and Perkins, similar to what he did in week nine. Perkins ended up injuring his leg on a QB scramble, which knocked him out for the season.

This would prove to be a major blow for Michigan. The very next week, in the playoffs, Danny Etling had a horrendous performance. He turned the ball over four times in the second half, as the Panthers blew an 18-3 lead en route to a 31-18 loss. In the first half, Michigan absolutely dominated – but they let the Stallions hang around, which ultimately resulted in the disappointing outcome.

The defense played some outstanding football, but simply ran out of steam in the final quarters. With Adrian Martinez being benched for Matt Corral, Corral sparked some life into a dead Birmingham offense, which led to Birmingham outscoring Michigan 19-0 in the second half.

While it was a frustrating end to such an excellent season, the Panthers made some major strides forward in 2024 – and can build towards something even greater in 2025.

Injuries That Piled Up

Similar to San Antonio, the Michigan Panthers had a lot of injuries of their own that they had to push through. In addition to the quarterbacks, the Panthers saw several players either miss time – or get knocked out for the entire season.

One loss that was brutal down the stretch was RB Wes Hills. Hills came over to Michigan from the Breakers in the Dispersal Draft, and was a tremendous one-two punch alongside Matt Colburn. Wes rushed for 277 yards and five touchdowns, hitting his stride midway through the year. Unfortunately, he went down with a quad-related injury in week eight, being placed on IR.

They also lost LB Frank Ginda six weeks into the year, and he did not return. Ginda has been one of the top linebackers in all of spring football the last few seasons, earning USFL DPOY honors in 2023. Losing Frank in the middle of that defense was a tough blow. Javin White filled in quite well, but it’s tough to replace someone with the tangibles that Ginda possesses. DT Daniel Wise was another standout defensive player who was placed on the IR list midway through the year.

Throughout the season, there were plenty of players who missed time. WR’s Marcus Simms and Devin Ross were both banged up. DE Kenny Willekes got hurt in week nine, and was inactive the next two weeks. They also signed DE Levi Bell late in the year – who proceeded to get hurt in warmups before his first game, and was placed on IR.

New Coordinators = More Success

Mike Nolan made a couple of key adjustments this offseason, changing both of his coordinators for the 2024 campaign. Eric Marty and Steve Brown were out, with Marcel Bellefeuille and Collin Bauer taking over.

Marcel Bellefeuille joined Nolan’s staff in late December, making the jump from the Philadelphia Stars who folded in the USFL-XFL Merger. Marcel did a tremendous job with the offense this year, with Michigan producing at a high level despite all of the turnover at quarterback. The Panthers averaged 300.7 yards per game (3rd), and 22.8 points per game (4th). It was a stark contrast to a season ago, where Michigan struggled to get anything going offensively for most of the year.

Defensively, Collin Bauer was promoted to DC – after spending the 2023 season as the Defensive Line Coach. Collin is one of the emerging young coaches in this scene, and saw quite a bit of success as a first year Defensive Coordinator. The Panthers allowed 263.2 yards per game (4th), giving up only 19 points per game (3rd). Michigan had so many playmakers defensively that it allowed for Collin’s unit to play at a high level, no matter who was in the lineup.

Generally speaking, Michigan’s coaching staff was outstanding across the board. Nolan spoke highly of every piece throughout the year, including General Manager Steve Kazor – who played a major role in transforming this franchise into what it is now.

Standout Talent

RB Matt Colburn: For the first time since early 2022, Colburn was actually healthy for almost a full season. This resulted in Matt having one of his best years yet. In just eight games, he posted 401 rushing yards and four touchdowns, averaging 4.5 YPC. Colburn was a key addition from the Stars – having previously worked with Bellefeuille in Philadelphia.

WR Marcus Simms: While Simms missed a couple of games with an injury, he was an absolute weapon for Michigan in 2024. He emerged late in the 2023 season, and that momentum carried over into the UFL. He had 426 receiving yards and three touchdowns, averaging 18.5 YPR. Marcus also made an impact on special teams, with a couple of big returns this year in crucial moments.

WR Siaosi Mariner: Mariner was a revelation for the Panthers offense. He signed with the team after week one, replacing John Hightower. Siaosi ended up serving as one of the top wideouts on this roster, totaling 346 yards and two touchdowns. He immediately fit into Marcel’s offense, and was a go-to guy all year when they needed a big play.

DE Breeland Speaks: After leading the USFL in sacks a year ago, Breeland Speaks led the UFL in sacks, with 9.5. This earned him Defensive Player of the Year honors this year, posting 32 tackles – and also leading the UFL with 13 TFL’s. Speaks has turned himself into one of spring football’s elite lineman, and should garner some NFL interest sooner than later.

DT Daniel Wise: Despite missing almost half the season on injured reserve, Daniel Wise still earned All-UFL honors. He was outstanding when healthy, making an impact up front with 16 tackles, three TFL’s, and 1.5 sacks.

DB Nate Brooks: Nate Brooks earned All-UFL honors this year as well, posting 30 tackles, four PBU’s, and an interception with the Panthers this year. Brooks consistently took on some of the toughest assignments in the secondary for Michigan, and performed well throughout the season.

S Kai Nacua: Kai Nacua burst onto the scene as one of the best defenders in the UFL. He led the Panthers with 48 tackles, while posting three interceptions (T-1st) and several PBU’s. Kai was a leader all year for Bauer’s defense, earning a solid 70.5 Defensive Grade via PFF.

There are so many defensive players who deserve recognition. Some honorable mentions would include: DT Garrett Marino, DL Ron’dell Carter, DE Kenny Willekes, LB Javin White, DB Adonis Alexander, DB Levonta Taylor, S Bryce Torneden, S Kedrick Whitehead, etc. – we could rattle off every single name from this defense. They all made an impact in some way, shape, or form.

A storyline that went a bit unnoticed was the play of the offensive line. While it got off to a rough start, they improved drastically throughout the season, which played a big factor in why the Panthers were able to produce the way they did offensively, even with all the QB changes.

Final Thoughts

It truly was a successful season of football for the Michigan Panthers, playing at an elite level for most of the year. They won just six games across 2022-2023. In 2024, Michigan surpassed that win total, with seven.

Ultimately, the mistakes and miscues in the USFL Conference Championship were too much for this team to overcome. They settled for four field goals in the first half…had they converted a couple of those into touchdowns, we could be looking at an entirely different scenario in the Championship.

For Coach of the Year Mike Nolan, now the focus shifts to finding a way to get over the hump of the semi-finals. In back to back seasons, they’ve fallen short of the goal of reaching the Championship game.

One of the big questions heading into the offseason: the quarterback position. E.J. Perry, Danny Etling, and Bryce Perkins are all viable options – and Brian Lewerke played impressively well when given the opportunity. However, they won’t be able to keep all of them; and some may choose to go in a different direction. If this team can retain Perkins, he’s certainly the top prospect of the bunch. What he did in such a short amount of time this year was remarkable.

Something else to monitor will be the upcoming UFL Rookie Draft. The Panthers have had a lot of success targeting young rookies who end up joining the roster. It’ll be intriguing to see if they follow the same strategy this time around.

What are your thoughts on the Michigan Panthers 2024 UFL season? Which players stood out to you? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!

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