Michigan Panthers at DC Defenders | Week 7 Preview

Michigan Panthers at DC Defenders | Week 7 Preview

A stellar week seven slate in the UFL continues on Sunday with the Michigan Panthers (4-2) visiting the DC Defenders (3-3) at Audi Field. The Panthers currently sit second place in the USFL conference, while the Defenders are third in the XFL conference and one game behind San Antonio.

Last week, Michigan defeated the Arlington Renegades at home 28-27 behind another historic performance from Panthers kicker, Jake Bates. Bates finished the game 7/7, including a 60 yard conversion, and a game-winning field goal as time expired to win.

On the other side, DC held off the San Antonio Brahmas in a pivotal XFL matchup to move the team back to .500 at 3-3. The Defenders had their best performance on the ground against San Antonio with 115 team rushing yards, paired with arguably their best performance on defense, only giving up 12 points against a dangerous offense.

This week’s matchup is the first ever between Michigan and DC. 

Quarterback Play

The Panthers have been severely struck with the injury bug in the last three to four weeks. Week one starting quarterback EJ Perry was placed on the injured reserve list following his week four injury against San Antonio. Danny Etling was elevated to full-time starter following the loss, and is 2-0 since then. This season, Etling is 41/65 for 482 passing yards, along with two touchdowns and one interception. Etling’s value as a scrambler has proved just as effective, rushing for 97 yards and a touchdown on 18 attempts.

Etling was listed on the initial injury report for Michigan as a non-participant in practice with an injury to his non-throwing hand. If Etling is unable to go, either Brian Lewerke or Bryce Perkins would be making their first start for Michigan. 

Defenders QB Jordan Ta’amu continues to lead DC’s offense, his streak of consecutive starts will be extended to 19 this week as the team’s only starting quarterback of the last two seasons.

Ta’amu and the Defenders offense have undeniably endured extreme ups and downs through six games this season. The 3-3 start for DC is more attributed to inconsistencies on offense than defense. In six games, Ta’amu is 90/168 for 1,067 yards, along with eight touchdowns and five interceptions. Ta’amu’s 53.6% completion rate is the lowest among starting UFL quarterbacks, as opposed to last year when Ta’amu was ultra-efficient through the air. Jordan has added value on the ground as well, currently ranked third among QBs in rushing with 123 yards.

Standout Playmakers

Michigan’s Playmakers

Michigan’s all-around playmakers are deep in depth, headlined by wide receiver Marcus Simms who has been outstanding recently with Etling at the helm. Simms is second in the league in receiving with 378 yards, only behind Battlehawks TE/WR Hakeem Butler.

Behind Simms, Trey Quinn regularly lines up in the slot for Michigan and has proven to be a valuable safety valve for any starting quarterback. Since WR Devin Ross’ injury, Michigan has used a committee opposite of Simms, Samson Nacua and Devin Gray have seen the majority of snaps.

At running back, the Panthers may have the best duo in the UFL with Wes Hills and Matthew Colburn. Hills ranks fourth among all RBs with 240 rushing yards on 62 carries (3.9 YPC). While Colburn is a hard-nosed tailback who packs a punch, sitting on 157 yards on 44 attempts (3.6 YPC) in five games played.

DC’s Playmakers

The forced overhaul of playmakers was surely an adjustment period through the first half of the season, but the chemistry is becoming more stable each week for DC. The personnel packages seemed to be the best they’ve been all season for DC’s offense, with Ty Scott playing his highest snap total of the season (45). Kelvin Harmon played the highest amount of snaps among wideouts with 50 total. The combination of Harmon and Scott has proved to be the most potent in limited time together, but we should expect to see more of it moving forward.

As previously mentioned, they are coming off their best rushing game of the year against San Antonio alongside an offensive line which included two offensive linemen without any starts this season. The key this week against a stout Panthers defense which ranks second in rush defense will be finding those extra yards and understanding assignments up front.

Injury Report

The following image is the most recent injury report that has been made available to the media.

Final Thoughts

With how the UFL conferences are shaking out coming down the stretch, this game truly means more for the DC Defenders in terms of “must win”. DC is coming off one of their best performances of the season against San Antonio, and must be at the same level against Michigan this week.

For Michigan, they sit three games ahead of third/fourth place in the USFL conference so this game certainly doesn’t qualify as one they must have. Although, Michigan can clinch a playoff berth this week with a win, plus a Memphis and Houston loss.

As for a prediction, this matchup feels like a tight, low scoring affair that can fall in either team’s favor. At home, it’s hard to go against DC especially when you have such a rowdy fanbase showing up continuously. The home atmosphere gives the Defenders a slight edge over Michigan this week.

The DC Defenders will host the Michigan Panthers at 12pm ET this Sunday, on ESPN.

Full Roster Breakdowns: DC, Michigan

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