Michigan Panthers Take Out Houston Roughnecks at Ford Field

Michigan Panthers Take Out Houston Roughnecks at Ford Field

The Michigan Panthers hosted the Houston Roughnecks at Ford Field today in a vital USFL conference matchup. The Panthers came into the game 1-1 on season, looking to try and keep pace with the Birmingham Stallions near the top the conference. This was their third straight home contest to start the season, and for the most part, their defense had led the way. For the Roughnecks, they came into this road game at 0-2 looking for their first win of the year. A 0-3 start would put them in last in the conference and hurt their playoff hopes early in the season. Let’s look at how the game went down and what it means for both squads going forward.

Game Summary

In a matchup that many expected to be a defensive battle, the struggling Houston Roughnecks’ offense got off to a fast start. Wide receiver Isiah Hennie had a nice kick return that he brought up to around midfield. It was a very efficient drive that ended in a one-yard rushing touchdown by quarterback Reid Sinnett. The play prior to the score was a 24-yard catch by receiver Emmanuel Butler, who caught the two-point conversion to make it 8-0 early in the first quarter. The drive took just over four minutes and was an 8-play, 52-yard possession. Houston started fast for the first time all season.

The Michigan Panthers responded with a score of their own on their first possession, as well. A drive that looked promising to start fizzled out and resulted in a 46-yard Jake Bates field goal. The Panthers’ kicker was money as usual and made the score 8-3 with seven minutes left in the first quarter. It was a seven-play, 33-yard drive that ate up nearly four minutes.

Following a three-and-out by the Roughnecks, which was hurt by two false starts, Michigan got the ball back. The penalties continued for Houston and several more helped move the Panthers down the field. A long 14-play, 83-yard drive was capped off with an EJ Perry rushing touchdown from 11 yards out. Perry accounted for 59 total yards on the drive. This possession started in the first quarter and ended in the second. However, the PAT was no good, so the Panthers held onto a 9-8 lead, kicking the ball back to Houston.

On the ensuing Roughnecks’ possession, the offense was able to get down near the Panthers’ redzone. Unfortunately, Sinnett threw a pass that was tipped and picked off by safety Kai Nacua. Sinnett had played very well prior to that and now the Michigan offense took over with under seven minutes left in the first half.

The Panthers’ offense was unable to capitalize on the turnover and went three-and-out. Danny Etling was brought in for EJ Perry on the drive but was unable to find success in his short stint. Following the punt, Houston moved the ball well, yet again, and faced a third-and-long coming out of the two minute warning. Sinnett hit running back TJ Pledger for a nice completion to keep the drive alive. However, they wouldn’t trudge on much further and the offense stalled out. Kicker JJ Molson came in and nailed a 25-yard field goal with 50 seconds left. Roughnecks led 11-9.

The Panthers were aggressive and tried to nab some points prior to the half. Their strategy paid off. After a few short out routes, Bates came in for a 55-yard field goal. He split the uprights again and made the score 12-11, Panthers, at the half.

After receiving the second half kickoff, Michigan wasted no time getting more points on the board. On the first play of the third quarter, EJ Perry found wide receiver Marcus Simms on a short throw, that Simms took all the way for a 66-yard touchdown that made the score 20-11. The two-point conversion was good, so thirty seconds into the second half, the Panthers extended their lead. It was the second long Perry to Simms touchdown in as many weeks for the Michigan offense.

The Roughnecks got another great return from Hennie, this time down to the Michigan 20-yard line. They couldn’t do anything with it though, moving backwards and settling for a 35-yard field goal by Molson. Three minutes into the third, the score was 20-14.

On their next possession, the Panther offense marched right down the field in 12 plays and finished the drive off with another EJ Perry touchdown. This one was from nine yards out and extended the lead to 28-14. Running back Matt Colburn converted the two-point attempt and capped off a drive that ate up over eight minutes of clock. Four and a half minutes remained in the third quarter.

The Roughnecks went three-and-out on the next possession and lined up to punt after a Breeland Speaks sack set the drive back. Houston punter Hunter Niswander had his punt blocked for the third time this season. This time by safety Kendrick Whitehead Jr., and the Panthers once again had terrific field position. Whitehead got his hand on a ball for the second time, the first being the tip that resulted in Nacua’s interception.

After four plays and 26 yards, the Panthers got into the endzone again. With eight seconds left in the third quarter, Colburn scored on the ground from four yards out. We would head into the final quarter with the Panthers leading, 34-14.

With the game slipping away, the Roughnecks knew they needed a score. They were able to do just that with a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that lasted half the quarter. Sinnett found wide receiver Justin Hall from three yards out and made the score 34-20 with 7:42 left in the game.

Despite the Houston defense getting a stop on the following Michigan drive, their offense could not come up with a score. After turning them over on downs, the Panthers’ offense ran the rest of the clock out and held on to improve to 2-1. For the Roughnecks, they fall to 0-3 and sit in last place.

Standout Playmakers

QB EJ Perry: Perry had a terrific game in the air and on the ground. Through two weeks we had seen Perry’s ability to run the ball, but this was the best he’s looked as a passer in the UFL. He was 16/19 (84%) for 208 yards and a touchdown with a QBR of 129.8. He also added 60 yards on the ground with two touchdowns on just nine carries. The biggest key is the fact that he didn’t turn it over. Michigan should win a lot of games if Perry plays like this going forward.

WR Marcus Simms: Simms had another great game for the Panthers. Last week he had a 76-yard touchdown against Birmingham, this week he had a 66-yarder. In all he finished with four catches for 84 yards and that aforementioned score. His speed is legit, and he displayed some great elusiveness on that touchdown. He’s certainly turning the heads of NFL GMs and scouts.

S Kai Nacua: Nacua continues to impress through three weeks. He had an interception today to go along with two PBUs and seven tackles. He also made a terrific tackle on special teams during his kickoff coverage duties. Nacua plays with a ton of fire and always seems to be in the right spot. He can play in the box or in coverage and looked like one of the best players on the field today.

S Kendrick Whitehead Jr.: Whitehead made two huge plays for Michigan, one on defense and one on special teams. His first was the tipped pass that Nacua capitalized on with his interception, and the second was the blocked punt. One kept points off the board and the other directly led to points. Plays like that are a huge contributing factor to winning football.

DE Breeland Speaks: Speaks finished the day with three total tackles, a sack, and two TFLs. Dating back to last year Speaks has been a force coming off the edge. Not much has changed. Also, his sack on Sinnett was a devastating hit, but clean. Great work by him.

Houston Roughnecks

QB Reid Sinnett: Sinnett played well in his first start of the campaign. He finished 19/28 (68%) for 197 yards with a touchdown and a pick. He had a QBR of 85 and added 19 yards on the ground and another score. Sinnett looked comfortable and like he had good control over the offense. He earned the right to start next week, as well.

WR Emmanuel Butler: Butler stepped up after Houston lost wide receiver Kirk Merritt for the year and were without Anthony Ratliff-Williams today. He had receptions of 24 and 33 yards while finishing with three grabs for 63 yards. He should expect continued opportunities going forward.

S Donald Rutledge Jr.: Rutledge continued to impress with another good performance. He finished with nine tackles and has been consistent through three games for Houston. But the Roughnecks’ defense wasn’t great as a whole.

LB Gabriel Sewell Jr.: Sewell played well again, finishing with five tackles, two TFLs, and a PBU. He was strong against the run and had a better day than fellow linebacker Reuben Foster.

WR/KR Isiah Hennie: Hennie fumbled twice in week one and hasn’t had much offensive production. Today he was great as a kick returner, looking just like he did last season with the Pittsburgh Maulers. He had a 75-yard return that set up a field goal, and overall has six returns for 207 yards. An average of 34.5 yards per return is something Houston would love to see weekly.

Key Factors

 The story of the game is Houston’s defense. A unit that played well through two weeks was not good. They gave up 332 yards and 34 points to a Michigan offense that was struggling badly through two weeks. Excluding the final possession when the Panthers were running the clock out, Michigan scored on six of their eight drives. That’s unacceptable and puts way too much pressure on your offense. Especially an offense as limited as Houston’s.

The Roughnecks’ offense looked better than it had in their first two games, but they still made the same mistakes. Pre-snap penalties and an untimely turnover took potential points off the board, and they still can’t run the ball without Mark Thompson. They averaged 2.6 yards per rush and put everything on Sinnett’s shoulders in his first start. That’s not a recipe for success and they’ll need to be better in all facets if they want to turn this season around.

Final Thoughts

 The Panthers have asserted themselves as the next-best team behind Birmingham in the USFL conference. They’re 2-1 and will head into San Antonio in week four to face the Brahmas. The result of that game will tell us a lot about both of those teams going forward. The Roughnecks are joined by the Arlington Renegades as the only winless teams. They’ll face off next week in Houston, with the loser dropping to 0-4