Michigan Panthers vs. Birmingham Stallions | Week 2 UFL Preview

Michigan Panthers vs. Birmingham Stallions | Week 2 Preview

Week two of the UFL continues with what will be an intriguing matchup between two 1-0 teams. The Michigan Panthers host the Birmingham Stallions, with an opportunity to take control of the USFL Conference depending on who comes out on top.

Taking a quick look at last week, the Birmingham Stallions looked like the team to beat. After a slow start against Arlington, that second half was a scary sight, as the Renegades fell by double digits. Matt Corral & Co. came alive, and Birmingham’s defense looked better than ever.

Michigan, on the other hand, had an unbelievable finish against St. Louis. When all looked lost with less than a minute to go – we’ve all heard the story by now – Jake Bates saved the day. The Panthers got away with one late, but will have to show signs of improvement this week against the back-to-back champs.

Quarterback Play

Matt Corral seemed to figure things out pretty quickly on Saturday. Not surprisingly, it took him a few drives to get his legs under him. Once he accomplished that, the Stallions took control and never looked back.

Corral’s sole interception of the day wasn’t even his fault, as the ball slipped right into Deon Cain’s hands. According to PFF, Matt’s offensive grade was 77.5 – and his passing grade was even better, at 85.6. The former third round NFL draft pick is already looking like an MVP candidate for Skip Holtz if he can keep growing from week to week.

It’s also expected that Adrian Martinez will be utilized. His legs resemble that of Alex McGough, and Holtz loves to use two quarterbacks, so prepare to see Adrian take a drive or two on Sunday. Michigan’s defense performed quite well against McCarron, but have yet to face the dual-threat abilities of Corral/Martinez.

As for E.J. Perry, there is some work to do. He had the lowest PFF grades of any quarterback this weekend, and committed five “turnover worthy” plays. More than double of any other UFL signal caller.

Now, it wasn’t all bad. Once Perry remembered that he could use his legs, instead of trying to play hero ball, Michigan’s offense began to get it going. That second half was impressive, as E.J. continued to put the Panthers back in the game, even after taking some major shots from St. Louis.

Against an opportunistic Birmingham defense, Perry can’t afford to make those mental mistakes, especially early. With another week of practice under his belt, his play should be cleaner in week two.

Standout Playmakers

Birmingham has such a complete offense across the board. After his early drop, Deon Cain became a go to guy for Corral, and that should stay the same this week. He totaled 66 receiving yards and a score this weekend.

Jace Sternberger was relatively quiet with two catches for 32 yards, but it’s only a matter of time before he starts putting up the numbers he did in 2023.

The RB tandem of C.J. Marable and Ricky Person Jr. proved to be one of the best in the UFL. The two combined for 98 rushing yards, and also made an impact catching the ball out of the backfield. Person, in particular, had an excellent day, with an 88.1 offensive grade per PFF.

The Michigan Panthers are going to continue to lean on RB Wes Hills, who had an outstanding week one performance. Hills led all rushers with 85 yards, and sparked a couple of their scoring drives against St. Louis.

Their wide receivers have to find a way to get more involved. Now, part of this is Perry getting them involved. But generally speaking, Michigan doesn’t have that “WR1” that pops off the depth chart. Devin Ross and Marcus Simms both made some impressive plays, and one would hope that Perry will target John Hightower a bit more often this weekend. Hightower only saw 19 snaps, but made arguably the most clutch play of the day, with a reception on 4th and 6 during their final drive.

Two Stout Defenses

The Michigan Panthers came away with a win in week one due to their defensive efforts. Their defensive line and front seven as a whole set the tone. St. Louis could not run the ball, which led to the Battlehawks being backed up often and early.

In the secondary, Nate Brooks, Keith Gipson, Bryce Torneden, and Kai Nacua all had solid games. There were a couple of slip ups in crunch time, though, (i.e. Gipson on Marcell Ateman). Something to watch this week will be how this unit handles a Stallions lineup of former NFL draft picks like Deon Cain and Amari Rodgers.

The trenches will be a bit tougher for Michigan this week. They’ll have to worry about the mobility of Corral and Martinez. Collin Bauer’s defense was excellent stopping the run in week one, but they’ll have a true challenge, especially with Birmingham’s offensive line being one of the best in the league.

For the Stallions, their defense was fantastic when it came to applying pressure on Luis Perez, especially in the second half. However, similar to Michigan’s situation, they will now face a more mobile and dynamic signal caller this week. Carlos Davis, Jonathan Garvin, Dondrea Tillman, etc. cannot allow E.J. to easily escape the pocket.

In the secondary, Lorenzo Burns and Mark Gilbert were special in week one. Gilbert doesn’t belong in this league. He allowed zero receptions on two targets, and came up with an interception and a recovered fumble. A strong PFF grade of 91.9 to start his season.

That said, one sore spot is Chris Jackson. He gave up eight catches for 113 yards and a score against Arlington. If he’s primarily in the slot again this week, the Panthers have to target Trey Quinn and Devin Gray often and early.

Coaching Matchup

Michigan Panthers | Mike Nolan: Nolan is in his second season of coaching in Michigan. He’s got a bit of a different role this year, as Collin Bauer (his new DC) is now calling the defense. This has allowed Mike to have a bit more time on the sidelines to see the big picture, which he believes was quite helpful in their week one win.

Coach Nolan with a statement on this upcoming game against Birmingham:

“I think we match up pretty well. They’re a very good football team, they’ve won the league two years in a row. They beat a good team the other day, and it was not very close. They’ll be a very good opponent. I would say the comparison is that St. Louis is a little more prototypical in their style of offense, and Birmingham is a bit more of a college style. They do a lot with their quarterback(s). Birmingham utilizes the quarterback position extremely well, and they use them to not only pass, but also to run the ball.”

Birmingham Stallions | Skip Holtz: Holtz is one of the most lovable coaches in all of football. He’s perfect for the spring football scene, and his team is humming to start the UFL season, to no one’s surprise. With his leadership, this Birmingham team is 22-3. Last year, Holtz got the best of Nolan, as Birmingham came away with a 27-13 victory.

Final Thoughts

While the Michigan Panthers are an extremely talented team, and better than a year ago, so is Birmingham. It’s difficult to pick against the Stallions, until they actually start losing. Given their week one success, I’d pick Birmingham as the favorites to win this game.

That said, you cannot count Michigan out. Last week was a perfect example of that. The St. Louis Battlehawks were heavily favored, yet the Panthers came away with a victory.

It’s also worth noting that both Birmingham and Michigan featured two of the best offensive lines in week one. Hopefully, this means we’ll see clean play throughout the game between these two units.

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

Full Roster Breakdowns: Birmingham, Michigan

What are your thoughts on this matchup between the Michigan Panthers and Birmingham Stallions? Will Nolan even the series against Holtz? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!