This is a “win or go home” mantra for both teams. Philadelphia comes into this matchup losing two in a row, just falling short in back to back shootouts with Birmingham and New Jersey.
Meanwhile, the Michigan Panthers have seriously struggled to find any footing over the past several weeks. They’re 1-6 in their last seven games, but remarkably still have a chance to get in with a win.
Let’s take a look at some of the key factors ahead of this showdown, and what to expect from each organization.
When these teams played in week two, it was the last time we saw Michigan look like a competent team. Despite the defensive battle on both sides, the Panthers played a complete game, powered by Reggie Corbin who was unstoppable on the ground.
Josh Love did enough to secure the win, and Michigan’s defense absolutely smothered Case Cookus and the Stars, who were only able to post 10 points. However, since this 24-10 outing, things look quite a bit different for both teams.
Case Cookus has been on a mission for the Philadelphia Stars. It was a rough first half of the season, as the Stars had zero stability offensively. However, Case has been quite the playmaker over the past few games, consistently throwing for multiple scores while being efficient with the football.
As of right now, Cookus is clearly the better quarterback. He’s posted spectacular numbers, even in the two losses. In fact, he’s been the main reason why the games have been so close. Without his efforts, the Stars would have been blown away in both of those affairs. While Michigan’s defense has been stout this season, I’d expect Cookus to have at least a bit more success against them this time around.
The #USFL after dark is lit, no pun intended. Case Cookus finds a wide open Corey Coleman for the 56 yard score, and just like that the @USFLStars take a 27-24 lead.
Josh Love is not the same signal caller who started the season. His offensive line has not provided much help – but, Love has to make better decisions with the football. He single handedly lost Michigan the game this past week against Pittsburgh, throwing four interceptions.
Something to note about Love’s style of play is his inability to scramble. In spring football, mobility is key. There’s a reason why teams such as New Jersey and Pittsburgh have seen success with Troy Williams and De’Andre Johnson. Even Case Cookus can get out of the pocket and run, posting over 50 yards on Sunday against the Generals.
Well, I'm eating my words. Outstanding opening drive to this half for Josh Love and the @USFLPanthers, capped off with a TD to a wide open Cole Hikutini to pull back within one score.
If Love continues to rush throws into double coverage, this game will be over before we know it. Mike Nolan calls him a “game manager”, but he hasn’t properly done that for nearly the entire USFL season. One has to wonder what things would look like, had Eric Barriere been given a chance.
These teams are stacked offensively. Beginning with the backfield, Michigan boasts Reggie Corbin and Stevie Scott, who have been two consistent forces throughout the last couple of seasons. Corbin’s best game in 2023 was against Philadelphia, in fact.
The Stars have a lot to figure out when it comes to their backfield, which is detailed here. With Matt Colburn out of the season on IR, Dexter Williams and the new signings have to step up. Heading into this matchup, Michigan certainly has the edge when it comes to running backs.
Corey Coleman has officially set the modern @USFL receiving record, with 614 yards on the season (topping Turpin's 540 in 2022). @TheCoreyColeman has been an electrifying target for Case Cookus and the @USFLStars, and will have a chance to add to his record in week ten. pic.twitter.com/fDM6fzQdDw
Meanwhile, both teams feature some outstanding wide receivers. Corey Coleman just set the modern USFL record for most receiving yards in a season, with 614. He’s been electric, and is surrounded by other weapons as well, such as Diondre Overton, Cyril Grayson, Devin Gray, etc.
If Case Cookus is hot, expect these receivers to have a field day. The team simply needs to see some respectable production from the ground game. If they can accomplish that, success is on its way to Philadelphia.
We know how talented Michigan is offensively. The question is, can their main pieces get involved? Joe Walker, Trey Quinn, Cole Hikutini – they’ve been the go to guys for Love all year. That being said, if Love can’t perform, then neither will they. A lot will ride on what version of Josh we get to see this week.
Michigan’s Stout Defense
Defense is where the Panthers have a clear advantage. Their unit has been consistent week in and week out. There is no shortage of ballhawks and playmakers on the defensive side of the football. LB Frank Ginda and DE Breeland Speaks have stood out as the two leaders – as Ginda leads the USFL in tackles, while Speaks leads the leagues in sacks.
However, across the board they have plenty of capable defenders who contribute quality minutes. Josh Butler and Levonta Taylor are two excellent corners. It will be fun to watch them battle it out with the likes of Corey Coleman and Devin Gray.
Up front, Michigan has to put pressure on Case Cookus. When Cookus is uncomfortable, he’ll usually attempt to do a little bit too much. This typically results in turnovers. If Speaks, Garrett Marino, Walter Palmore, Levi Bell, etc. can consistently get to Cookus in the backfield, Michigan’s chances of winning increase drastically.
Despite yesterday's loss, LB Frank Ginda led the team with 11 tackles, 2 TFL, & a tide-turning INT. With how consistent @frankginda05 has been this #USFL season, I'd be shocked if he doesn't get an NFL look.
Philadelphia also boasts an impressive defense, but it’s one that has struggled over the course of two weeks. They allowed a game winning drive to Birmingham in week eight, before getting trounced by New Jersey, who posted a season high 37 points.
The good news: they play the Michigan Panthers, who scored just seven points a week ago. Adam Rodriguez, Cody Brown, Amani Dennis, and the rest of the group should have plenty of opportunities to generate pressure, and turnovers.
Philadelphia Stars | Bart Andrus: In his second season in the USFL, Bart Andrus once again has his Stars in a position to make a playoff run. While it hasn’t always been pretty, Philadelphia has turned things around in the second half of the season. They’ll need a masterful outing from Bart and the coaching staff on Sunday to punch a postseason ticket.
Michigan Panthers | Mike Nolan: To be quite frank, it’s been tough to watch Mike Nolan coach this team at times. As expected, his defense is phenomenal. There’s never been any doubt in his prowess to put together an outstanding defensive unit. However, his offensive mindset has been much too conservative at times, trusting Josh Love even after making so many mistakes. With how impressive Michigan’s defense has been, there are no excuses for having a team record of 3-6. Plain and simple.
Heading into this affair, the Philadelphia Stars feel like the early favorite. Even though they’ve lost two in a row, they played solid games, coming up just short defensively both times. Considering they’re facing a lackluster offense in Michigan, odds are the defense should be able to get the job done this week.
The Michigan Panthers can never be counted out, though. With their outstanding defensive efforts, anything is possible. However, if the offense can’t do their part, this season will be over quickly for Mike Nolan’s squad.
Whatever happens, it’s going to be electric. There’s nothing quite like the playoffs, before the playoffs. Win, or go home. It all kicks off Sunday night, as the Michigan Panthers host the Philadelphia Stars at 7pm ET on FOX.
What are your thoughts on this upcoming USFL matchup between the Michigan Panthers and Philadelphia Stars? Which USFL players need to impress to get the win? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!