Just like that, USFL week one is in the rearview mirror. It was an entertaining weekend of football, with all four matchups showcasing exciting action alongside high quality broadcasts on FOX & NBC networks.
As expected, teams that were predicted to perform well put up solid numbers in week one. At the same time, there were some surprises along the way, with multiple players putting on a show for their respective teams.
Let’s take a look at the main takeaways from week one in the USFL, and what to expect moving forward.
Birmingham Stallions: Playing Like Champs
The Birmingham Stallions are back in town – and back to playing like the USFL Champions that they are. It was an outstanding performance across the board from Skip Holtz’ squad, as they look ready to make another Championship run in 2023.
Something that makes this team so intriguing – and powerful – is their quarterbacks. Just like last season, both Alex McGough and J’Mar Smith are proven winners. It doesn’t matter which QB is inserted into the lineup, both perform at a high level when their name is called upon.
Now, Birmingham will have to reevaluate a few things, especially injury-wise. Marlon Williams is done for the season with a torn achilles – which is a brutal blow, as he was poised to be WR1. Scooby Wright also went down with a calf injury, so hopefully that one isn’t as serious.
Josh Love’s Emergence
How about Josh Love? After going 0-4 in the USFL last season, Love came out firing in this season’s opener. He set a USFL record for the highest completion percentage, ever – tossing the rock for over 200 yards and three scores.
His emergence in Michigan will be vital for Mike Nolan’s Panthers moving forward. The great news for Michigan, is that their offense was phenomenal – without having to rely on Reggie Corbin. Don’t get me wrong: Corbin is arguably the best back in the USFL. However, the Panthers were able to generate offense through other avenues as well, which is an excellent sign of growth.
In other news, Michigan’s defense is fierce. Led by Breeland Speaks and Warren Saba, this unit was on absolute fire this weekend. Houston couldn’t get anything going in the second half, and it’s largely due to the tone that the Michigan Panthers set on the defensive end of the football.
After such a rough season in 2022, the pieces are coming together early for Michigan. While we’re only one week into the year, it’s safe to say that Mike Nolan’s Panthers are in a position to make noise in the North.
Case Cookus: Still Cookin’ Hot
The Philadelphia Stars are poised to run it back this season. They might be the most complete squad in the entire USFL, and it’s largely because of this man: Case Cookus. Let. Case. Cook.
Cookus was sensational in the opener, throwing for well over 200 yards alongside three touchdowns. His third TD of the day was his most impressive, dropping a dime to Devin Gray while getting absolutely decked in the pocket.
Case Cookus is ridiculous. He looks even better than he did in the #USFL Championship last year.
Bart Andrus did such a stellar job of developing and placing talent around Case. He’s surrounded by incredible athletes, who all know their roles and fill them well. Chris Rowland, Matt Colburn, Corey Coleman, Jordan Suell, Devin Gray – and plenty more – all have this offense playing some of the best football you’ll see in the spring league scene.
If Philadelphia can continue to produce points like they did in week one, watch out. They are going to be tough to contain.
The MBT Experiment
McLeod Bethel-Thompson was, without a doubt, one of the big names coming into the USFL season. He officially won the starting role in John DeFilippo’s offense, and performed relatively well all things considered.
This is exactly why John DeFilippo recruited McLeod Bethel-Thompson to the @USFLBreakers.
It’s fair to say that it will take some time for MBT to develop chemistry with his new teammates. Adjusting back to football in the States after playing in the CFL is no easy task. With that in mind, the New Orleans Breakers really picked up their effort in the second half.
Bethel-Thompson finished the day with over 300 yards through the air, and threw the go-ahead touchdown with under two minutes to play. Breakers fans need to give this unit just a bit of time to gel – if they can put the puzzle pieces together, they’ll be as potent as anyone in the USFL.
New Orleans has one stout defense. In 2022, this squad was fantastic – and they might be even better in 2023. They completely stifled Pittsburgh from start to finish, dominating up front and in the secondary. Neither quarterback could get into a rhythm, and it’s because of the constant pressure generated in the trenches.
Also, Matthew Coghlin is already proving to be the USFL’s premier kicker. He was 5/5 from the line against Pittsburgh, including a 51 yarder. Heck of a performance from one of the newest additions to the team.
Pittsburgh: Here We Go Again?
Sunday night’s game featuring the Pittsburgh Maulers felt eerily similar to the team we watched in 2022. They boast a fantastic defense – one that held New Orleans in check for most of the night. Reuben Foster was special in his USFL debut, notching 12 tackles and a forced fumble.
Reuben Foster is already making an impact in the #USFL. Forces a fumble on Anthony Jones, and Kyahva Tezino recovers in the end zone.
Unfortunately, the offense needs some help. A lot of it. Neither James Morgan or Troy Williams could find a rhythm, passing for a combined 81 yards. On top of that, they only completed 37% of their passes…yikes.
Pittsburgh posted just 156 yards of total offense, averaging 3.3 yards per play. I have faith in Ray Horton to turn things around, but the Maulers will have to improve these stat lines sooner than later. Under no circumstances should they have scored only 15 points after that performance the defense put on display.
Don’t Bet On Houston, Yet
The Houston Gamblers look exactly like a team that lost three All-USFL defensive players in the offseason, while not making many improvements on the offensive side of the football.
That once vaunted defense was a shell of its former self, as they couldn’t buy a stop against Michigan for most of the game. Without Donald Payne, Will Likely, or Chris Odom, it was tough for this unit to find much of an identity. The Panthers had a field day, to say the least.
On the other hand, Kenji Bahar was far from perfect. A flurry of turnovers in the second half put Houston in a hole too deep to crawl out of, unable to find any stability. T.J. Pledger was outstanding in his first USFL action, though, stepping up in Mark Thompson’s absence. Expect plenty more out of him in the coming weeks.
Really impressive start to this game for T.J. Pledger. Already has two touchdowns on the day for the @USFLGamblers, as Houston is in business!
The USFL has brought professional football back to Memphis, and it was a beautiful sight to behold. Brady White led the Memphis Showboats out onto the field on Sunday, with over 20,000 hopeful fans in attendance.
While Memphis didn’t come away with the win, it was a promising start for the reborn franchise. They feature plenty of talent on both sides of the football, falling just short against a strong Philadelphia Stars team.
The first @USFLShowboats touchdown of the modern #USFL era is a beauty. Brady White hits Stribling with a pump fake, before unloading a deep ball to Rashard Davis for the score.
It will be a test for this squad facing off against Birmingham next week. Brady White got off to a rough start, but steadied the ship down the stretch. With another week of practice with the pieces around him, Memphis’ offense should be more potent moving forward.
Alex Collins is going to be a star in the USFL. He had an efficient USFL debut, racking up 63 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries. As his season continues, expect Alex Collins to become a fan favorite in Memphis.
New Jersey is going to need some help moving forward. Our very own Jared Shuster put together a detailed piece breaking down their woes in week one, which you can read here.
In a nutshell, the team is clearly missing the talents of Luis Perez and KaVontae Turpin, who were two pillars to their offense last season. Mike Riley has a lot to figure out ahead of week two.
Coach DeFilippo Is A Warrior
Before closing this piece, we have to give a shout out to Coach Flip. After being diagnosed with a medical condition that made him question whether he’d be able to walk – or coach – again, he ran out on the field to lead his team to their first win of the season.
🌊 @USFLBreakers Coach John DeFilippo was diagnosed with a spinal condition that affects his foot. After doctors told him he may never walk again, he made a promise that he would run onto the field for the first game he coached. He came through on that promise today. 💙 pic.twitter.com/stCuMsj3iw
John DeFilippo is the definition of a professional. Despite dealing with several health issues, he’s out there fighting for his players – and, leading them to victory. With Sunday night’s win over Pittsburgh, he earned his first win as a head coach in pro football.
We’re happy to have John in the USFL, and can’t wait to see what’s in store for him and his team in the near future.
Overall, it was an outstanding opening week of football in the USFL. The games were fun, the fans were awesome, and we all enjoyed watching our favorite USFL teams and players on the field once again.
Both Birmingham and Memphis had respectable turnouts for their first games of the season, and we’re looking forward to seeing those crowds grow as the year continues.