Birmingham Stallions fans have not had to deal with much anxiety since the reconstituted USFL kicked off in Birmingham last spring. On Thursday, though, you could feel the collective blood pressure rising across Alabama.
When the Stallions injury report came out, it included 18 players—36% of the roster. In one week, the Stallions lost their starting quarterback, running back, fullback, wide receiver, and middle linebacker. They also lost a starting offensive lineman as well as a key defensive lineman.
On Saturday night, however, any stress Stallions fans felt when they entered Protective Stadium quickly dissipated and was replaced by jubilation. No number of injuries or anything else was stopping the Stallions on this night.
The Memphis Showboats got the ball to start the game, but in a preview of what was to come, they went three and out. The Stallions got the ball deep in their own territory, and after one first down, they faced a third and six from their own 28. McGough scrambled out of the pocket and hit Jace Sternberger in stride for a 47-yard gain. Two players later, McGough threw a strike to Davion Davis, putting the Stallions up 7-0 after an 87-yard drive.
The rest of the first quarter was more of the same. The Showboats went three and out again, and the Stallions responded by putting together an 81-yard touchdown drive. This time, the Stallions lined up in their legendary T-formation for the first time in 2023, and ZaQuandre White punched it in from one yard out on his first carry as a Stallion.
The Showboats got their first first down of the game with less than two minutes to go in the first quarter. They punted the ball back to the Stallions to start the second quarter, who punted it back six plays later for the first and only time in the game.
Memphis was able to put together one of their best offensive drives of the game in response, going 51 yards and attempting a field goal from the 30-yard line. The field goal went wide right, though, and the Memphis Showboats missed out on what turned out to be one of their only chances for offensive points all night.
The Birmingham Stallions scored once more before half as Alex McGough zipped a ball between Showboat defenders to Jace Sternberger to make it 21-0.
The second half was no different from the first. The Stallions got the ball to begin the third quarter and marched down the field, scoring on an eight-play, 77-yard drive. White had his second rushing touchdown of the game: an impressive 35-yard dash where he stayed on his feet after being sandwiched by two Showboats defenders.
Ryan Willis relieved Showboats quarterback Brady White on their first drive of the second half, but he was in for a rude welcome to the USFL. Linebacker Rashard Smith, who was starting at middle linebacker in place of Scooby Wright and new to the USFL himself, blitzed off the edge and destroyed Willis from his blind side. Willis lost the ball in the process, and Willie Yarbary recovered for the Stallions.
The Stallions scored six plays later on a McGough pass to tight end Thaddeus Moss. Moss, son of Hall of Famer Randy Moss, joined the Stallions last week, and this was his first game and catch with the Stallions.
The Showboats were able to march down the field on their ensuing possession, getting a first and goal at the six. However, for the second week in a row, the Stallions defense held strong in the red zone, stopping the Showboats from scoring.
The Stallions then took over at their own five and put together an impressive 95-yard touchdown drive to finish off the game. McGough found Myron Mitchell in the back of the end zone, hitting his fourth different receiver for a touchdown (all four of which were not with the team last year). Todd Haley did not like it, but he could not stop it, and the Stallions finished the game on top 42-2—the biggest margin since the USFL kicked off last year.
The stats tell the story of the game. The Stallions finished with 463 yards (7.6 yards per play), only allowing 183 (3.7 yards per play). They had a much more balanced attack than last week, passing for 291 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Birmingham’s defense also addressed an area of concern from last week, holding the Showboats to only 63 yards on the ground.
The Stallions scored four touchdowns on four red zone trips and kept the Memphis Showboats out of the end zone on their only red zone trip. They also managed to not turn the ball over, while simultaneously forcing multiple turnovers from Memphis. It’s hard to think of how the game could have been any more lopsided.
This game was a testament to Stallions General Manager Zachary Potter’s ability to build a roster. Despite all the injuries, the offense looked even better than last week. New players (White, Sternberger, Moss, Davis, Cain, Mitchell, Watkins) carried the offense while returning starters combined with key additions to bolster the defense.
After the game, Skip Holtz wisely said he had heard enough all week about what the Stallions did not have—he wanted to focus on what they do have. They showed the entire USFL last night that what they do have is pretty darn good—injuries or not.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
For the second week in a row, it’s quarterback Alex McGough. McGough finished the game 21 of 28 for 301 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. He also added 32 yards on six carries. His lone mistake was a safety taken at the end of the third quarter. Other than that, he looked superhuman.
He made great decisions, extended plays with his legs, and threw with a noticeable zip on the ball. Coach Holtz praised McGough for how dialed in he was all week at practice, and it showed during the game.
Runners-Up: ZaQuandre White, Jace Sternberger, and Rashard Smith
The Memphis Showboats got the ball to start the game and went three and out. On their first possession, the Birmingham Stallions faced a third and six from their own 28. The Showboats dropped eight in coverage, and McGough could not find an open receiver. He bought some time with his legs before finding tight end Jace Sternberger crossing the field deep in Showboats territory for a 47-yard pickup. The Stallions scored two plays later, and the rout was on.
– ZaQuandre White ran the ball eight times for 72 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught one pass for 11 yards.
– Jace Sternberger was the Stallions’ leading receiver again, catching five passes for 127 yards (25.4 average) and a touchdown.
– Davion Davis had four catches for 47 yards and a touchdown.
– Jordan Thompson had six tackles and one tackle for loss.
– Lorenzo Burns had six tackles and one pass deflection.
– Rashard Smith had five tackles, one tackle for loss, two sacks, and a forced fumble.
– Dondrea Tillman had three tackles, one tackle for loss, and one sack.
– T. J. Carter had two tackles, two pass deflections, and one interception.
– Willie Yarbary had two tackles and a fumble recovery.
– Brandon Aubrey was 6/6 on extra points, making him 9/9 on the season.
The Birmingham Stallions appear to have emerged from this matchup unscathed. After last week, that may have been the biggest victory of all.
The Stallions will play the New Orleans Breakers at Protective Stadium next Saturday at 11:30 am in a battle of the South Division’s two remaining undefeated teams. Last season, the Stallions and Breakers formed what was likely the biggest rivalry in the reconstituted USFL. This year’s first matchup is shaping up to be a great one with several storylines to watch.
The Breakers’ offense has looked sharp under former Grey Cup winner McLeod Bethel-Thompson, scoring 30 points per game. But they will face a Stallions defense that has only given up one touchdown in eight quarters of play.
Stallions’ newly-signed quarterback Kyle Sloter—the Breakers All-USFL starting quarterback from a season ago—could be activated for the first time against his old team. The Breakers have had this date circled on their calendars since the schedule was released months ago after going 0-3 against the Stallions last year. There will be no love lost between these two teams in what is shaping up to be the game of the week.
What are your thoughts on this USFL game between the Birmingham Stallions and Memphis Showboats? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!