These two teams have some similarities, and differences, in year two. Josh Love is back with the Panthers, and will start the game today. Kenji Bahar, who closed the 2022 season for Houston, will also get the nod in Curtis Johnson’s brand new offense.
Both organizations saw coaching changes ahead of the 2023 season. On top of that, multiple playmakers (Donald Payne, Chris Odom, Lance Lenoir, etc.) moved onto other endeavors. However, these teams boast plenty of talent – and have a lot to prove in the USFL this time around.
Let’s take a look at what happened…
Houston received the opening kickoff, which meant we saw Kenji Bahar first. After a couple of first downs, Michigan’s defense held their ground, and Andrew Galitz punted it away.
Josh Love looked excellent on the Panthers first drive, slinging the ball efficiently. Michigan’s offense was in a rhythm right out of the gate, running and throwing the ball well. Love eventually found Marcus Baugh across the middle for a touchdown, and Michigan took a 6-0 lead.
The Gamblers looked better on their ensuing possession. Bahar used his legs to keep the drive alive, as his dual threat capabilities were put on full display.
Something to note is that Houston was missing RB Mark Thompson, who was an outstanding back last season for the team. TJ Pledger took the starting reps, and was solid. He ran it in from a couple yards out, and the Gamblers tied it up at 6 a piece.
T.J. Pledger into the endzone! 🙌 @uno_tj caps off a 12 play, 61-yard drive with the touchdown to tie it up!
With one quarter in the books, Michigan had the ball and were marching nicely.
Love continued to play excellent football, showcasing his strong arm. On 3rd and 8, he fired a dart to Joe Walker, despite being absolutely decked after releasing the football. They couldn’t get in the endzone, but Cole Murphy knocked through a short field goal to make it a 9-6 ball game.
Terry Wilson came into the game for the Gamblers, which was an interesting move. They punted – but, Joe Walker muffed it, and Houston was able to regain possession, as Jeremiah Johnson recovered.
Kenji Bahar came back into the game, and Houston looked poised to score. A pass interference call set Houston up with excellent field position, and T.J. Pledger got his second touchdown of the day. Just like that, the Gamblers led 13-9.
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!
QB changes were a staple for this second quarter. Carson Strong came into the game for Michigan, but couldn’t get into a groove, and Michigan punted the ball away. Houston’s offense stalled out, though, which resulted in them sending the ball right back to Michigan.
The Panthers’ next drive was snuffed out by Houston, though. Deon Lake made a phenomenal tackle of Trey Quinn, to prevent a first down. Heading into halftime, it was a 13-9 lead for the Houston Gamblers.
It wasn’t a great start to the second half for Michigan. Josh Love came into the game, but Michigan went nowhere. A tipped punt set up the Gamblers with great field position.
However, Michigan’s defense would make a big-time play. Warren Saba, who missed last season with an injury, picked off Bahar, returning it inside the Gambler’s five yard line.
What a play by Warren Saba. This is a full circle moment for @HOLLYWOOD17__, who missed most of last season with an injury.
As time trickled down in the third quarter, neither offense was able to find much of a rhythm. With fifteen minutes left to play, it was a 16-13 ball game.
Josh Love was on one for Michigan today, making fantastic decisions in the pocket. Ish Hyman and Joe Walker both made an impact, as expected, with both being main targets last season. The Panthers finished off a great drive with a score, as Love fired a dart to Trey Quinn to put Michigan on top 22-13.
Houston caught a big-time break down the stretch of this quarter. After a good march, Bahar threw a pick – but a pass interference negated the interception. For Breeland Speaks, it didn’t matter. He bull-rushed Bahar, forcing a fumble; and this time, the Michigan Panthers recovered.
Breeland Speaks is having a monster outing for the @USFLPanthers today.
With time becoming a major factor, Houston desperately needed a stop. They wouldn’t be able to get it, though, as Love continued to make plays. His poise in the pocket was a key factor in Michigan’s offensive dominance.
As time ticked down, Love unleashed an absolute dime to Joe Walker for a touchdown – and the Panthers led 29-13 with less than two minutes left to play.
Michigan held on to win this one over the Houston Gamblers, 29-13.
The Michigan Panthers look like an entirely new franchise. With a healthy Josh Love at the helm, this offense moved the football much more efficiently than they did for most of last season.
Mike Nolan coached an excellent game for Michigan, allowing Love to lead the offense. At the same time, the Panthers defense was stout, making life very difficult for Houston all day long.
On the other hand, the Houston Gamblers didn’t play a terrible game – but need to clean up the mental mistakes. A couple of costly turnovers in the second half really hurt their efforts on Sunday, but this team boasts plenty of talent. Curtis Johnson will look to move the team in the right direction next week.
"He's a great competitor. His wife makes the best cookies in the world." 🤣🍪@USFLGamblers head coach Curtis Johnson and @USFLPanthers head coach Mike Nolan are friendship goals 👏
What are your thoughts on this game between the Michigan Panthers and Houston Gamblers? Which USFL players impressed you the most? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!