USFL Week 6 Recap: The Gamblers Bust Out Again

Houston Gamblers QB Clayton Thorson
Houston Gamblers QB Clayton Thorson
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

USFL - The USFL provided us with two exciting games in Week 6, bookending the weekend with exciting, close, competitive football. It also provided us with lightning delays and a disturbingly high number of injuries, but there were plenty of positives as the league continues to develop.

With teams now together for a little over two months, they are finally beginning to gel. That's resulting in more connectivity and continuity on offense, which in turn results in more points being scored. Over the first three weeks of the season, the average USFL team scored 19.2 points per game, numbers we haven't seen in the NFL since before the 1994 rule changes to increase offense and scoring. That's up to 22.3 points over the last three weeks, just a hair under what the NFL averages today—and that's with the running clock in the first and third quarters. With more time for players to work with one another, the quality of play has increased significantly. Perhaps a three-week preseason simply was not enough for the league? Either way, we're seeing better play now, and that's always a good thing.

Unfortunately, the other thing we saw this week is plenty of injuries. Some of that is just the unfortunate nature of playing a physical sport, but there also may be an aspect of overwork in some fairly stifling conditions. Until this week, the USFL only had 38 players on their active roster, meaning there are fewer fresh legs to rotate in. That aforementioned three-week training camp perhaps wasn't enough for conditioning, either, especially with so many games being played in fairly stifling Birmingham heat; the temperature has been in the 90s each of the last two weeks with some pretty severe humidity. The USFL has expanded rosters, which should help, but conditioning and fitness are something to watch carefully down the stretch as the march towards Canton continues.

Here are our updated SRS and EVOA (estimated DVOA) ratings through six weeks!

2022 USFL Rankings, Week 6
Rk Team W-L SRS OSRS Rk DSRS Rk EVOA Off
EVOA
Def
EVOA
1 Stallions 6-0 9.0 6.1 1 2.9 3 24.2% 16.4% -7.8%
2 Breakers 4-2 5.3 0.8 5 4.5 1 14.2% 2.0% -12.2%
3 Generals 5-1 4.4 0.9 4 3.5 2 11.8% 2.4% -9.3%
4 Gamblers 1-5 -1.2 3.0 3 -4.2 7 -3.3% 7.9% 11.3%
5 Stars 3-3 -1.5 4.5 2 -6.0 8 -4.2% 12.0% 16.2%
6 Panthers 1-5 -2.0 -4.6 7 2.5 4 -5.5% -12.3% 6.8%
7 Bandits 3-3 -3.8 -2.4 6 -1.4 5 -10.2% -6.5% 3.7%
8 Maulers 1-5 -10.1 -8.2 8 -1.9 6 -27.3% -22.2% 5.2%

The Stallions continue to lead the league, expanding their advantage over the Breakers and Generals. But it's the Generals on the verge of punching their ticket to Canton; with the Panthers and Maulers both sitting at 1-5, the Generals have a huge lead for one of those two Northern playoff slots.

Elsewhere, the 1-5 Gamblers continue to play well above the level their record would indicate—all flash, with no ability to close, their expected win-loss record would be 2.7-3.3 based solely on their point differential. Hence, they're rated above the Stars and Bandits, both with better records—not that the Bandits can complain much after how their game went down this week.

The Maulers are still terrible.

Let's get to the recap.

Stars 35, Bandits 28

We said in our game previews that if the Bandits couldn't beat the Stars, they would be exposed as a team that can't hang with solid competition, and would be an afterthought in the playoff race. A seven-point loss maybe doesn't count as full exposure, but the Bandits have yet to pick up a win over a team with a winning record this season, keeping them a clear tier behind the top teams in the league.

Shockingly, it was not the Stars' passing attack that led them to victory, as Case Cookus threw for just 73 yards, albeit with a pair of short touchdowns. Instead it was Matt Colburn who rode to the rescue, rushing for 140 yards and three scores and trampling the Bandits underfoot. Long touchdowns, too, with two of them coming from midfield. Coburn just hit the second level of the Bandits secondary and was gone.

On a per-play basis, the Bandits probably come out as the better team here. They slightly outgained the Stars 5.6 to 5.3 yards per play. Jordan Ta'amu was slinging it, throwing for 333 yards and four touchdowns (and rushing for 61 more yards) as they tried to keep pace with the Stars' offense.

In the end, though, turnovers did the Bandits in. A Ta'amu interception led to the first Stars touchdown, and a muffed punt led to a second. A fumble didn't lead to Stars points, but it did kill a promising Bandits drive. Had the Bandits managed to hold on to the ball, we might have had a different story.

We did see some history in this game too: the first onside kick replacement. In the USFL, rather than attempt an onside kick, you can run a fourth-and-12 play from the 33-yard-line. Trailing by seven with 3:43 left, the Bandits opted to do just that. And we immediately saw another potential twist when the Stars jumped offsides and gave the Bandits a fourth-and-7 instead. On an onside kick, a penalty moves the ball up the field but doesn't change the 10-yard recovery rule; a penalty on the "alternative kickoff," as they're calling it, can alter the odds of conversion themselves. The conversion ended up failing, but it seems more in the spirit of the game to be letting an offense try to keep possession rather than scooching a ball on the ground and hoping it bounces funny.

We almost got the first shootout overtime, too, which would have made this game very memorable, but the Bandits ran out of juice on their last possession. Ah well, there's always next week.

Stallions 33, Panthers 17

The score isn't quite indicative of how the game was played, but the Stallions picked up their most comfortable win of the season in a lightning-delayed Saturday night game. They improve to 6-0, the only undefeated team left in the USFL; there's very little question we'll be seeing them in Canton for the playoffs, though they can't clinch that until next week.

The Stallions were missing their leading rusher, CJ Marable. That was no problem, as they added Bo Scarbrough last week, and he was ready for prime time. Scarbrough had 16 carries for 105 yards and a score as the Stallions crossed the 30-point barrier for the third time this season—one more than every other team combined.

If the Stallions have any worry at the moment, it's injuries—in addition to Marable, linebacker Scooby Wright missed his second straight game. They could be missing three defensive starters next week in Wright, Nate Holley, and Brody Buck. But if they have any other other worries, it's brewing quarterback unrest. J'Mar Smith didn't light the field up, going 12-for-25 for 135 yards and a couple of scores. He was pulled in the third quarter for Alex McGough, who mostly ran the ball or handed off to Scarbrough as the Stallions bled clock. The Stallions have looked the best when Smith plays well; we have yet to see a McGough-led Stallions do much other than bleed clock. Skip Holtz seems to be committed to working McGough back into the offense, however, so we'll see if the Stallions can improve down the stretch.

Jeff Fisher's Panthers stood punch-for-punch with the Stallions for a while, trailing just 19-17 in the third quarter after Shea Patterson found the end zone. Reggie Corbin found some room on the ground, Lance Lenoir made some good receptions; it was a competitive game coming out of the lightning delay. But the fourth quarter just fell away from them completely. Patterson was picked by Jonathan Newsome to end one drive, a JoJo Tillery sack ended the next, and the Stallions' run game killed too much clock for the Panthers to get much of a third attempt. Birmingham has been a second-half team all season, and they clamped down hard to finish this one.

Not that many people saw the ending, mind you. NBC cut to local news at the top of the hour, shunting the last couple minutes of the game to CNBC. Saturday night was the season finale of Saturday Night Live, after all, and Lorne Michaels tore the network a new one back in 2001 when the XFL delayed SNL. Twenty years later, they weren't going to let that happen again.

Breakers 26, Maulers 16

Last week, the Maulers found their way to their first victory behind street free agent quarterback Vad Lee. Was this the beginning of a new age of Maulers football, one where they'd find their way back to the top of the league?

No.

We overexaggerate for comic effect, as Lee's 198 passing yards still qualify as a great success by Maulers standards, and they matched the Breakers almost exactly in many statistical categories—the Maulers had 272 yards to the Breakers' 266, both went for 4.0 yards per play, and so forth. But Lee's two interceptions ended up leading to nine Breakers points. Ike Brown had both picks, shutting Lee down whenever the quarterback looked in his direction.

The Breakers offensively were efficient if unspectacular, with Anthony Jones and Jordan Ellis pacing them on the ground. It was an important refocusing after Kyle Sloter spent the last couple of weeks throwing interceptions while dealing with injuries; leaning on the running game was a very wise strategic decision by Larry Fedora.

Generals 26, Gamblers 25

We may have a new contender for best game in USFL history as the Generals staged a dramatic comeback to come out on top on Sunday afternoon . We told you that every Gamblers game is interesting, so long as you're not actually a Gamblers fan. For the third time in six weeks, the Gamblers have lost on the very last play as they fall to a very unfortunate 1-5.

This game became closer than perhaps it should have been when Generals quarterback De'Andre Johnson was hurt in the first quarter. But Luis Perez, who had started the season in a platoon with Johnson, was able to come in and play very well. Perez would be a starter for about half the league, and while the Generals' offense isn't as dynamic and mobile with him under center, having two quality quarterbacks (well, for this level, at any rate) on your roster is a huge advantage for the Generals.

The Generals had the ball for over 40 minutes in this one, because the Gamblers offense just couldn't stay on the field. And we don't always mean that negatively; it's just that their longest drive took just 4:15. That's what happens when you mix three-and-outs with 48-yard touchdown bombs, awful interceptions, and defensive scores. The Generals are just speedrunning their drives, getting to any end point as fast as humanly possible, and I'm here for it.

I mean, just look at this. This is Gamblers football in a nutshell. The Generals line up for a field goal, but it's blocked, and…

Two fumbles by the Gamblers on the return, and the Generals get the ball back. Why not?

Or maybe you prefer Big Man Touchdowns? Well, the Gamblers have you covered there too.

For your deep passes, do you prefer your targets to be entirely uncovered, or far-too-well covered? Because the Gamblers have something for you either way.

I swear to God, anarchy is the watchword for the Gamblers, and I enjoy it tremendously.

While all this was going on, mind you, the Generals were playing, y'know, regular football. KaVontae Turpin, freed from the Generals' normal run-first, run-second, run-third life by Perez coming in, ended up with 10 receptions for 106 yards and a pair of scores. He scored on passes from both quarterbacks to pace the Generals' offense.

All this chaos led to the Gamblers being up 25-20 with 5:50 left. Their offense last touched the ball with 10:45 left, mind you, but the Tomasi Laulile fumble return had given them the lead (although they missed the ensuing two-point conversion, because, again, Gamblers are agents of chaos). Perhaps the Generals decided that the only way to beat chaos was with chaos, because their last drive included multiple fourth-down conversions, a Philly Special pass to Perez, and then Perez just managing to sneak the ball across the goal line as time expired, with a little help from an illegal push.

Game over, Generals win, Gamblers can't buy a break.

Comments

1 comment, Last at 23 May 2022, 8:54pm

#1 by HitchikersPie // May 23, 2022 - 8:54pm

Looks like you have two teams ranked #3 by OSRS, think the Generals should be ranked 4th :)

Points: 0

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