That Generals of New Jersey and Tampa Bay Bandits meet on Saturday to kick off week 7 at the USFL. The Generals (5-1) achieve a dramatic victory over the Houston Gamblers while the Bandits (3-3) lost to the Philadelphia Stars in another high-scoring tournament.
Related: Week 7 picks for each USFL game
New Jersey came away with a 26-25 win over the Houston Gamblers late in the fourth quarter when Luis Perez smashed in a quarterback sneak in fourth place with two seconds left to give them the win. If you were to look at the stat sheet, would you ask yourself how on earth the game was even close? The Generals held the ball for more than 40 minutes and ran 73 games to just 38 for the Gamblers. Turnovers (two fumbles) helped keep things interesting, but the bottom line is that New Jersey showed great determination by finding a way to win a game they could easily have lost.
Tampa Bay is looking to get back on track after a 35-28 loss to the Philadelphia Stars last week. The Bandits are still in the mix to make the playoffs as they trail New Orleans by one game in the South Division to make second place in the playoffs and play four. Jordan Ta’amu threw for 333 yards, four touchdowns and one interception while completing 67.5 percent of his passes. The defense held Philadelphia in check from an overall length perspective, but ultimately gave up a touchdown too many.
New Jersey (5-1) to Tampa Bay (3-3)
Kicking off: Saturday, May 28 at 12 p.m. ET
From where: Protection Stadium (Birmingham, Alabama)
TV: USA network
Spread: Generals -4
Three things to see
1. Can the generals offensive take command early?
New Jersey, currently two games ahead of the Philadelphia Stars for first place in the North Division, this week’s Generals have an opportunity to secure a playoff spot with a win over Tampa Bay or losses to Michigan and Pittsburgh. But after the last-second escape against Houston last week, head coach Mike Riley would probably prefer his team didn’t let the Bandits hang around for so long.
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Quarterback Luis Perez was the hero to score with the game-winning sneak last week and he was in the game after De’Andre Johnson went down with an injury. New Jersey requested waivers from Kyle Lauletta, who started the season with the Pittsburgh Maulers, earlier this week. That doesn’t necessarily bode well for Johnson’s status, so this could be Perez’s offense for the foreseeable future. That could mean a heavy dose of running back Darius Victor, who is fourth in the league in rushing for 365 yards and leads with five touchdowns on the ground. Riley will also want to get the ball in the hands of KaVontae Turpin, the league’s leading receiver with 341 yards on 29 catches. Last week he caught 10 passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns.
The Generals lead the USFL in total offense (365.3 ypg) behind top rushing offense (177.5 ypg) and second-ranked passing game (187.8 ypg). Riley could lean on the run a little more Saturday to try to wear down Tampa Bay’s defense and check the clock.
2. The crime of the bandits needs to be in the spotlight
Jordan Ta’amu needs to have his game of the year if Tampa Bay is to cause a stir. Not only because New Jersey has the USFL’s most prolific offense, but also because Tampa Bay averages fewer than 100 rushing yards per game. That puts even more pressure on Ta’amu, who is second in both passing yards (1,167) and touchdowns (nine), but he’s also thrown five interceptions. Ta’amu needs to make good decisions when falling behind to pass, but also not be afraid to use his legs to get things moving. He rushed for 61 yards on nine attempts last week and leads his team in that department (204 yards) for the season. But it’s crucial that someone else show up on the Bandits offense and make a few plays, because expecting Ta’amu to outperform a balanced Generals attack on its own is too much to ask.
3. Which defense will strengthen and break the serve?
This game has a bit of a tennis match feel to it as it requires one of those defensive units to force field goal attempts in the red zone. New Jersey is best equipped to do so, entering the game tied with New Orleans with the lowest points allowed (99).
The Generals also have the No. 1 defense in yards allowed per game (246.2), while Tampa Bay gives up 310 per contest. New Jersey’s game plan has worked all season while the Bandits must be the team trying to force the issue through a turnover to turn the field and put the pressure on Perez (or Lauletta if he gets the call ) to try and disrupt the New Jersey offensive. Sacks and turnovers aren’t really the calling cards of either team on defense, so those factors could have a big impact on how this game plays out.
New Jersey should be able to find a way to control the clock with another balanced offensive attack. Tampa Bay may have some success throwing the ball as Ta’amu has put up decent numbers this season, but the Bandits will once again struggle to lead the ball consistently. The Generals show why they are a first-place team, securing their place in the playoffs and taking a step closer to winning the North Division title with a satisfying win on Saturday.
Prediction: Generals 27, Bandits 20
– Written by Scott Whittum who is part of the Contributor Network.