By RJ Young
FOX Sports Writer
Scarbrough ended up with 105 rushing yards on 16 carries on a night when the Stallions' best running back, CJ Marable, was out due to injury. The Stallions were also missing starting linebacker Scooby Wright for a second consecutive game.
"We prepared for this team [Michigan Panthers] the same way, like they’re 5-0 just like us," Scarbrough said. "Coach [Holtz] talks about that week-in and week-out. We want to be 1-0 every week. We prepare for each team the same way."
For Scarbrough, it was not a coming-out party in Birmingham — it was old hat. It’s easy to see how the former Alabama star became one of the signature running backs of the Nick Saban era, and why Stallions coach Skip Holtz wanted to have him on his roster.
Holtz had been adamant that Scarbrough, who won two College Football Playoff national titles with the nearby Crimson Tide, was going to benefit the Stallions because he comes from a program that is used to winning.
"He's physically strong," Holtz said. "He runs hard. I think he had 105 yards and averaged about six yards a carry, but he's humble, too. He's hard-working. He's loyal."
It was needed, too, as the Stallions' passing offense regressed. Former Louisiana Tech quarterback J’Mar Smith got the hook in the third quarter after starting the game 12 of 25 for just 135 yards — though he did throw two TDs.
It was a game in which the Stallions' defense picked things up by coming up with two important takeaways, and Stallions safety JoJo Tillery notched nine tackles — all solo — including a sack.
"The 1-0 mentality of wiping the slate clean every Sunday and coming into work," Holtz said, "taking their time away on their day off and then coming back to work. I'm proud of these guys and proud of each and every guy in that locker room."
Panthers kicker Cole Murphy smashed a 56-yard kick through the uprights to put Michigan ahead 3-0 in the first quarter — the longest kick of the inaugural USFL season.
Stallions kicker Brandon Aubrey responded with a 22-yard field goal on its opening drive with 2:07 left in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, though, wideout Osirus Mitchell picked up the offense when he turned a quick hitch into a 30-yard TD that put the Stallions up 10-3 with 11:28 left to play in the half.
Following a 40-minute lightning delay, the Panthers turned a defensive stop into their first TD of the evening with quarterback Shea Patterson sneaking into the Stallions' end zone. Murphy’s extra point tied the game at 10-10 with 4:11 left to play in the half.
As halftime drew near, the Birmingham defense recovered a fumble at the Michigan 18-yard line and turned it into a field goal — and 13-10 lead — with 1:42 left in the half.
Out of the locker room, the Stallions managed to put together another scoring drive as Smith threw his first TD pass of the night to running back Tony Brooks-James, who was moved to wide receiver last week, then back to running back with the injury to Marable.
But Aubrey missed the extra point to keep the score 19-10 — a one-score game in the USFL. However, after Patterson threw a TD pass to wideout Devin Ross, Michigan coach Jeff Fisher elected to kick the traditional extra point, and the Stallions kept a 19-17 lead with 1:36 left in the third.
Birmingham defense stiffens
That was the last time the Panthers would be within striking distance, as the Stallions held running back Reggie Corbin to 71 rush yards on 16 carries, and the Panthers to 91 as a team.
Patterson acquitted himself well, completing 24 of 35 pass attempts for 209 yards, a TD and an interception. And his most capable receiver proved once again to be Lance Lenoir, who was targeted 12 times for nine catches and 82 yards. Ross caught seven of eight targets for 65 yards, along with his TD.
Smith’s shaky play through the third quarter was enough for Holtz to try McGough at quarterback with just over a minute left in the third quarter. However, Holtz said the plan was always to play McGough.
"I think we have two quarterbacks that are good enough to win," Holtz said. "And I think they're both gonna play a role. And I'm gonna need both before it's over and right now at this point. I've got two quarterbacks that both have game experience and have won a football game. And it's a good thing."
McGough proved to be good enough with his legs, and even better with his hand-offs to Scarbrough, who punched in his first career USFL TD from 28 yards out with 11:20 left to play. That gave the Stallions a 26-17 lead.
On the ensuing drive, a Patterson pass attempt was batted down by defensive tackle Willie Yarbary, and defensive end Johnny Newsome snatched it out of the air for the interception. It was the Stallions' 11th takeaway through six games.
McGough converted a third-and-26 to wide receiver Peyton Ramzy, which gave McGough a chance to punch it in himself with what would be the icing TD of the game.
"It’s hard to overcome that," Holtz said, "but, on the field, it's the next man up mentality, and these guys have been unbelievable."
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast "The No. 1 Ranked Show with RJ Young." Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young, and subscribe to "The RJ Young Show" on YouTube. He is not on a StepMill.