Bolden, Scarbrough and a pair of linemen shine in Stallions' win
Victor Bolden, Bo Scarbrough and two burly linemen stood out in the Stallions' Week 7 win over the Maulers, Rob Rang writes.
By Rob Rang
FOX Sports Draft Analyst
What looked like a potential blowout on paper instead turned into a brawl Sunday, with the Birmingham Stallions barely having the horses to overcome a plucky effort from the Pittsburgh Maulers, eventually winning 26-16 to keep the USFL's only undefeated season intact.
Skip Holtz’s Stallions entered the game 6-0 and needing a win Sunday to officially qualify for the playoffs, which will be held in Canton, Ohio beginning June 25.
Stallions clinch playoff spot with win over Maulers
A matchup with the lowly 1-5 Maulers seemed like a recipe for an easy win, but injuries to several Birmingham receivers made this contest a battle of attrition, forcing Holtz to lean on former Alabama Crimson Tide star running back Bo Scarbrough and the ground game.
And Scarbrough was a dominant force, gaining 100 yards on 27 carries. But he wasn't the only star to shine for Birmingham. Here's who stood out the most in the Stallions' victory.
Victor Bolden, WR
Though Scarbrough would get to play the role of finisher (for the second consecutive game), it was the quarterback J’Mar Smith and his playmaking wideout Bolden who kicked off the festivities, connecting on a dazzling 53-yard deep ball early in the first quarter to help stake the Stallions to an early lead.
Targeting Bolden has been a focal point of Holtz’s strategy all season long. He entered the game ranked first in the USFL in all-purpose yardage and on the big play showed off the exciting combination of athleticism and reliable hands which have made him so successful as a receiver and returner.
Focused on the target drifting open even as the pocket was collapsing around him, Smith lofted a strike deep down the middle to hit Bolden perfectly in stride. While the trajectory and accuracy from Smith were pinpoint, Bolden was faced with a difficult catch as the ball sailed directly over his head, rather than over a shoulder. The tracking skills and concentration required to pull off a grab like that is a perfect example of a talented receiver making a very difficult grab appear easy.
Fans hoping the early big play would spark an aerial assault between Smith and Pittsburgh's Week 5 hero Vad Lee were instead treated to a good old-fashioned battle of wills and bulldozing backs, however.
Both teams struggled to consistently move the ball through the air. Take away the 53-yarder to Bolden and Smith completed just eight of 23 passes for 85 yards. That total is even more than what the Maulers accomplished, however, with Lee completing just six of 14 passes for 58 yards before head coach Kirby Wilson opted to finish the game with former Slippery Rock QB Roland Rivers III, who was signed to the active roster just this past Tuesday. Perhaps not surprisingly, Rivers was even less effective than Lee, completing just three of nine passes for 25 yards.
Since neither team had much luck throwing the ball — especially after Bolden joined fellow starting Birmingham wideout Marlon Williams on the sidelines in street clothes — Holtz and Wilson understandably switched their focus to the running game.
Things got so bad, in fact, that the Stallions gave former starting quarterback and first-round pick Alex McGough a shot at receiver.
Bo Scarbrough, RB
While that result wasn’t always aesthetically pleasing, the Stallions and Maulers did combine for 328 rushing yards in this contest, with Birmingham’s Scarbrough (100 yards on 27 attempts) and Pittsburgh’s Madre London (99 yards on 18 attempts) trading body blows.
Just as he had a week ago in a 33-17 thrashing of the Michigan Panthers, Scarbrough battered the defense with his exciting blend of slashing speed and power at an imposing 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds. For a big back, Scarbrough accelerates smoothly, ascending to a full gallop with long, powerful strides. He showed enough speed to beat linebackers to the edge but didn’t waste time going east and west much in this contest, charging forward and gaining yardage in chunks. At times, he simply burrowed his head and drove forward, carrying would-be tacklers.
The Stallions leaned heavily on Scarbrough as their workhorse, giving him the ball on 27 of their 38 total rushing attempts in this game (compared to 24 pass attempts) but it was former starter CJ Marable and rarely-running fullback Bobby Holly, who provided the big plays for Birmingham, with each scoring touchdowns.
Holly, who played for Holtz at Louisiana Tech, turned in arguably the biggest play of the game, taking a direct snap off of a fake punt to sprint 52 yards for the go-ahead score early in the third quarter.
The fake was brilliantly called and executed, with Holly effectively catching the snap, faking to his right and then exploding through one of several massive holes produced by a burly Birmingham offensive line.
Bobby Holly scores on fake punt
Ryan Pope and O'Shea Dugas, OL
Both Holly and Marable — who had a 5-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter — scored off of runs to the right side, but it was the blocking on the other side that stood out for much of this contest.
The Stallions feature two of the bigger blockers in the USFL on their left side in tackle Pope (6-foot-7, 315 pounds) and guard Dugas (6-foot-4, 335 pounds), who consistently generated movement at the point of attack.
Pope, wearing No. 77, is surprisingly quick for such a big man, appearing to almost beat the ball off the snap on some occasions. His initial quickness, length and willingness to keep his feet moving through contact helped him clear lanes for Scarbrough to exploit.
Dugas — another Holtz holdover from Louisiana Tech — was just as quick, pinning Pittsburgh’s defensive tackles away from the ballcarrier and showing impressive balance and awareness to hit moving targets when pulling. Though the run below is to the right, watch how Pope and Dugas (74) create space for the back to operate.
Though it lacked the splashy plays of prior weeks, Sunday’s victory by the Stallions was impressive in that Holtz’s team was able to muscle its way to a win despite the offense being almost entirely dependent on the run.
A less-complete team might have stumbled Sunday. But with the intimidating Scarbrough and a fearsome front leading the way, Birmingham is literally and figuratively running downhill through the USFL.
After all, Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh gives the Stallions victories over all seven opponents in the league.
One of the most recognized names in the industry, Rob Rang has been covering the NFL Draft for more than 20 years, with work at FOX, Sports Illustrated, CBSSports.com, USA Today, Yahoo, NFL.com and NFLDraftScout.com, among others.