De’Andre Johnson's dual-threat skills lift Generals past Stars
The Generals' offense struggled until De'Andre Johnson took over, using his legs to beat the Stars, Eric D. Williams writes.
By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Needing a spark, New Jersey Generals head coach Mike Riley replaced Luis Perez with dual-threat quarterback De’Andre Johnson in the second half.
And the Texas Southern product made Riley look smart, helping New Jersey overcome an early, 10-point deficit for a 24-16 win over the Philadelphia Stars in the USFL nightcap on Sunday at Protective Stadium.
"The things he did, the choices he made and what he brought to that game, in particular, made a big difference in the game," Riley said.
Johnson finished just 6-for-8 passing for 130 yards. But his ability to run Riley’s zone-read offense ignited the running game. Johnson rushed 11 times for 94 yards and a touchdown, and the Generals finished with 270 yards on the ground.
In the second half alone, the Generals ran it 32 times and passed it just four times, physically imposing their will upfront.
Trey Williams finished with 111 rushing yards on 19 carries, while Darius Victor totaled 51 rushing yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns,
"It’s pretty easy when your offensive line is getting a push," Victor said. "I was just hiding behind them and getting as low as possible."
With the win, New Jersey improved to 2-1 on the season, while the Stars dropped to 1-2.
The Stars got on the scoreboard first when tight end Bug Howard made a diving catch over the middle on a pass from Bryan Scott. New Jersey safety Dravon Askey-Henry jumped over the receiver to avoid a late hit, but in doing so failed to touch him at all. So, Howard got up and ran the rest of the way for 41-yard score and 7-0 lead for Philadelphia.
"With the way the rules are today, we don’t want no penalties or for anybody to get kicked out of the game," New Jersey linebacker D’Juan Hines said. "It was smart, but we still have got to touch him down. That’s on us."
Philadelphia could have led by more, but kicker Matt Mengal missed field goal attempts from 55 and 30 yards. New Jersey kicker Nick Rose also missed twice — from 52 and 43 yards.
Stars backup quarterback Case Cookus came in for an injured Scott, who limped off the field with an injured knee with 4:03 left in the second quarter.
On his first play, Cookus connected with Jordan Suell on a 47-yard pass to the New Jersey 4-yard line. The Stars had to settle for a 22-yard field goal from Mengal, though, going up 10-0 with 2:57 left in the first half.
Rose made a 54-yard field goal at the end of the first half, cutting Philadelphia’s advantage to 10-3.
The Generals came out in the second half focused on running the football. On a drive directed by Johnson, New Jersey ran it seven straight times, capped by a 4-yard touchdown run by Victor.
That tied the score at 10-all.
Cookus got the Stars the lead back, buying some time and finding Diondre Overton over the middle for a 6-yard score. The touchdown put the Stars ahead only 16-10 because of a Mengal missed extra point.
The Generals answered again, this time with Victor bulling through the line for a 1-yard score, his second touchdown of the evening. Rose’s extra point gave New Jersey the lead for good, 17-16 with 11:17 left to play.
Johnson completed the scoring for the night with a 4-yard run with just over six minutes left in the game.
Kickers still have not found their groove
There’s a reason Michigan Panthers head coach Jeff Fisher went for two every time in his team’s big win over the Pittsburgh Maulers on Sunday — kickers are struggling to make kicks through the early part of the USFL Season.
Through three games, kickers have made 53.4 percent of their field goals and 81.8 percent of their extra points.
Kickers were 2-for-9 on field goals in the two Sunday games.
By comparison, NFL kickers made 85.1 percent of their field goals and 93.4 percent of their extra points last season, according to Pro Football Reference.
"The whole group — snapper, holder and kicker — I don’t know if there’s anyone in the league that has been with another guy in their group," said Riley, who has coached in college, the NFL and in the CFL. "And that part of it, them being synchronized, is so important to their success — the confidence the kicker has in both the holder and the snapper.
"They just haven’t worked that long together, and I think through time it will get better."
Cookus plays solid in place of Scott
Philadelphia head coach Bart Andrus said he was pleased with the way his backup quarterback Cookus played in relief of an injured Scott.
The 6-4, 205-pound quarterback out of Northern Arizona finished 13-for-20 for 146 yards, with a touchdown and no interceptions.
"He played well," Andrus said. "I expected that. He’s a good football player. He had a couple throws where he probably would have preferred to have those back, but I thought he did a good job coming off the bench."
New Jersey offensive tackle Calvin Ashley suffered a knee injury and fellow offensive lineman Terry Poole suffered a shoulder injury. Poole returned to the game. Ashley did not.
Riley said his team was so thin on the defensive line that offensive lineman Mike Brown played defensive snaps.
Stars quarterback Scott suffered a knee injury, and while he stayed in uniform, he did not return to the game.
"I put it on him," Andrus said. "The X-ray was negative on the knee. He tested after halftime, and he wasn’t comfortable with how it felt. He’s a real team guy, and he didn’t want to be a detriment to any possible thing in the second half. And so he chose to stay out because he wasn’t 100 percent."
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @eric_d_williams.