Generals find rhythm, and win, with De'Andre Johnson at QB

Generals find rhythm, and win, with De'Andre Johnson at QB

4 days ago

By RJ Young
FOX Sports Writer

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — At the podium in the media conference room at Protective Stadium, New Jersey Generals coach Mike Riley marveled at the stat sheet alongside quarterback De'Andre Johnson and receiver KaVontae Turpin.

"Look at that," he said to them. "Running, passing, that's good balance."

Yes, Thanos would be proud of Riley and his team.

From the outset, Riley and staff saw the style of coverage New Orleans Breakers defensive coordinator John Tetula liked to run — primarily man coverage — and saw that they had a little something for that.

He chose to start Johnson at quarterback and, for the first time this season, didn’t pull him in favor of more-passing-oriented Luis Perez, in what had been a two-quarterback offense.

Johnson led the Generals to a 27-17 win — the first victory for a North Division team over a South Division opponent this season. He finished with 255 total yards, completing 14 of 21 pass attempts for 213 yards.

When the game was over and Perez hadn’t played a snap, Riley admitted he didn't think that would be the case when the game kicked off.

"I did not plan to do it like it happened today," he said. "But I did think early it was important to not sit back there in the pocket against their pass rushers. And so we were going to have to provide some movement on the edges before we settled back into being able to throw some balls in the pockets, and that was it."

The Generals racked up 401 total yards in what Riley believed was his team’s best performance all season.

"I would think so," Riley said. "I would think when you look at it, and then you gauge the opponent, which is hard to do in this league because all of our games have been close, New Orleans has been impressive. And our guys just prepared well, studied well and respected him and them."

Johnson scored the first touchdown of the game on a designed run. His score was set up by two catches for 39 yards from former North Dakota State wideout Darrius Shepherd, including one he caught from his back.

Three of the top six rushers in the USFL are Generals, and they averaged nearly 178 rushing yards in their first four games of the season. They showed that strength in the second quarter with gashing runs of 17 and 28 yards on the way to a double-digit lead when Johnson punched in his second touchdown on a fourth-down play from the Breakers’ two-yard line. 

The Generals ran the ball eight times on that nine-play scoring drive. By the time the game ended nearly four hours after kickoff, the Generals rushed for 181 yards on 38 rushes.

TURPIN TURNS UP

Turpin, a former all-purpose dynamo at Texas Christian, became Johnson’s favored target — and offensive coordinator Steve Smith's favorite weapon — against an aggressive Breakers front. He finished the game with five catches for 106 yards, two rushes for 10 more, plus a 39-yard punt return.

Turpin enjoys being involved in all three phases.

"Ever since I started playing football," he said, "I've tried to do everything I can to help the team."

NO RHYTHM FOR SLOTER

With Breakers offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone missing the game to attend his daughter’s wedding, head coach Larry Fedora called plays for the first time since 2020. He certainly would’ve liked a better outcome for his team and his quarterback, though.

"I’m not gonna make any excuses for anything," Fedora said. "It just it is what it is. We have to respond better to those situations."

Breakers quarterback Kyle Sloter was held to just 155 yards on 15-for-36 passing, with two TDs and two interceptions. He had passed for more than 400 in the Breakers’ win last Sunday, and more than 1,000 over his previous four games. Six of his last seven passes against the Generals fell incomplete.

Jordan Ellis, the Breakers' top rusher, was held to just 42 yards on 12 rushes.

The Breakers' offense is best when it gets to move at breakneck speed, but injury stoppages, a weather delay and a total of 15 penalties committed by both teams led to an offensive performance that better resembled a road car missing gears than the racecar it has been in past weeks.

Sloter continued to struggle when a pass he threw was tipped and intercepted by New Jersey safety Shalom Luani in the red zone. It was the Generals' first takeaway since Week 1. For Sloter, the interception was his fifth turnover in the Breakers’ last six quarters.

The Breakers mounted their first scoring drive in the waning minutes of the first half. Sloter found wideout Jay Adams on a third-and-15 from the New Jersey 20 for a touchdown with 1:08 left, a TD that Sloter desperately needed. Prior to that, Sloter had completed just seven of 14 pass attempts for 47 yards with an interception.

Inside their own 10-yard line, the Breakers' defense stiffened up for the final minute of the second quarter, but New Orleans was fortunate to be down 17-10 at halftime.

Johnson hit eight of 11 passes for 115 yards and two rushing TDs in the first half. 

Following a pass interference penalty on Generals cornerback DeJuan Neal on the Breakers’ opening possession of the second half, Sloter came alive, finding former Ohio State receiver Johnnie Dixon from 10 yards out to time the score at 17-17 with 10:13 left in the period.

As rain began to fall, the Generals responded with a TD drive, punctuated by Darius "Vito" Victor and his 30-inch thighs (yes, really) rolling into the end zone for his league-leading fifth rushing touchdown of the season.

Victor led the Generals in rushing with 85 yards on 16 rushes.

LIGHTNING AND LUANI

Not long after, the game was halted due to lightning in the area for a total of 45 minutes. 

On the second play back, defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao rocked Sloter with a legal hit to the chest, leaving Sloter down long enough to bring athletic trainers onto the field. He walked off the field under his own power.

Though the Generals lost three starters on defense to injury on the next drive, the Breakers could not establish the kind of rhythm that had allowed them to become the No. 1 offense in the league. Sloter then threw his second pick of the afternoon, by Luani again.

Luani had missed the previous two games due to injury, and he announced his return with two takeaways. He added two passes defended and six tackles to what was an exciting return to defensive coordinator Cris Dishman’s backfield.

The Generals had a chance to put themselves up two TDs again, but the Breakers' defense came up with a turnover on their own seven-yard line, picking off Johnson with 7:41 left to play. But the Generals managed to extend their lead back to 10 points with a field goal from former Alabama kicker Austin Jones to hold a 27-17 lead with 4:15 left.

The Breakers turned the ball over on downs with their next possession, leaving the Generals the privilege of running out the clock with just 3:01 left to play.

FAKE PUNT FLASH

In the first quarter, a Breakers fake punt went for 43 yards when linebacker Jerod Fernandez caught the snap from his personal protector position and ran straight through the middle of the New Jersey punt return team, which parted as if Moses had opened his hands at midfield.

New Orleans kicker Taylor Bertolet smashed the ball 42 yards through the uprights to give the Breakers a 3-0 lead. That was the last time New Orleans would hold the lead.

Fernandez, a linebacker, ended the game as the Breakers’ leading rusher.

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.