Panthers turn to run game, defense in win over Maulers

Panthers turn to run game, defense in win over Maulers

May 1, 2022

By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports Writer

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — You know what they say when you have two quarterbacks vying for playing time? 

You probably don’t have a consistent one.

And with Paxton Lynch and Shea Patterson posting just one touchdown pass between them through three games, it’s no wonder Michigan Panthers head coach Jeff Fisher found a simple solution for his scuffling offense.

Run the football. 

With the Panthers struggling to move the ball through the air, Michigan leaned on the ground game with good success, rolling up 244 rushing yards in a 24-0, runaway win over the Pittsburgh Maulers.

Entering Sunday’s contest, the Panthers averaged 132 rushing yards a contest, second in the USFL. So, it made sense for Fisher to hand the ball off to Reggie Corbin (132 rushing yards), Stevie Scott III (54 yards) and Cameron Scarlett (33). 

Corbin gave credit to the offensive line for owning the line of scrimmage and making everything click upfront.

"We’ve got a stable of backs that are slowly learning their role," Corbin said. "Everybody’s continuing to get healthy and we’ve just got to keep going, stay true to everything Coach [Fisher] is telling us and just be ourselves." 

Michigan earned its first victory this season in the USFL, improving to 1-2. Meanwhile, the Maulers remain the only winless team in the league at 0-3. 

The Panthers got a jolt on offense early on, with former NFL first-round pick Lynch making his first start in the USFL. And the QB made the most of it. On the opening drive, he guided the Panthers on a 52-yards, nine-play scoring drive, with Scott III bouncing outside for a 5-yard rushing TD.

Lynch had a 20-yard run on that drive. He also plunged up the middle of Pittsburgh’s defense for the 2-point conversion.

The Panthers scored again later in the first quarter to go up 16-0, taking advantage of a short field after Pittsburgh fumbled a punt return.

Lynch exited in the first quarter due to an apparent ankle injury, and Patterson replaced him. Neither were effective in moving the ball through air. 

Lynch finished 3-for-8 for 23 passing yards. Patterson was 8-for-17 for 49 yards. 

"We didn’t throw it as well as we would have liked, but the passing game is complemented by the run game," Fisher said. "Now I think people have respect for our run game." 

Specifically, Fisher said his offense should be more effective in the play-action game and taking deep shots now that teams must stop the run.

As for which quarterback he'll use against the undefeated Birmingham Stallions next week, Fisher is keeping that to himself.

As for Pittsburgh, Josh Love started the game at QB, but with the Maulers struggling to move the ball, he was replaced by Kyle Lauletta in the second quarter. 

Maulers head coach Kirby Wilson said both players will get reps this week, and he’ll decide on Wednesday or Thursday who will start against the New Jersey Generals

The Maulers had scoring chances. Kicker Ramiz Ahmed missed from 59 and 56 yards and also had a 46-yard attempt blocked by Jameson Houston. They also turned it over on downs on Michigan's 19-yard line.

The Panthers capped the scoring with a 3-yard touchdown run by Corbin with just over four minutes remaining. Patterson rushed two yards up the middle for the two-point conversion.  

Fisher said he decided to go for two after each score — for now.

"It’s kind of the philosophy of our team right now," Fisher said. "We’re going to score points however we can. We haven’t been kicking the ball as efficient as we would have liked." 

Maulers’ scoring woes continue

Pittsburgh must figure out how to jumpstart things on offense.

Entering Sunday’s contest, the Maulers averaged just 13 points a game. They were held to 112 total yards against Michigan, finished 1-for-12 on third down and committed six penalties.

The Maulers moved inside Michigan’s 30-yard line on four different drives but were unable to score.

The Maulers also were held without a touchdown for a second game. Pittsburgh managed just three points in a 17-3, season-opening loss against the Tampa Bay Bandits

"When you turn the ball over inside the 5, you jump offsides and commit penalties in the red zone and you miss three field goals, it’s hard to win," Wilson said. "It’s hard to beat a high school team, let alone a professional league where you’re trying to beat men."

Wilson said he will continue to simplify things on offense so that guys can play faster.

Michigan defense pitches a shutout

The Panthers earned their first shutout of the USFL season. Fisher said his defensive group has held opposing offenses out of the end zone for six straight quarters.

"We’ve just got to keep doing it," Fisher said.

Michigan's Houston said the Panthers are playing good situational football, getting off the field on third down and keeping teams out of the end zone when they get into the red zone. 

"Just to stop a team on third-and-3 or fourth-and-1 is huge in term of momentum of the game," he said.

Injury update

Pittsburgh defensive lineman Darrius Moragne suffered a right knee injury and had to be carted off the field in the second half. He later returned to the sideline on crutches. 

"The X-ray was taken, but the MRI will verify whatever it is tomorrow [Monday] morning," Wilson said. "We’re all saying a prayer for him, hoping he’s going to be okay and it’s not anything long-term."

Fisher said that Lynch suffered an ankle injury, and that X-rays came back negative.

"He’s really sore," Fisher said. "We kept him alive just because we only have two on the roster, in case we needed to bring him back. But he (Lynch) just told me moments ago that he’ll be ready for the Stallions." 

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.