By Rob Rang
FOX Sports Draft Analyst
The old boxing expression — great styles make great fights — was just as obvious Saturday in the USFL, when the New Jersey Generals neutralized the New Orleans Breakers, 27-17, in a key interdivisional matchup between two of the league’s best teams.
In terms of statistics, the Breakers entered the game as the flashiest team in the league, leading in both total offense and defense. Though they technically ranked second in the USFL’s South division behind only undefeated Birmingham, the Breakers’ 35-point scoring differential (93 points scored, 58 points allowed) was by far the best in the USFL.
But on Saturday, a handful of spectacular individual performances from New Jersey — combined with key tactical changes from head coach Mike Riley and defensive coordinator Cris Dishman — had the Generals in command throughout much of the game, even following a lengthy delay in the third quarter for lightning.
Here are a handful of New Jersey players who stood out from a scouting perspective.
De'Andre Johnson, quarterback
The most obvious adjustment made by Riley and his staff came at quarterback.
Previously, the Generals had rotated Johnson and Luis Perez all season long. That was not the case Saturday, however, with Johnson, a dynamic dual-threat, taking every snap.
The 6-foot-2, 188-pounder out of Texas Southern responded by rushing for two touchdowns to stake New Jersey to a 17-10 halftime lead. He ended up throwing for a career-high 237 yards on 12-for-19 passing, matching New Orleans’ more celebrated quarterback — Kyle Sloter — big play for big play.
While Johnson might not possess the game’s quickest release or best ball placement, his effectiveness as a runner keeps defenders off-balance. As was noted on the FOX telecast of the game, the Generals run the ball approximately 60% of the time and lead the USFL in rushing attempts per game. That commitment lures linebackers and safeties close to the line of scrimmage.
Clever play-calling and improved awareness, patience and accuracy from Johnson made New Jersey the more consistent team Saturday. He showed good touch on deep balls off of play-action and was deadly as a runner, slicing through gaps in the New Orleans’ defense to the tune of 39 yards on 10 attempts.
KaVontae Turpin, receiver
Johnson’s breakout game was certainly made easier by the skill position talent around him, with explosive slot receiver Turpin leading all pass-catchers with five receptions for 106 yards.
He was just as impactful on special teams, with his 39-yard punt return in the fourth quarter setting up a late field goal to extend the underdog Generals’ surprising lead.
While it was Johnson’s improved passing that likely powered him to being named Offensive Player of the Game, it is his slashing running style that serves as the perfect complement to the real stars on offense for the Generals — a two-headed stable at running back, led by Victor — a Sherman tank of a back at 5-foot-8, 209 pounds.
In the third quarter, Victor bulldozed his way into the end zone for his USFL-leading fifth rushing score of the season. It is easy to see why the Generals have leaned on a player who FOX color commentator Joel Klatt accurately described as a "bowling ball of butcher knives."
Built low to the ground and boasting thick, powerful thighs literally measured at 30 inches by FOX’s sideline reporter and former Washington quarterback Brock Huard, Victor has a frame and game that reminds me of another former Pac-12 star, Maurice Jones-Drew. MJD measured one inch shorter and two pounds lighter than Victor at the 2006 NFL Combine, and he would go on to score 79 touchdowns in the NFL.
Like MJD, Victor runs low and hard, offering defenders a relatively tiny target. He has spectacular balance through contact, bouncing off would-be tacklers like a pinball, and keeps his legs driving to finish runs.
His running mate in the backfield — the more prototypically-built Williams (5-foot-11, 230) is also a powerful and determined runner. For a big back, he also showed great lateral quickness to elude in traffic.
New Jersey’s three-headed monster in the running game helped the Generals protect the football — something Sloter (15-for-36 for 155 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions) was unable to match.
Part of the reason for the Breakers’ struggles was the savvy switch-ups on defense from Dishman.
One need not be a former NFL All-Pro cornerback (like Dishman) to understand that switching up coverages can be just as effective in confusing quarterbacks as pummeling them with a pass rush.
The Generals only recorded one sack in this game and are one of the USFL’s least-effective in getting to opposing quarterbacks. They entered Saturday’s contest with just seven quarterback takedowns through the first four games.
What they do a great job of, however, is getting their hands up into passing lanes, which clouded Sloter’s vision and led to some inaccurate throws — several of which were tipped. And Dishman kept Sloter guessing, frequently switching between man and zone principles, rendering a quarterback who entered game as the USFL’s most productive largely ineffective.
Toby Johnson, defensive tackle
Just like on offense, the "X’s and O’s" of coaching on defense are a lot easier with dominant players.
At 6-foot-4, 320 pounds, Johnson hardly looks like a prototypical pass rusher, but his ability to collapse the pocket from the interior will give him plenty of stars in the Generals’ film review.
At times, Johnson was virtually unstoppable, bulldozing would-be blockers with sheer power and incorporating a terrific swim move to help him register six tackles, including two for loss. His ability to eat up the inside helped New Jersey limit the Breakers to just 115 rushing yards, a number significantly inflated by a 43-yard scamper on a fake punt in the first quarter by linebacker Jerod Fernandez.
Taking that run out of the equation, the Breakers averaged just three yards per carry on 24 attempts. Their star back, Jordan Ellis, entered the game as the USFL’s leading runner, averaging just under 87 yards per game. He was held to less than half of that (42 yards on 12 carries) on Saturday.
Shalom Luani, safety
The primary recipient of Johnson’s dominance in the trenches was Luani, who recorded two interceptions in the big win.
While it was his soft hands and awareness that could generate Defensive Player of the Week accolades in the USFL, it was his speed and agility in coverage that also played a key role in limiting Breakers’ tight end Sal Cannella to just one catch on seven targets.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Cannella entered the game as the USFL’s leading receiver with 215 yards in four games. Without his favorite security blanket running free down the seam, Sloter was left staring down his targets, leading the Generals to the ball — and eventually the win.
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.