Stallions methodical, efficient as they top Stars, stay unbeaten

Stallions methodical, efficient as they top Stars, stay unbeaten

May 15, 2022

By RJ Young
FOX Sports Writer

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The last scoring drive for the Birmingham Stallions was indicative of just how methodical and efficient Skip Holtz’s squad was on Sunday.

The Stallions salted a 30-17 win against the Philadelphia Stars with a 17-play, 60-yard march down the field that chewed up 10 minutes and 28 seconds of the fourth quarter, a dominant statement from what remains the USFL's only undefeated team (5-0).

"Let me just say how proud I am of this team," Holtz said. "They continue to find ways to win football games, and there is an art to that." 

The Stallions held the ball for more than 38 minutes and scored 23 straight points behind a dominant run game and an efficient passing performance from quarterback J’Mar Smith.

Smith completed 17 of 22 passes for 203 yards with a TD.

Stars strike early

Stars tailback Paul Terry took the first play from scrimmage for a 43-yard sprint through the middle of the Stallions' defense. Two plays later, he caught a pass for 21 yards to move the Stars inside the 10-yard line. 

Running back Matthew Colburn finished the drive, walking into the end zone to open the scoring, 7-0.

Later, Terry scored the Stars’ second TD from nine yards out, and a team built to throw the ball all over the yard had scored two rushing TDs. 

But those would be the only TDs the Stars scored.

No Scooby Wright, no problem

After suffering a calf injury earlier in the week, Stallions linebacker Wright was forced to miss the game. Nate Holley was called on to fill the space normally occupied by Wright, who has been the talisman of the Birmingham defense.

But it was DeMarquis Gates who set the tone for the Stallions' defense with four tackles, including 1.5 sacks, while the Stars' defense — playing without star cornerback Channing Stribling — struggled to find an answer for Smith.

The former Michigan corner had recorded four interceptions in four games, and he was certainly missed when the Stallions responded with a 17-yard passing touchdown from Alex McGough to wideout Michael Dereus — who was standing by himself in the back of the end zone — for the Stallions' first score of the game.

Marvelous Marable

The Stallions took advantage of a glaring weakness for the Stars: run defense. 

Birmingham running back CJ Marable scored from 29 yards out to put the Stallions up 21-17 in the third quarter. He reached the century mark in rushing yards later in the same period and finished with 114 yards on 23 carries. With his performance against the Stars, Marable became one of the top-five statistical rushers in the league at the halfway mark of the season.

Marable was so efficient that the Stallions’ newest running back, former Alabama star Bo Scarbrough, was kept on the bench for most of the game.

Holtz expects Marable and Scarborough to form a significant tandem in the second half of the season.

"I think both (Scarbrough) and CJ are going to play a role," he said.

Smith and McGough threw TDs in the first half. But the offense really found a better passing rhythm when Smith entered the game and found Marlon Williams for a pass in between four defenders. Williams then proceeded to go 38 yards to the house to cut the deficit to 17-14 late in the first half.

At the half, Smith had completed nine of 12 pass attempts for 124 yards with a TD, while McGough had completed just four of 11 attempts for 50 yards with a TD and an INT. 

The Stallions squandered an opportunity to score late in the half when their drive stalled out at the five-yard line, and kicker Brandon Aubrey bounced a 23-yard chip shot off the uprights.

The Stallions stretched their lead to seven points with two field goals in the third quarter, though, and managed to hold the Stars scoreless in the second half.

Stars offense stalls

Despite some early success, Stars quarterback Case Cookus could scarcely find a rhythm for most of the game. He completed just 19 of 35 pass attempts for 191 yards.

The Stars still had a chance to try to win the game late, and Stars coach Bart Andrus was going to try to use a couple of unique USFL rules to try to win.

On Birmingham's final drive of the game, Andrus told his defense to let the Stallions score. He hoped that would lead to the Stars getting the ball back with a chance to score and, instead of a traditional onside kick, elect to go for it on fourth-and-12 to retain possession.

"We actually even sent a player in and said let them score," Andrus said, "and that might sound funny to your ears. But that was our only chance of winning was to let them score quickly, do the fourth-and-12 and score again."

It would've been a fitting gamble — as Andrus and the Stars became the first team to attempt and convert a three-point conversion earlier this year. 

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.