With Birmingham having already locked up a spot in the USFL playoffs, as well as home-field advantage in the South Division Championship, Holtz left it up to his players whether they wanted to suit up for the game or sit out and take the opportunity to get some rest.
Stallions quarterback Alex McGough was quick to speak up, saying there was no way he was going to miss an opportunity to take the field.
"To some people, that game didn’t matter … but it mattered to us," said McGough, who joined FOX Sports college football analyst RJ Young as a guest this week on his podcast, "The Number One College Football Show with RJ Young." "We didn’t want to back into the playoffs. We didn’t wanna go in there limping."
Trailing 14-3 early on in that game, things looked bleak for the Stallions, but according to McGough, his teammates were confident they could come back and close out the season with a victory.
"There’s never a doubt, never a panic [with this team], McGough said. "We play for each other because we know that’s what it takes to win."
McGough and the Stallions did just that as the team marched down the field and scored on the next drive, then went on to outscore the Showboats 14-3 in the second half to pull away with a 27-20 win and finish the regular season with a league-best 8-2 record.
A large reason for the team’s success has been the play of McGough. A former seventh-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, McGough is playing the best football of his professional career and is the front-runner to take home this year’s USFL MVP Award.
The 27-year-old Florida native is a true dual-threat signal-caller, with elite-level accuracy and the ability to escape pressure, tuck the ball and run. He ranks in the top six in the league in both passing and rushing with 2,104 yards through the air and 403 yards on the ground. His 20 touchdown passes ranks first among all USFL quarterbacks.
McGough credits Stallions head coach Skip Holtz — who was recently named the 2023 USFL Coach of the Year — for much of his success this season.
"He plays to the players," McGough said of Holtz, who has given his quarterback the freedom to call plays and will often ask him his thoughts about certain play calls and what he’s seeing with an opposing defense. "That instills confidence in us and makes us want to go out there and play harder."
While Holtz has learned to trust McGough's ability to check out of plays and freelance on his own when things break down, McGough has learned to trust his teammates out on the field, which includes those blocking in front of him.
"My line has done a great, great job," McGough said. "They bust their tail, and I can’t say enough good words about them. Most of the sacks I’ve had this year are on me because I’m trying to extend a play."
McGough and the Stallions will face a massive test this weekend as they go up against the New Orleans Breakers in the USFL South Division Championship (7 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app) in Birmingham.
It is a matchup between the top two offenses in the league with a spot in the USFL Championship on the line. New Orleans beat the Stallions 45-31 in the team’s first matchup of the season back in Week 3, while the Stallions got revenge in a Week 7 rematch.
"It’s always a challenge playing a team three times a year," McGough said. "We just gotta go out there and really just execute our own stuff.
"I think if you look at the film, we seem to always hurt ourselves, and we’ve gotta stop doing that. … I gotta put the ball in a good spot for the guys to catch it, and I think if I can do that, we should be in for a really good game."