By Eric Williams
FOX Sports Writer
Both winless after the opening slate of USFL games, the Pittsburgh Maulers (0-1) host the New Jersey Generals (0-1) in the first game of a doubleheader at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio this weekend, home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Maulers head coach Ray Horton will look for his team to rebound from a disappointing, late-game loss on the road to the New Orleans Breakers, while the Generals seek to get their offense on track after scoring just 10 points against the defending USFL champs, the Birmingham Stallions.
Here’s a breakdown of Sunday’s matchup.
New Jersey Generals: Can Mike Riley get his team to take care of the football?
New Jersey did a good job of taking care of the football last season with a league-low eight turnovers. But Riley’s Generals fumbled twice last week at Birmingham, and the Stallions turned both of those giveaways into touchdowns.
The first occurred on New Jersey’s opening drive, when tight end Braeden Bowman was stripped by Birmingham safety Nate Holley. A play later, Stallions quarterback J’Mar Smith found receiver Austin Watkins for a 61-yard pitch and catch for a score.
In the third quarter, New Jersey backup quarterback Dakota Prukop coughed up the football with his team trailing 17-10. The Stallions capitalized when Alex McGough scooted 29 yards for a Birmingham touchdown.
Making matters worse, New Jersey finished 1-of-4 in the red zone.
Riley needs to figure out how his offense can execute better in situational football. For the Generals, that means being less reckless with the football and doing a better job of executing in situations like third down, where New Jersey finished just 4-of-12 for the game last week.
"I was real pleased in a lot of the things we did, both in the running and the passing and lots of parts of the defense," Riley said afterwards. "But we gave up big plays and we lost the situation game."
Pittsburgh Maulers: Can QB James Morgan get a sputtering offense rolling?
The Maulers totaled a league-low 156 total yards on offense in Pittsburgh’s season-opening loss to the Breakers.
Horton used both quarterbacks available in Morgan and Troy Williams, but the two combined to complete 10 of 27 passes for 72 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Maulers averaged 2.7 yards per pass play and finished 1-of-11 on first down. The only touchdown Pittsburgh managed was on an 84-yard punt return for a score by receiver Isiah Hennie.
While they struggled moving the ball through the air, the Maulers did manage 84 rushing yards, led by Duane Gary’s 34 yards on the ground. So, perhaps Horton can look to run the football to help create balance on offense.
"We want to start fast, and we want to be aggressive," Horton said after the game. "We don’t want to be a slow, four corners Dean Smith offense. That’s not what we’re about. We’re going to aggressive because that’s what the players are and that’s what I am."
While they sputtered on offense, the Maulers played solid on defense, totaling four sacks and holding New Orleans to 1-of-5 in the red zone on offense. Linebacker Reuben Foster led the Maulers with 12 combined tackles and a forced fumble that led to Pittsburgh’s other touchdown.
More on the USFL from FOX Sports:
- USFL 2023: How to watch, team previews, best players
- The full week-by-week 2023 USFL schedule
- USFL Week 1 power rankings
- Takeaways from the Breakers win over the Maulers
- Takeaways from the Panthers win over the Gamblers
- Takeaways from the Stallions win over the Generals
- Takeaways from the Stars win over the Showboats