What to expect in Memphis Showboats vs. Pittsburgh Maulers

The Memphis Showboats and the Pittsburgh Maulers will represent the strength of the USFL when they meet up Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET at Simmons Liberty Bank Stadium in Memphis.

Two teams that once looked like the worst in the league have come alive in recent weeks.

The Maulers entered the season as the worst team based on last year's 1-9 record. The Showboats began 2023 on a three-game losing streak.

Now, in the second half of the season, the Showboats (2-3) and Maulers (2-3) are each in contention to earn one of the four spots in the USFL playoffs. While it took some time for the offenses to find their footing behind Showboats quarterback Cole Kelley and Maulers quarterback Troy Williams, these teams have been carried by defense.

Carnell Lake’s Memphis D showcased its ability to stop one of the league’s best scoring offenses — and a playoff team a year ago — in a 17-10 win against the New Orleans Breakers. As I wrote in my Week 5, USFL power rankings, the Breakers walked into their home hub stadium in Birmingham leading the USFL in total offense and tied for first in the USFL in scoring. Memphis' defense held the Breakers to just 10 points.

Safety Troy Warner led this outstanding display of defense with 12 tackles. Other players on that defense to watch this week are Big Kat Bryant and Greg Reaves

If the Showboats get another 200-yard passing performance without a turnover from their offense, they’ll present an impressive challenge to the Maulers, who have shown themselves capable of playing the kind of defense that could propel them into the playoffs.

Last week, the Maulers dispatched North Division rival Michigan, 23-7, doubling their season-long win total from one year ago.

That effort was helped by an offensive performance from quarterback Williams, who earned USFL Offensive Player of the Week honors after putting up 243 of the Maulers’ 299 total yards. He completed 15 of 19 passes for 184 yards, with 59 rush yards and three total TDs in their win.

The Maulers managed to score the most points they had all season in the win by capitalizing in the red zone. Prior to Week 5, the Maulers converted just one of 12 red zone attempts into a TD. Against the Panthers, though, Pittsburgh converted three of four red zone trips into TDs.

That trend will likely need to continue against a Showboats team that has allowed just 10 points in each of their wins this season.

The Maulers notched four takeaways in the win that has them in a three-way tie for first place in the North Division. Mauler defensive back Mark Gilbert accounted for an INT, two tackles and five passes defended in Pittsburgh’s victory last Saturday.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast "The Number One College Football Show." Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to "The Number One College Football Show" on YouTube.