What to expect in Pittsburgh Maulers vs. New Jersey Generals

It’s win or go home on Saturday in Canton.

Playoff football has already arrived in the USFL. The North Division is filled with drama heading into the final week of the regular season, as both matchups serve as elimination games.

The opener of the weekend comes in Canton, Ohio, as the Pittsburgh Maulers (3-6) take on the New Jersey Generals (3-6) on Saturday afternoon (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET on USA). The location is fitting because the winner will book a ticket right back to Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium for a postseason matchup the following week.

[USFL playoff scenarios]

These two teams are coming off wins in very different ways. The Maulers lived up to their name and made Michigan Panthers quarterback Josh Love’s day a nightmare, intercepting four of his passes and sacking him four times in a 19-7 victory. Special teams delivered in a huge way with a blocked punt, as well as one of the plays of the year, an 83-yard punt from Matt Mengel highlighting a low-scoring battle.

The following night in Canton, the Generals held off a furious comeback effort from the Philadelphia Stars to win 37-33. It snapped a five-game losing streak for New Jersey, which had not won since April, to set up Saturday’s critical showdown.

As much as special teams played a role in the Maulers’ win over the Panthers, it set the tone and signaled that it could be a different weekend for the Generals when Cam Echols-Luper ran the opening kickoff back 85 yards for a touchdown. Quarterback De’Andre Johnson went 15-of-20 for 213 yards, while the USFL’s best rushing attack went for 147 yards on the ground, highlighted by Darius Victor’s 11 carries for 51 yards.

The last meeting …

Sunday, April 23: New Jersey Generals 20, Pittsburgh Maulers 3

The Generals earned their first win of the season back in Week 2 against the Maulers, pulling away from a 3-3 tie at halftime, led by linebacker Chris Orr, who tallied a team-high 10 tackles and a sack. New Jersey forced three turnovers and totaled four sacks, as the Maulers failed to find any offensive rhythm and were stopped twice from scoring by the Generals at the 1-yard line.

Victor totaled 15 carries for 71 of the team’s 112 rushing yards while notching a touchdown on the ground, and Dakota Prukop threw a touchdown pass to Echols-Luper.

The key question in this game:

Will the Maulers defense be able to slow down a Generals offense that enters the game on a roll?

Sure, the best offensive performance of the season by New Jersey came against a Philadelphia Stars team that sits dead last in the league in points allowed at 227 through nine games (25.2 PPG). That being said, if the Generals offense can keep rolling into Saturday, Pittsburgh could be in for a tough day. Ray Horton’s team trails only the New Orleans Breakers in points allowed (18.4 PPG) while being tied for the league lead in interceptions (11).

By the same token, can Pittsburgh find enough offensive playmaking to have the upper hand in this game? Maulers quarterback and Utah product Troy Williams went 14-for-24 for 166 yards last week. While his numbers aren’t stunning, he’s kept control of the football, throwing only three interceptions. The one issue: Williams has just five passing touchdowns — nobody other starter has fewer than nine.

Williams’ mobility can be a weapon for the Maulers, as he sits at seventh in the league with 301 rushing yards, along with three rushing touchdowns. A receiving core led by Isiah Hennie and Josh Simmons will need to step up for an offense that has had trouble finding consistency.

On the flip side, Nebraska product Alonzo Moore Jr. figures to be a key weapon in this game, sitting at second in the USFL with five receiving touchdowns. Last week, Michigan State product Darrell Stewart Jr. led the wideouts for the Generals, totaling a game-high 109 yards on just three receptions. But at the end of the day, if New Jersey can get the ground game going and prolong drives, they could wear down the Maulers. That starts and ends with Victor, who is third in the league with 506 rushing yards and has powered the USFL’s best rushing attack (135.4 yards per game). 

Key Stats:

The Maulers are 0-5 when allowing 14 or more points this season. The Generals average 20.1 PPG.

Here’s another interesting nugget on the Generals, whose record might be deceiving:

What does this game mean? 

The winner of this game makes the playoffs and will then watch Sunday night’s matchup between the Stars and Panthers (Ford Field, 7 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app) to see who their opponent will be in the USFL North Division Championship Game (Saturday, June 24 at 8 p.m. ET from Canton on NBC).

If Philadelphia beats Michigan, the Stars are division champions. If the Panthers beat the Stars, the winner of Pittsburgh/New Jersey will be the division champs.

On Saturday, throw out the records. The fact that the South Division went 13-3 against the North Division? That doesn’t matter now. When the Maulers and Generals square off on Saturday, it’s a fight to extend the season for both, and a dramatic way to kick off the final weekend of the regular season. 

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter at @John_Fanta.