With Alex McGough playing 'at a really high level,' Stallions get back on winning track

Week 6 was all about Birmingham Stallions quarterback Alex McGough, who moved his team down the field single-handedly several times in a 27-13 win over the Michigan Panthers in Detroit on Saturday.

Taking advantage of the room provided in front of him by the Panthers’ defense, which hasn’t been able to contain the run all season, McGough rushed for 82 yards, providing the spark to an offense desperately in need of one after Birmingham dropped two of its last three games.

It started on Birmingham's first offensive play of the game, when McGough took off for 28 yards. In the second quarter, he got the Stallions into Panthers territory with another 24-yard scamper.  At the half, he had 53 yards on the ground. He punctuated the win by running in a 10-yard touchdown with 3:27 left to all but seal the game for Birmingham.

"We had a lot of success running the ball," said McGough. "And that just it takes so much pressure off me as a quarterback. Instead of having these third-and-longs to convert, when you know you can get five on first down and five on second down, you never even get to a third down. But the [offensive] line was just destroying them. And I just think we just rode that all the way down."

McGough was undoubtedly the difference in the game for the Stallions. They were also 3-for-4 inside the red zone, converting opportunities into points, again fueled by McGough.

"He's been humble because he's playing at a really high level," said Birmingham head coach Skip Holtz after the game. "He really is the way he's extending plays right now. The success we've had in the red zone, I make a stupid call, and he makes four people miss and then finds a guy in the corner of the end zone and throws it to him. His ability to extend plays, throw the ball accurately and what he can do with his feet right now. I think he is doing a great job of playing quarterback right now."

McGough also completed 19 of 24 passing attempts for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Birmingham rushed for 190 yards on the afternoon, 100 of which came from CJ Marable in his first 100-yard game of the season.

Michigan started the game with the ball, and it was quarterback Josh Love who got the start as the Panthers are still searching for an answer under center between Love and Carson Strong. The latter got most of the work in Michigan’s loss to the Pittsburgh Maulers last week.

Penalties hurt the Panthers beginning with the first drive of the game. A holding call on left guard Sean Pollard stalled their momentum just outside the red zone, and in the beginning of the second quarter the Michigan defense was called for too many men on the field, gifting the Stallions an extra 5 yards on second down. A touchdown was called back in the third quarter thanks to a hands-to-the-face penalty on backup left tackle Josh Dunlap, who also committed a false start in the fourth quarter that forced Michigan to settle for a field goal after what could have been a pivotal turnover.

After taking a 6-yard sack on the first drive, Love redeemed himself with a 28-yard bomb to wide receiver Trey Quinn that moved the Panthers into Stallions territory. A holding call got Michigan behind the chains and eventually stalled the drive on the Birmingham 27, but the Panthers were able to tack on three points as they struck first with a field goal.

It was the defense’s time to step up on the ensuing drive. Inside linebacker Noah Dawkins returned to the lineup on Saturday after missing last week with an injury, and immediately made his presence known by forcing a fumble on third-and-7 at the Michigan 28. The Stallions were then forced to settle for a field goal themselves, tying the game up 3-3 in the first quarter.

The first touchdown of the game didn’t come until 57 seconds left in the first half when McGough hit running back Zaquandre White as he scrambled away from pressure. It was barely more than a shovel pass to White in open space, but White took it the rest of the way, evading multiple tackles on an 18-yard dash into the end zone. It put the Stallions up 13-3 just before halftime.

Quinn was the highlight of the day for the Panthers, finishing with 108 receiving yards on seven catches, thanks in large part to two big plays in the first half. He nabbed a 28-yarder from Love on the aforementioned first drive of the game, and then just before the end of the first half, hauled in a 35-yard pass to get the Panthers to the Stallions’ 22-yard line with 21 seconds left on the clock.

In the rush to spike the ball, there was confusion at the line, and Love instead tried to run a play with the clock winding down and no timeouts, squandering Michigan’s chances to cut the 13-3 lead before halftime.

The Michigan defense was able to stop the Stallions in their tracks on their first possession of the second half. Faced with third-and-13, Birmingham went empty with trips stacked to McGough’s right. The receivers all branched out into their various routes, but McGough was swallowed up before he could even get to his first read. The Stallions then punted from deep in their own territory, but a fantastic punt and good coverage by Birmingham still had the Panthers starting their first drive of the second half at their own 22.

The Panthers hadn’t seen the end zone since their first play of last week’s game against the Maulers. On that play, Love faked the handoff and opted to pull the ball himself, delivering a pass to tight end Cole Hikutini over the middle. Over five quarters later and Michigan’s next touchdown came Saturday … on a play-action pass to Hikutini over the middle. This time, it was from 11 yards out. It cut the Stallions’ lead to just three halfway through the third quarter.

But the Stallions answered with another touchdown of their own, extending their lead to 20-10 in the fourth quarter. Not done yet, the Panthers forced a fumble as linebacker Frank Ginda punched the ball out and safety Kai Nacua recovered the ball.

Michigan took over at the Birmingham 27 with just over 11 minutes to go in the game down by 10 points. Love wasted no time hitting Quinn yet again for a 16-yard gain, putting the Panthers inside the red zone. But it was yet another red-zone opportunity that Michigan couldn’t convert, going one for three on the day.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.