By RJ Young
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – With his cap backwards, Michigan Panthers coach Jeff Fisher opened his post-game press conference by addressing what his team had been unable to accomplish in their 10-6 loss to New Jersey Generals Friday night.
Then he quickly went straight to what he plans to fix.
He was cut in his speech, pointed in his criticism. He grudgingly made concessions for his offense, although he paid tribute to their valiant efforts as the match ended.
USFL Highlights: Generals beat Panthers
The New Jersey Generals held off Shea Patterson and the Michigan Panthers to win their first game of the season.
With five seconds left, Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson had put the Panthers in position to win at Protective Stadium.
After passing for all 40 yards on the previous 10 drives, Patterson converted a fourth-and-20 from the Michigan 10-yard line — after nearly taking a sack for a safety on the same play.
Four plays later he took the snap, rushed to his right and tried to find his favorite target of the night in Lance Lenoir, but the pass fell incomplete.
The Generals held on to win a defensive slugfest – with two quarterbacks parting ways with reps for a straight week.
Luis Perez and De’Andre Johnson formed the USFL version of Voltron to lead the Generals to their first victory. They combined for 145 passing yards and Johnson rushed for 27 more.
“I really didn’t plan on this,” Generals coach Mike Riley said of the quarterback assignment. “I never did in all my years of training.”
Riley wins the battle of former NFL coaches
With their first victory of the season, the Generals won the first USFL rivalry game of the season – the Northern Duel – to take the lead in the North Division.
The Northern Duel featured the first game of the season between two former NFL head coaches. Fisher spent 22 years as a head coach in the league, spending most of his time with the Tennessee Titans, leading them to a Super Bowl appearance against a franchise he would later coach – the St. Louis.
Riley spent three years in the NFL as head coach of the San Diego Chargers.
Although Riley and Fisher had coached in the AFC, they had not faced each other during this time.
To Victor the booty
Darius “Vito” Victor had the biggest run of the game in the Generals’ second series — slashing 21 yards down the middle. The Generals rode Victor for a total of 36 rushing yards before coming away with three runs as Riley continued to trade near-play quarterbacks for a straight week.
The Generals followed up a 223-yard performance against the Stallions last week with 113 yards on 32 carries on Friday — nothing as garish as their opener, but certainly fitting for the type of team Riley wants to field: a controlling offense of the ball coupled with an opportunistic and offensive defense.
The Panthers still have a QB problem
Fisher made the decision to stay with Patterson from start to finish. Aside from a great practice to open the second half and the final practice of the game, Patterson spent most of the night scrambling to find time to throw. Although he targeted Lenoir nine times, he connected with the former West Illinois wide receiver just four times for 23 yards.
A failure by Patterson on an attempt by Lenoir would surely have resulted in a touchdown if the pass had been caught. Patterson finished the night 14 of 29 for 124 yards.
“We have to settle at quarterback,” Fisher said.
The Panthers threw for under two yards in the first quarter and passed just seven yards (and 49 total) at halftime.
The Generals held Michigan to 183 total yards. In their loss to the Houston Gamblers in Week 1, the Panthers rushed for 189 yards alone.
“Offensively, we have an extra day this week, and we need it,” Fisher said. “We need to understand who we are and what we can do better, and focus on that stuff.”
Orion Stewart abducts Luis Perez
Michigan Panthers Cameron Scarlett scored a touchdown after Orion Stewart knocked out New Jersey generals Luis Perez in midfield.
The Panthers had a brilliant defensive moment when safety Orion Stewart picked off Perez in the middle and brought him back to the New Jersey 20-yard line, continuing to dive the ball through the goal posts.
“He’s a very good football player,” Fisher said. “Besides having ball skills, he’s smart.”
Panthers running back Cameron Scarlett rushed into the end zone just three plays later for the first TD of the game.
Weber released, Magnifico eliminated
Mike Weber, who was the third running back selected in the first USFL draft and the first selected by the generals, was published looking forward to week 2.
The Generals started the week with the best rushing offense in the league and Weber hadn’t played. He is eligible to be picked up on waivers this week.
Riley told FOX Sports that the decision to release Weber had nothing to do with him, but with the scarcity of his roster. After losing both tight ends to injury in their opener against Birmingham, Riley and his team made the decision to add tight end Wes Saxton – choosing to wear a third tight end rather than a third running back.
Speaking of tight ends, the Panthers lost one when Joey Magnifico suffered what could be a season-ending knee injury. Magnifico returned to professional football less than a year after being hired as a head coach at St. Benedict in Auburndale, his high school alma mater, in Memphis.
He is the second USFL player to have his season cut short by injury. Panthers safety Warren Saba broke his forearm in Michigan’s season opener against the Gamblers.
No other team has lost a player to a season-ending injury this season.
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The #1 Rated Show Starring RJ Young.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Youngand subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube. It’s not on a StepMill.
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