Birmingham Stallions head coach Skip Holtz noticed pretty quickly during his game prep for this week that the Michigan Panthers have one of the better defensive fronts in the USFL. Because of that, Holtz said, he made an unorthodox decision that running the football would be the first option for his defense.

As it turned out, that was a solid decision as running back CJ Marable and quarterback Alex McGough sparked the running game during a 27-13 victory over the Panthers at Ford Field in Detroit.

 “I really challenged our offense with how strong this defensive line is,” said Holtz, whose team improved to 4-2. “We knew it was going to be a struggle. I even made the comment to the players during the week, why would we attack their strong point? I said if we can break their strong point, we’ll break the back of the monster. We came in with a we’re-going-to-run-the ball mindset. I thought the offensive line answered the challenge. CJ does a great job every week and broke some tackles today.”

Marable finished with 100 yards on 18 carries and McGough had 82 yards on 11 carries with a key rushing touchdown to seal the win with 3:27 left in the game. Overall, the Stallions rushed for 190 yards on 32 carries, which is an average of 5.9 yards per carry.

McGough was also extremely efficient in the passing game. He was 19 of 24 for 133 yards with both of his touchdown passes coming to running back. Marable had a 4-yard scoring reception in the second half and Zaquandre White had an 18-yard touchdown catch late in the first half.

Even with the running game going strong, the offensive success begins with the versatility of McGough. Most of Marable’s came on read option plays by McGough, and he bought time with his feet on both touchdown passes, particularly the one in the first half.

“He’s playing at a really high level,” Holtz said. “The way he’s extending plays right now, the success we’ve had in the red zone. I make a stupid call, he makes people miss and then finds a guy in the end zone. He has an ability to extend plays, throws the ball accurately and what he can do with his feet right now, I think he is doing a great job of playing quarterback.”

One key part of the game came late in the first half. The Stallions drove 62 yards on 10 plays, taking 4:39 off the clock, before McGough bought time, dumped the ball in the flat and let White do the rest on a 14-yard touchdown pass that gave the Stallions a 13-3 lead with 57 seconds left in the half.

The Panthers (2-4) were able to move the ball down the field and appeared to be ready to set up a field goal on the final play of the half. However, a communication error between Josh Love and the offensive coordinator on the final play cost the Panthers a chance to kick the field goal. Instead of spiking the ball to set up a field goal attempt, Love ran the ball into the middle of the line and the clock ran out.

“We dodged a bullet on that one,” Holtz said

The Stallions answered both Michigan scores – a touchdown and field goal – with scores of their own to grab the critical win.

“It’s good to get back to winning after last week,” said Holtz, whose team had dropped 2 of the past three games heading into Saturday. “I’m really proud of the way the guys came out and competed this week. It’s hard to win, it’s even harder to win on the road. I’m really proud of the attitude they came with, the way they showed up and supported each other.”

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