No kicker, no problem.
Head coach Jeff Fisher wasn’t confident in the Michigan Panthers’ kicking game Sunday vs. the Pittsburgh Maulers but it didn’t matter: His team dominated, 24-0. It’s the first win for the Panthers (1-2) in the new United States Football League.
Pittsburgh’s special teams miscues showed why Michigan opted for fourth-down and two-point conversion attempts all afternoon. The Maulers missed a 57-yard field goal, had a 46-yard kick blocked and dropped a punt, leading to an easy touchdown drive for the Panthers. (And that’s not counting a later 59-yard attempt by Pittsburgh kicker Ramiz Ahmed, which went far left in the third quarter.)
Fisher credits his run game, punting and defense for the win. Reggie Corbin, a former Illinois running back, rushed for 134 yards on 20 carries.
“I think we’re slowly learning our roles,” Corbin said postgame. We just gotta keep going.”
Michigan scored 16 points in the first quarter, but neither team scored again until about four minutes left in the game.
The Panthers had a chance for more, if not for some poor clock management. Michigan was at the Pittsburgh 21 with a fresh set of downs and 35 seconds left in the second quarter when the Maulers called a timeout. Michigan had no timeouts but in the USFL, the clock stops on a first down with two minutes left in either half.
After the Pittsburgh timeout, Michigan ran the ball on first down, much to the chagrin of former Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who was the color commentator for the game.
“I’m not in love with that call because now you have this time constraint that you entered with no timeouts,” Garrett said on the USA Network broadcast.
Almost 20 seconds passed before Michigan snapped the ball again, with 13 seconds left — another run play. Shea Patterson, the former Michigan football quarterback, tried to spike the ball but officials blew the whistle to signal halftime. Fisher sent kicker/punter Michael Carrizosa onto the field to no avail, arguing with a referee as the field was cleared for halftime. Carrizosa, who punted five times Sunday, missed a 39-yard field goal and an extra point last week before not getting a chance at either this week.
Overall, it was a solid opening half for Michigan, which rushed for more than 100 yards and held Pittsburgh (0-3) scoreless. Through three games, the Maulers have scored just 20 points.
Paxton Lynch helped build the lead for Michigan before leaving with an injury.
Lynch, a former first-round NFL draft pick, started 3-for-8 — which included a couple catchable passes that were not completed — for 23 yards. He added 21 rushing yards, a rushing touchdown and ran in for a two-point conversion. The 6-foot-7 passer sprained his ankle on one of his rushes and didn’t play again after the first period.
Patterson, the first overall pick in the USFL Draft, struggled through the air, finishing 8-for-17 for 49 yards, though some of his better passes were dropped as well. He ran in a two-point conversion for the game’s final points. He began the game on the bench Sunday after starting the team’s two first games.
[ The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive content. ]
Michigan’s defense was able to quell what little momentum Pittsburgh occasionally built with timely third- and fourth-down stops. Coach Kirby Wilson lamented his team’s “mental errors” and postgame penalties.
“The defense was outstanding but you turn the ball over inside the 5, you jump offsides in the red zone… it’s tough,” Wilson said. “If it means changing some personnel or adding personnel, we will.”
A Panthers punt was blocked by former UM star Carlo Kemp in the third quarter, giving the Maulers the ball in Panthers territory. But Pittsburgh wasn’t able to cash in, turning the ball over on downs instead of attempting a field goal from inside the 25.
Wilson also passed on a fourth-quarter field goal from inside the 30 after attempting a pair of 50-yards earlier in the game.
Former Illinois running back Reggie Corbin led the way with 133 yards on 20 carries for the Panthers. He ripped off a run of over 60 yards before Michigan knelt out the clock. Madre London, who played at Michigan State before transferring to Tennessee, was Pittsburgh’s top rusher, at 68 yards on 10 attempts.
Your subscription makes work like this possible. Get exclusive subscriber content and more here.