After the NFL Draft ends early Saturday evening, the 32 teams will go to work on signing undrafted free agents, but the eyes of the football world, at least those tuned into FOX Sports, will be fixated on Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium for the second game of week three in the USFL. Saturday night’s contest sees two teams still searching for their first win of the season.
Houston Battles Memphis in Critical Game for Both Teams
The stadium formerly known as the Liberty Bowl welcomes the Houston Gamblers (0-2) back to the ballpark where their week one loss to the Michigan Panthers occurred as they get set to take on the hub’s primary tenant, the Memphis Showboats (0-2). Memphis enters week three still smarting from their resounding defeat to Birmingham last Saturday on FOX.
Kickoff time is set for just after 7 pm ET/ 6 pm CT, directly opposite the XFL’s South Division Championship Game between the Arlington Renegades and Houston Roughnecks on ESPN2. It goes without saying that when it comes to the gridiron, Houston will be a city divided on Saturday.
TV Note: Much like last week, the USFL game on FOX is slated to begin immediately following the network’s coverage of Major League Baseball in a regional window. Should the baseball game run over its three-hour allotment, the football contest will start on another FOX-owned network.
The threat of Rain to Subside In Time for Houston/ Memphis Saturday
While the local weather forecast for the Memphis area does call for a threat of storms to cross the region, it’s projected to decrease ahead of the scheduled kickoff to a 30 percent chance. A slight breeze is expected out of the north at 10 MPH.
Entering week three, the USFL has yet to see any of its ballgames go into a weather delay for lightning in the vicinity of any of its hub stadiums. The league’s Detroit hub at Ford Field will open up Sunday afternoon.
No weather concerns exist for games in Detroit since Ford Field is a domed stadium.
Houston Gamblers vs. Memphis Showboats Betting Odds
As of Thursday evening, the oddsmakers currently have the Gamblers installed as a -3 1/2-point favorite on the points spread and a -161 favorite on the money line. The home-standing Showboats counter as a +125 underdog on the money line.
If you plan on betting on this or any other game in the league this weekend, please wager responsibly.
Houston Has to Close the Show Against Memphis
The Houston Gamblers were much improved last week when compared to the first game of the season. Back in week one, Houston only scored 13 points against the Michigan Panthers. Fast-forward six days, and the Gamblers looked like an entirely different team last Saturday.
As was mentioned in the breakdown of the Gamblers vs. Breakers game last week, TJ Pledger had to get more opportunities to carry the football, The former Utah Ute served as the workhorse at halfback, getting the start and ending his day with 94 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
Late in the ballgame last weekend, it appeared as though the New Orleans Breakers left the Gamblers ample time to try and score what would have been the tying touchdown. However, it was not meant to be. With 31 seconds to play in regulation, quarterback Kenji Bahar threw his third interception of the contest.
It’s only a 10-week season, but if Houston is unable to put the game away versus Memphis, they’re in trouble as far as their playoff hopes go.
Bahar Has to Cut Down on INTs
Speaking of Kenji Bahar, he’s had a rough go of things these first couple of weeks in the USFL. Last week, he rebounded from throwing two interceptions against Michigan by throwing his first three touchdowns of the season.
Unfortunately for Gamblers fans, however, he was also picked off three times. With the USFL having a short season, this could be the last week that Bahar serves as QB1 for the Gamblers if he doesn’t turn it around.
Five interceptions over two games against three touchdowns is far from an ideal beginning to the season for Kenji Bahar. If he finds himself in a scenario where none of his wideouts are open in the field, look for Bahar to tuck the ball away and take off on a quarterback keeper.
Nowhere To Go But Up For Memphis Showboats
In short, last week’s game between the Memphis Showboats and Birmingham Stallions was a problematic watch if you’re a fan of the former squad. The lone points that Memphis scored happened on a quarterback sack of Stallions QB Alex McGough for a safety in the dying moments of the third quarter of play.
The good news for the Showboats is this week’s game should be a more evenly matched affair versus the Gamblers on paper. At the same time, however, they’ve got to improve up front on the offensive line. Memphis gave up three sacks last week versus Birmingham, making for eight sacks allowed through two games.
An offensive line can’t be giving up an average of one sack a quarter in the first two weeks of the regular season and expect to be in playoff contention down the road. If the Showboats play the way they have to begin the year on Saturday, it’s going to be a challenge, at the bare minimum, to climb out of the hole they’ve gotten themselves into.
Carnell Lake Eager to Guide Showboats Defense to Victory on Saturday
It’s been a daunting first two ballgames for Memphis defensive coordinator Carnell Lake. A former defensive back for the Pittsburgh Steelers between 1989 and 1998, the 2023 USFL season marks his second one as a defensive coordinator in the league.
Lake served in the same capacity for the Tampa Bay Bandits last season before the team’s coaching staff and active roster were moved from the Birmingham hub and the team was rebranded as the Memphis Showboats during the offseason. After an 0-2 start, Lake told Memphis NBC affiliate WMC that he wants to get in the win column.
“We are still searching for our first win,” Lake mentioned. “We are working very hard to try and get that win. We are facing some stiff challenges right now, so we have to find a way.”
Both clubs are facing an uphill battle. The loser of Saturday night’s game will have an 0-3 start to the year on their record and may have to win out just to get into the postseason.
Prediction: Houston 24, Memphis 20.
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