Parks’s Pulse – On attendance, dreadful debuts, and special teams

St. Louis Battlehawks quarterback A.J. McCarron: "Put the ball in my hands."
St. Louis Battlehawks quarterback A.J. McCarron: “Put the ball in my hands.”

Each week during the season, Parks’s Pulse will present a smattering of thoughts on the previous weekend’s games.

Ranking the games

  1. Brahmas 27, Defenders 12 – San Antonio’s creative offense was fun to watch. D.C. missed Abram Smith.
  2. Stallions 27, Renegades 14 – Arlington was able to go into halftime tied, but Birmingham pulled away in the second half. For the most part, it lived up to the hype.
  3. Panthers 18, Battlehawks 16 – St. Louis won their opener last year on a last-second field goal; they lost it this year on one. It took the game a full half to kick into gear.
  4. Showboats 18, Roughnecks 12 – The quality of play in this one resembled XFL 2023 week one as opposed to what is supposed to be a crisper product after the merger.

Kickoff check-in

One of the most analyzed aspects of the UFL is going to be how the kickoff rules affect field position and scoring. In week one, kickoffs were received, on average, at the 11-yard line. The average starting field position, excluding penalties and squib kicks, was the 37-yard line.  Long returns were frequent, but just three crossed the 50 into opposing territory. Offenses are traditionally slow out of the gate, therefore the starting field position didn’t seem to have a major effect on scoring. That could change as the season wears on and as offenses become more in sync.

All-access moment of the week, part one

Stallions head coach Skip Holtz had no time for his offensive line dogging it during a timeout. The usually gregarious Holtz spit some fire as Birmingham was preparing for a red zone play. “Why’re you just walking your ass off the field…your captain is looking to see who all is out on the field.” At the time, the Stallions were in a tie game with the Renegades at 11-11, so fuses all around were likely short considering the gravity of the first game of the UFL season involving the champions from both previous leagues.

Special Teams prove special

The two most viral plays in the league in the first week both came via special teams. Saturday, Panthers K Jake Bates drilled a 64-yard field goal in the waning seconds to best the Battlehawks. Not only did he hit it once, but twice; the first time, St. Louis iced him by calling a time out right before the snap. Bates followed through with the kick anyway so as to keep his rhythm, and it split the uprights. There is already said to be NFL interest in Bates after this game.

Then on Sunday, the Brahmas unleashed one of the most unlikely fake punts in history, with punter Brad Wing passing to center Alex Mollette, who rumbled in for a 40-yard score. It was actually a double fake as the team initially set up for a long field goal, then adjusted into a formation with Wing at the QB/punter position, giving them the option to either punt or pass. The UFL was lucky to have major plays on both days of weekend action break through the social media and mainstream sports bubble as these plays appear to have done.

Delance’s dreadful debut

It’s difficult to imagine a worse first game than was had by Jean Delance of the D.C. Defenders. Anointed the starting right tackle to begin the season, the former Florida Gator committed a staggering five penalties on the afternoon, the final a personal foul for spitting on a San Antonio Brahma player. That led to his ejection from the game in the fourth quarter. Delance’s false start on the same play wiped a Defender touchdown off the board. He finished the game with the lowest Pro Football Focus grade for any D.C. player (22.5). Delance’s woes didn’t end there: He was released by the team on Tuesday, going from starter to free agent in two days.

Attendance woes

With each successive spring football league iteration, live attendance seems to take more and more of a hit. The opening weekend of the UFL was not immune to this. It started on a positive note, with Arlington drawing over 14,000 to Choctaw Stadium, more than any Renegades home game drew in 2023. Michigan, which got a late start in selling both season and individual tickets, clocked in at around 9,000. It sounds low, but given the constraints, it could’ve been worse.

Sunday was Easter, which may have negatively impacted the numbers. San Antonio’s attendance would’ve ranked third of their five home games last season. Houston was perhaps the most disappointing. In the third year of the franchise’s existence, they couldn’t even muster 10,000 at Rice Stadium. Television ratings are going to prove more important for the sustainability of the league, but attendance matters too. There’s some work to do in that department.

All-Access moment of the week, part two

The St. Louis offense struggled to get on track, specifically the run game. Offensive coordinator Bruce Gradkowski stuck with it despite the lack of success. That served to irk QB A.J. McCarron, especially on a 4th-and-1 play from the Michigan five yard-line early in the fourth quarter, when RB Wayne Gallman was stuffed for no gain. “Put. The. Ball. In. My. Hands,” a frustrated McCarron said on the bench afterward to no one in particular. The Battlehawks ran for just 62 yards of offense while McCarron threw for 216 yards and two touchdowns.

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