Three up, three down for UFL week eight

Manny Wilkins #5 of the St. Louis Battlehawks looks to pass against the DC Defenders during the first half at The Dome at America’s Center on May 19, 2024 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/UFL/Getty Images)

My “Three up, three down” column appears weekly on UFL Board during the season, taking note of positives or things that are happening often (“up”) as well as negatives or rarities (“down”). 

Up: Birmingham health

At this point in the season, the only thing that may take Birmingham down is a major injury or two. The bad news for the rest of the UFL is that heading into week eight, the Stallions were one of the healthiest teams in the league. Just four players appeared on their injury report, all labeled “full go” (defined as “will play”). Oftentimes, the teams that are best able to ward off injuries are the teams that are the most dangerous, especially in the post-season. There’s a level of luck involved in that, but Birmingham has been built with incredible depth, so they may be more able to survive catastrophic injuries than most other teams. They hope not to have to test that theory in the remaining few weeks.

Down: Memphis health

On the other end of the injury spectrum is the Showboats. A league-high 15 players appeared on last week’s injury report for the team, though about half were listed as “probable” (what the UFL calls “likely to play”). An incredible six receivers were included among those 15. Key contributors like LB Malik Lawal, LB Vontae Diggs, and S Jarey Elder were held out of the game against Michigan. Memphis has some serious holes up and down its roster that has contributed to their 1-7 record through eight weeks. Injury reports like this, though, don’t help in the attempts to overcome those shortcomings.

Up: Performance of backup QBs

It’s difficult enough finding competent starting quarterbacks in spring leagues like the UFL; finding backups that can win you a game or two in a pinch is even more difficult. Heck, NFL teams have a hard time with that. Yet, backup QBs have been the stars of the show in some cities. The two-headed monster of Brian Lewerke and Bryce Perkins, the team’s third and fourth quarterbacks, has led the Panthers to two straight wins to keep Birmingham in its sights in the USFL Conference. Prior to that, Danny Etling had ably taken over for injured starter EJ Perry.

St. Louis clinched a playoff berth via the legs of Manny Wilkins, who saw his first extended action of the season on Sunday. Though he completed just 50% of his passes for 126 yards, Wilkins led the team with 79 rushing yards. And in San Antonio, Quentin Dormady shook off a dreadful week seven performance to lead the San Antonio Brahmas to victory over the Arlington Renegades. That allowed the Brahmas to enter the playoffs as well. For some squads, there doesn’t seem to be a significant drop-off from starter to backup like you’d see in the NFL.

Down: Playoff races

The final two weeks of the season won’t create much playoff intrigue: All four available post-season spots have already been locked up. The only thing that’s left now is to figure out the conference champions. Birmingham controls its own destiny and can clinch the USFL Conference title with a win in either of the last two games. Control of the XFL Conference is a little less cut-and-dry, with St. Louis and San Antonio both entering week nine with a 6-2 record. St. Louis’s 4-0 conference record could end up being the deciding factor. A scheduling quirk: St. Louis and San Antonio play each other in week 10, then will have to turn around and play each other again the next week in the conference championship.

Up: Michigan opening drive TDs

We’ve seen many teams get off to slow starts on the scoreboard this season as offenses continue to try to find their rhythm. Despite the turnover at the QB position, Michigan has had no such problems of late: They’ve scored touchdowns on their opening possessions in each of the last four games. Being able to take those early leads – or at least keep pace with the other team – has to help the confidence of the players in what could be a demoralizing situation in trying to catch the runaway freight train that is the Stallions. Credit to offensive coordinator Marcel Bellefeuille for having his players prepared and for having a strong early game script.

Down: In-season trades

The turning point of the XFL regular season in 2023 was the trade that sent QB Luis Perez from the Vegas Vipers to the flailing Arlington Renegades. Perez gave the Renegades a jolt of life, one that carried them all the way through to the XFL Championship. Not only have there been no earth-shattering trades like that through eight weeks of the UFL season, there have been no trades period since games kicked off in late March. There were a few player exchanges in the preseason, enough to make one think that teams weren’t necessarily averse to making deals. With some teams so clearly out of it early on, it’s somewhat surprising those teams didn’t deal players for draft capital, if nothing else. Instead, any additions made have come via free agency. Just a noticeable quirk of this first UFL campaign.

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