Tampa Bay Bandits defense thwarts Pittsburgh Maulers


By RJ Young
FOX sportswriter

From USFL.COM home to all Bandits content

the Tampa Bay Bandits finished the weekend of USFL action with a nightcap on Monday, beating the Pittsburgh Maulers17-3 at Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama.

Bandits quarterback Jordan Ta’amu looked like one of two QBs among the eight teams — the other being Philadelphia Stars quarterback Bryan Scott — who is well and truly his team’s starter.

He was in control of the line of scrimmage, in step with playcaller Bob Saunders and generally unfazed by the defenses the Maulers showed him.

After Ta’amu started the night 5-for-5 on passing and led the Bandits to a score in their first game of the USFL’s opening weekend, the Maulers’ defense did a good job of catching him.

The Bandits scored their 17 points in the first half. Had the Maulers been able to mount a capable offense, we might have seen the USFL’s fourth straight game end as a one-score ball game.

In fact, Ta’amu finished with 185 passing yards on 32 passes — just 5.8 yards per attempt — with two interceptions and a touchdown. He’s drift-compatible—it’s a “Pacific Rim” reference—with tight end Cheyenne O’Grady, though.

Eight of Ta’amu’s 20 completions and 86 of his passing yards were to O’Grady. Nearly one-third (11) of Ta’amu’s attempts were at the Arkansas end.

The Bandits’ defense is seasoned with Pepper.

Maulers coach Kirby Wilson has made no secret that he wants his team to be a ground team with an attack that lines up, looks the defense in the eye and then tries to grind their bones to make their bread. But the former Steelers assistant was greeted by the bandits’ version of the Steel Curtain.

Utilizing a front that deployed 6-foot-4, 271-pound Zac Dawe, 6-foot-3, 290-pound Reggie Howard and 6-foot-1, 340-pound Daylon Mack, Pepper Johnson’s defense looked to go down . All night long.

It’s not enough to say that the Bandits stopped a powerful team from running the ball. The Bandits spent enough time in the Maulers’ backfield that I wouldn’t have been shocked if Pittsburgh had started charging rent.

Todd Haley’s Bandits needed just 59 tackles to stop the Maulers, who broke the ball 61 times, as 12 of those Bandit tackles were for a loss. That’s nearly one tackle for loss every time the Maulers’ offense has started, and almost a fifth of the tackles the Bandits have made have been for a loss.

It’s an effective and deadly defense that can pay dividends for a fast-loving offense.

The Maulers did not help themselves.

In 60 minutes of football, the Maulers created nine negative plays and eight penalties, including three for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Maulers coach Kirby Wilson won’t be happy with that, as he has said he wants to be the kind of football team that doesn’t fight.

Offensive coordinator John Tomlinson also needs to find more ways to allow quarterbacks Josh Love and Kyle Lauletta to distribute the ball.

On Monday, 19 of 26 passes went to just three players, with receivers Jeff Thomas and Bailey Gaither combining to catch seven passes for 85 yards on 15 targets.

However, Pittsburgh only played three wide receivers, opting to activate more offensive linemen for a package that sometimes lacked a single flanker. Offensively, the Maulers averaged just 3 yards per play and 2.8 yards per carry.

If it was a statement of intent, the Bandits were ready to respond, as running backs Garrett Groshek and Madre London couldn’t do anything behind their offensive line. The Maulers’ first seven plays were runs that gained a total of just 6 yards.

Defensive coordinator Jarren Horton could have a star on his defense, though. Inside linebacker Kyahva Tezino was exceptional defensively, with an interception and a forced fumble.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The #1 Rated Show Starring RJ Young.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Youngand subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on Youtube. It is not on a StepMill.


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