UFL 2024: Five things to watch for in Week 7

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by Eric Williams | FOXSports.com

5 Things to Watch

In the most anticipated game of the UFL season thus far, the Birmingham Stallions are set to face the St. Louis Battlehawks at Protective Stadium on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app.


At 6-0, the Stallions sit atop of the USFL Conference, while the Battlehawks (5-1) lead the XFL Conference standings.


"It’s got all the makings to be a great matchup," Stallions head coach Skip Holtz said. "It’s going to be a great football game. This is going to be one of those games that’s going to come down to who plays the smartest — turnovers, sacks, third downs, red zone production — those are going to be the key plays that are going to come into a game like this."


The two teams have four opponents in common heading into Saturday's contest: the Michigan Panthers, Memphis Showboats, DC Defenders and Houston Roughnecks.


The Stallions are 4-0 against those teams, while the Battlehawks are 3-1, with their only blemish being a narrow 18-16 loss to the Panthers after star kicker Jake Bates drilled a 64-yard game-winner at Ford Field in Week 1.


"This is a tremendous challenge for us," Battlehawks head coach Anthony Becht said. "To go on the road [against] a team that is used to winning and has that swagger about them, this presents a challenge.


"You don’t have to say a lot [about] getting ready for a team like Birmingham. If you’ve got anything to you as a player or a coach, you’ll show up ready to go. And ultimately, the guys … they’ve got to play great in this game."

In Saturday's other matchup, the Showboats (1-5) face the Arlington Renegades (0-6) at 1 p.m. ET.

In Sunday's doubleheader, the Defenders (3-3) host the Panthers (4-2) at noon ET, and the San Antonio Brahmas (4-2) hit the road to take on the Roughnecks (1-5) at 3 pm. ET.


Here’s a closer look at five things to watch for Week 7.

1. Stallions vs. Battlehawks: The matchup of the year

As expected, both teams are at the top of most of the major statistical categories of the league.


The Battlehawks lead the UFL in points per game (28.8), while the Stallions are a close second (28.5). Birmingham leads the league in points allowed (14.8), while St. Louis is second (17.2).


However, the Stallions lead the league in sacks (21.0), while the Battlehawks (11.0) are tied for last place. St. Louis has the least number of penalties in the league (23), while the Stallions (38) are second.


The Stallions lead all teams in takeaways with 11, while the Battlehawks have forced eight turnovers, tied for second.

Meanwhile, Birmingham has owned the line of scrimmage, leading the league in rushing yards (874) and passing yards (1,429), while the Battlehawks are third in passing (1,227) and fourth in rushing (508).

A specific area to watch is the pass defense for St. Louis, which allows a league-low 136 passing yards a contest. How the Battlehawks slow down the Stallions' explosive passing offense led by QB Adrian Martinez — who has two 300-yard passing games to his credit this season — could go a long way to determining a winner.

2. A homecoming for AJ McCarron

St. Louis' quarterback, one of the frontrunners for league MVP honors, will return to play in the state of Alabama for the first time in over a decade. McCarron won two national titles while playing quarterback for the Crimson Tide and was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 2013. He finished 36-4 during his time at the helm for Alabama.


McCarron was 20-3 as a starter in games played in the state of Alabama during his college career, with a 19-2 record at home and 1-1 record at Auburn, according to FOX Sports Research.

The last time McCarron played in Alabama was on Nov. 30, 2013, a 34-28 loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl — a game in which the Tigers won after cornerback Chris Davis returned a failed field goal 109 yards as time expired.

McCarron leads the UFL in touchdowns (13) and completion percentage (67.8) and is second in passing yards (1,305).


"It’s going to be fun to go back home," McCarron said about seeing some familiar faces at Protective Field this weekend. "It will be fun to be back home in the state of Alabama playing versus a good team."


3. Can Martinez lead the league in rushing?


He’s started just three games, but the Stallions signal-caller is second in the league in rushing yards (347), just behind San Antonio running back John Lovett (378).


Martinez is averaging 10.5 yards per carry, but he also has proved lethal in the passing game, forcing defenses to pick their poison. An athletic quarterback who ran a 4.55-second, 40-yard dash, Martinez is no stranger to running the ball. He finished with 2,928 career rushing yards and 45 touchdowns during his time at Nebraska and Kansas State.

4. Panthers LB Frank Ginda suffers season-ending injury


The Panthers lost one of their top tacklers for the season, as last year's USFL Defensive Player of the Year was placed on injured reserve by the team due to a shoulder injury suffered in last week’s win over Arlington.


Ginda, who spent time with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons last year, had 35 combined tackles in six games played.


At 4-2, the Panthers could clinch a spot in the USFL Championship Game with a win this weekend and losses by Memphis and Houston. However, starting QB Danny Etling did not practice this week due to a hand injury, making his availability for Sunday’s game a question mark. If Etling can’t go, Brian Lewerke will likely get the start.


Arlington, which has a chance to get its first win against a Memphis squad on a five-game losing streak, will likely have to do so without defensive lineman Jalen Redmond (4.5 sacks), who missed practice time this week due to an ankle injury.


For the Showboats, linebacker Vontae Diggs remains out due to a lingering hamstring injury.

5. Stat of the week


All four games this weekend match former USFL teams against former XFL teams. So far, the two conferences are even (5-5) in crossover matchups with four weeks remaining in the season.


Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him at @eric_d_williams.

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