There were several main takeaways following the USFL's inaugural weekend. Colorful jerseys, interesting camera angles, and unprecedented audio access were some of the things that stood out most. But perhaps the biggest takeaway from the USFL's opening weekend was the impressive play of several defensive units that included several standout individual performances. In all, five defenses held their opponents to under 20 points, with the Tampa Bay Bandits holding the Pittsburgh Maulers to a mere three points in Monday night's victory.
Sure, part of the success of the defenses was due to communication and execution issues from several offenses that were still looking to find their footing. But largely, the players on defense deserve credit for thoroughly outplaying their offensive counterparts. While big offensive plays are more prone to go viral, there were a bevy of big hits and other big defensive plays over the weekend that quickly informed the viewing audience that these players are here to win while creating a product worth watching.
Fittingly, the biggest individual standout from Week 1 was a defensive player. Let's take a look at each major statistical leader through the USFL's opening weekend, a list that includes several standout defensive efforts.
Sacks: Davin Bellamy (Breakers): 3
We teased defense in the intro, so we only felt that it was right to start off talking about Bellamy's dominant performance in leading New Orleans to a 23-17 win over the Philadelphia Stars. Bellamy, a 6-foot-5 defensive end who played collegiately at Georgia before spending time with six NFL teams from 2018-21, recorded three first-half sacks of Stars quarterback Bryan Scott. The first sack occurred on the game's first play from scrimmage, setting the tone for the remainder of the half.
Bellamy's second sack of Scott, which occurred on a third-and-12 play late in the first quarter, forced the Stars to settle for a long field goal attempt that was ultimately missed. He recorded a third sack of Scott later in the half while finishing the game with six tackles that included four solo stops.
Passing yards: Bryan Scott (Stars): 202
Ironically, the quarterback most harassed over the weekend finished with the most passing yards. Despite facing a constant pass rush, Scott went 25 of 36 while finishing with 13 more passing yards than the league's second-leading passer, Panthers quarterback Shea Patterson.
Scott, who threw a touchdown and an interception in a losing effort, is hoping to make this most of his USFL experience. The 26-year-old earned a tryout with the Chiefs in 2018 after an impressive pro day at USC. His success in The Spring League led to him earning a tryout with the Colts in February 2021. In college, Scott was a big fish in a small pond while playing for California's Occidental College, where he threw for 77 touchdowns and just 22 interceptions.
Passing touchdowns: Luis Perez (Generals): 2
Perez threw both of his touchdown passes in the first half while helping New Jersey take a 14-7 halftime lead over the Birmingham Stallions in the USFL's season opener. Perez, however, threw just three passes in the second half while finishing with 142 yards on 13 of 18 passing. Despite his lack of second-half production, it was a successful USFL debut for Perez, who in 2017 won the Harlon Hill Trophy, given annually to the best football player in Division II.
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Rushing yards: De'Andre Johnson (Generals): 98
Johnson was the reason why Perez was seldom used during the second half of Saturday's game. The Generals' "other" quarterback, Johnson's number was called early and often during the second half, as the Generals rolled up 222 rushing yards while rarely putting the ball in the air during the game's final 30 minutes. But despite their dominance on the ground, the Generals lost the game after Stallions quarterback J'Mar Smith led his offense to scores on its final three possessions.
Receiving yards: Randy Satterfield (Generals): 100
Satterfield kicked off the USFL's opening game in style by hauling in a 48-yard reception on the game's first play. He ended the drive by catching a 3-yard touchdown pass from Perez. Satterfield hung on to the ball despite taking a nasty hit from a Stallions defender.
The 6-foot-4 receiver wasn't selected until the 17th round in the USFL draft. He finished his collegiate career at Lyon College, where in 2019 he led the Sooner Athletic Conference with 867 receiving yards and 11 touchdown receptions.
Tackles: Donald Payne (Gamblers): 19
With the last name befitting of a linebacker, Payne was all over the field during his USFL debut. The linebacker's overall presence on Sunday helped the Gamblers' defense shut out the Panthers' offense in the first half as Houston built a 17-0 lead. Despite a late Panthers rally, Payne and his teammates preserved the win after holding Michigan out of the end zone on its final drive late in the fourth quarter.
Payne, who once recorded 30 tackles in a game during his time at Stetson University, has spent time with six NFL franchises after initially catching on with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2017.