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USFL Week Two: Halftime Adjustments

And now for something completely different

USFL: Birmingham at Houston Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Since this week is ALL NFL DRAFT ALL THE TIME, consider this post your eye of the storm, a place to talk football that isn’t completely absorbed with NFL Draft mania. Not completely.

With yesterday's trade the Houston Texans now hold 8 picks in the top 175 draft slots. Nick Caserio could almost draft an entirely new starting defense with that. And, yes, that’s more exciting than the USFL if you’re an H-Town pro ball fan.

On Saturday night, another pro football team with “Houston” in their name played a home game in Birmingham Alabama against a team with “Birmingham” in their name. Week two of the new USFL was upon us, and in some ways things changed, but in others they stayed the same.

In the USFL Week One post, we discussed what the USFL got right, and what they got wrong. The Houston Gamblers also got some things right, and some things wrong.

This week, the USFL media/broadcast team fine tuned a lot of what was wonky in week one. They minimized the over-talking, where multiple audio sources were amplifying different conversations at the same time. The overall sound quality of the broadcast improved as well.

They continued to tinker with different camera angles, flexing their drone footage and helmet cams to provide something new and never before seen in the NFL.

Overall, it would seem the USFL took the “halftime” between week one and week two, made some great adjustments and put a much better product on the air.

As of this writing, full TV ratings for USFL week two are unavailable. However, Friday’s game, televised on the USA Network, took a substantial dive from week one, falling from roughly 771,000 to 363,000. Now this was on Friday night, on a cable only network, so it’s not really an apples-to-apples comparison. But, it’s not a great harbinger of anything other than history repeating itself as initial interest in spring football starts strong and dies fast.

One thing the USFL, or even the XFL who are returning next year, could do to make it more entertaining is dial back the NFL level of TV commercials. When you remove the ads from an average NFL broadcast, you’re left with roughly 1:15 minutes of watchable football (60 minutes of game play, time outs, etc.). Over the last few decades the NFL’s mammoth TV contracts have brought with it way more commercials and way less additional content. The USFL could dial that back a bit and take some of that time to further their “new and improved” camera work, team access, etc. and, if done properly, hype that angle to build fan enthusiasm. Instead, the USFL has opted to show us more lite beer and pickup truck commercials...

Next up, let’s talk about the team from Birmingham that calls itself the Houston Gamblers. Yes, that's still weird, but probably saves the USFL far more money than they lose in local fan revenue.

In Week One, the Gamblers came out strong, especially on defense, and dominated the Michigan Panthers for the first half, then hung on for their lives in the second as the Panthers made much better halftime adjustments.

This week’s Gambler team was also a tale of two halves, but was driven by the benching of starting quarterback Clayton Thorson after he seemed to get too wound up. The announcers pointed out a comment from Gamblers’ head coach Kevin Sumlin of needing Thorson to calm down, they extrapolated on that by stating uncalm quarterbacks tend to throw the ball too high and often with too much velocity. Case in point, during this, Thorson fired a rocket that his receiver had to jump for, only to have the ball rip through his fingers with great velocity and land 15 yards away in a Birmingham defensive back Lorenzo Burn’s breadbasket. Bad memories of Ryan Mallet ensued...

This was Thorson’s second interception - the first was a pick 6 on the opening drive. Thankfully for H-Town, two drives later Gamblers’ CB Will Likely returned the favor by taking an interception of his own to the house.

Once again, the Gamblers hit halftime with a lead, and once again came out in the third quarter and got taken to the woodshed by their opponent.

Unfortunately for Kevin Sumlin, the decision to pull Thorson in deference to his backup Kenji Bahar, didn’t bear fruit. Bahar completed just one pass on six attempts for nine yards before injuring his throwing hand on a Stallion defender’s helmet.

The only constant in the Gamblers game was their version of the Houston #AllFieldGoalOffense, with kicker Nick Vogel going 3 for 3 on field goals, 1 for 2 on extra points and having his name in the hat for USFL special teams player of the week. Vogel also made a tackle, sort of...

Ultimately, the Gamblers dropped to 1-1, losing their lead as the Birmingham Stallions (the only USFL team with an actual home field advantage and ability to put fans in the stands) came from behind to win 33-28.

Here’s a solid highlight video for those who missed the game:

So, the USFL definitely made some solid adjustments after week one, Kevin Sumlin and the Alabama Houston Gamblers did not, and week three will go head to head with the upcoming NFL Draft.

Expect the USFL to take a serious ratings nosedive this weekend.