On Sunday afternoon, the Houston Roughnecks fell to the St. Louis BattleHawks 24-15, making it their third straight loss after initially starting 4-0 (all losses were against North opponents). It has been a tough slide for the Roughnecks in recent weeks, but even with some misfortune, this team is still in a good position. Let’s take a look at who made this game competitive, and what Houston need to do to get back in the groove.
Top Performers (Offense)
Cedric Byrd, WR, Hawai’i
With Cole McDonald getting the start, he was able to successfully recreate a connection he had with one of his teammates in college. Cedric Byrd finished the day as Houston’s leading receiver, catching 7 passes for 50 yards. While it wasn’t the best day for McDonald (more on that later), it seemed that Byrd made him feel more comfortable and proved to be a reliable target this time around.
Deontay Burnett, WR, USC
Burnett recorded the only touchdown of the day for Houston offensively, finishing the game with 3 catches for 21 yards and the aforementioned score. While the performance was nothing to write home about, he was also tied for the team lead in targets (9) alongside Byrd, showing that he still has a premier role in the offense even on a slow day.
Max Borghi, RB, Washington State
Similar to Burnett, Borghi’s numbers for the game didn’t particularly stand out (9 carries for 46 yards), but his 5.1-yard average was a pleasant surprise. A majority of that came on a 23-yard run, which was the second-longest on the team after Brycen Alleyne’s 27-yard dash.
Top Performers (Defense)
John Daka, EDGE, James Madison
With Tim Ward out for a second straight game, Daka stepped up like he always does and had another great performance. The JMU product finished with 3 total tackles (2 solo), 1.5 sacks, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 forced fumble (recovered by CJ Brewer). At this point, Daka is one of the more underrated players across the XFL, and deserves much more credit than he gets.
Will Likely, CB, Maryland
Likely gave Houston a much needed boost late in the game, recovering a fumble (forced by Scean Mustin) and taking it back for a touchdown. This was his second fumble return touchdown of the year, as he also recorded one against the Guardians in week 4. Despite only having two tackles, Likely is making the most of his role with the Roughnecks, which includes both defense and special teams.
Trent Harris, EDGE, Miami
Harris recorded his seventh sack of the XFL season on Sunday, putting himself back in the number one spot over the Vipers’ Pita Taumoepenu (6.5 sacks). He also recorded 3 total tackles and 1 tackle for loss.
Cole McDonald, QB, Hawai’i (15/32 passing/106 yards/1 touchdown/1 interception, 8 carries/40 yards)
Trevon Mason, DE, Arizona (4 total tackles, 0.5 sacks)
Thoughts & Notes
Between weeks six and seven, there had been much speculation that Cole McDonald would be the starting quarterback against the BattleHawks. This speculation turned into reality, after Brandon Silvers was ruled out with an arm injury. Unfortunately, McDonald didn’t look quite the same in his first pro start as he did when he was called into action against DC.
McDonald made some very unnecessary and forceful throws, which resulted in him finishing the game with a completion percentage of just 46.8. On the bright side, he was still effective as a runner, averaging 5 yards per carry on 8 attempts. McDonald may not have been as prepared to throw the ball in AJ Smith’s system than originally thought, and it wouldn’t hurt for him to be more conservative assuming he starts in week 8.
The positive takeaway from this game as a whole turned out to be the running back room, and the Roughnecks finished the afternoon with more rush yards than pass yards for the first time this season. All three backs (Borghi, Alleyne, Lee) averaged over 5 yards a carry, and each had a run of 10+ yards. As I mentioned in my preview article, it would be nice to see Houston use the ground game to truly move the ball rather than keeping it reserved for short-yardage or goal-line situations, and that’s exactly what happened against St. Louis. It’s safe to say fans can have more trust in that area moving forward.
Thinking about more than just next week’s matchup against the Brahmas, the rest of the regular season will determine whether or not the Roughnecks have what it takes to win it all. At this point, they should have a playoff spot locked up, and it would be hard to vision a world where they were not hosting the semifinal game. However, assuming they win the semifinal and move on to the championship, they will have to face one of the three North teams (Seattle, DC, St. Louis) that have given them so much trouble.
Long story short, the Roughnecks can win against the South based on how they started the year, but the South division overall is much weaker than the North. Houston easily has what it takes to go undefeated for the rest of the regular season, but that’s not exactly what matters anymore. The way the team refocuses and responds to adversity should be a sign of what’s to come after week 10, as opposed to just looking at the scoreboard and making assumptions.
Heading into week 8, Houston is still one game above .500 and on the verge of making another run. These next three weeks will be a time of preparation for the Roughnecks, and even though there is still plenty of football to be played, they have atleast emerged from the hardest part of the season without too many bumps and bruises.
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