United States Football League
Alex McGough's artistry, dominance guide Stallions into USFL Championship Game
United States Football League

Alex McGough's artistry, dominance guide Stallions into USFL Championship Game

Updated Jun. 26, 2023 12:16 p.m. ET

Close-watchers of the USFL have been trying to tell anyone with ears to hear and a heart to receive that the best doggone ballplayer in any league playing football this spring is a longhaired Florida man with a smile electric enough to light Magic City for at least a week.

We zealots for the modern USFL would tell you, bless 'em Lord who play in the dog days of April, May and June, but there ain't one quite like Alex McGough.

It's one thing for Joel Klatt to call McGough artistic. It's another for Birmingham Stallions coach Skip Holtz to compare his quarterback's play to that of Rembrandt's painting. No, really.

"I think what he does on the field is brilliant," Holtz said. "I mean he’s absolutely artistic and amazing with what he's doing right now with his mind and what you see in the field and everything. Yes, I would like to keep them healthy. But I also know that he’s painting this absolute Rembrandt out there."


Highlights: McGough, Stallions rout Breakers

We who proselytize and witness the feats fantastic taking place in the cathedrals of Protective Stadium, Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, Ford Field and Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium would warn you not to turn your back on McGough, lest he break it — like he did the New Orleans Breakers in a 47-22 victory Sunday to win the South Division Championship and move one win away from notching a consecutive USFL Championship.

"He's one of the best I've ever been around," Holtz said immediately following the game. "He's my offensive coordinator right now."

And it felt like McGough was not just an OC on the field but that he was playing high school football in a pro football league — running around, making plays every which way but loose against the Breakers. 

New Orleans coach John DeFilippo knew McGough was capable of this kind of play because he'd seen how McGough practiced and prepared. McGough was a QB for the Jacksonville Jaguars when DeFilippo was QB coach in Jacksonville. 

"So, I know Alex very well. I mean he sat in the meeting room every day. I'll tell you I'm proud of Alex — I really am. I know he kicked our butt tonight, but there's a piece of me, as his coach, that I'm proud as heck of him."

The glow-up was happening before his eyes, before our eyes. 

McGough made several plays Sunday where it was clear he was reaching that upper level, where your mind, body and soul must be one.

Perhaps it was when McGough put Anree Saint-Amour, a Breakers defensive end who had six sacks in the 10-week regular season, on skates, escaped to the sideline, and then flexed toward a crowd of Stallions fans rooting him on.

And the "Giddy up!" after each first down ran through the crowd like a pastor who had just asked: "Can I get an Amen?" 

Perhaps it was when McGough found wideout Davion Davis wide open on a back-breaking, 13-play, 88-yard drive that lasted fewer than four minutes to put the Stallions up 26-7 in the first half.

That sound you heard at halftime was the Stallions faithful catching the Holy Ghost. 

Perhaps it was when Skip Holtz performed a first in pro football: He picked up the touchscreen, sat down next to McGough, and went through what McGough saw and what he could do better, and relayed his faith and commitment to his QB — all on live TV. He not only coached up his quarterback, but also every viewer on the FOX broadcast — a first in TV history.

But it was definitely when the Stallions offense came out to start the second half, scored, and watched the defense respond with a second pick of McLeod Bethel-Thompson, a quarterback who’d led the Toronto Argonauts to the Canadian Football League Grey Cup. Then McGough rushed right in for a TD — his fourth score of the day — capping a seventh-straight scoring drive for the Stallions.

The Breakers managed a pair of TDs in the fourth quarter. Still, the game was out of reach for New Orleans by then. It wasn’t just that the Stallions' offense didn’t stop scoring, it’s that former SEC defensive coordinator John Chavis and his defense remembered giving up 45 in a loss to New Orleans earlier this season and chose to hold a grudge. 

With the return of former All-American linebacker Scooby Wright to the lineup for the first time since Week 4, the Stallions created nearly as many turnovers (two) as they allowed TDs (three). 

And through it all, Holtz’s relationship with his quarterback was on full display. 

"He plays to the players," McGough told me. "That instills confidence in us and makes us want to go out there and play harder."

Weeks ago, following a 27-24 victory, Holtz told me how much McGough, perhaps the league’s MVP, has grown into the kind of quarterback he envisioned when he made McGough the Stallions’ first pick in the 2022 USFL Draft.

"At practice a couple of times here in the last couple of weeks, I'll call a play, and he'll bend over," Holtz said. "When he bends over, I can see he's thinking the play through in his head, because he's got to have the picture of what's going on. If he can’t see it, I’m not gonna call it. So my job is to make damn sure that he feels good about whatever we're running. And I think I'm better off calling a play that he's comfortable with than I am just to play to attack the defense."

Other coaches around the league have taken note, too.

Houston Gamblers coach Curtis Johnson said, "He (McGough) is like spaghetti sauce. He makes everything all right."

Philadelphia Stars coach Bart Andrus, who coached his team to the USFL title game last season, praised McGough’s ability to problem-solve.

"If anybody lets him extend the play, they’re gonna pay. And we did," he said.

So did the Breakers. The last time the Breakers would see the lead was when they led 7-3 in the first quarter. After that, it was all "Ragu" McGough.

By the fourth quarter Sunday, the Stallions led the Breakers 40–7, in a showcase of why Birmingham has the most productive offense in the USFL, with the best player in the USFL behind center. Their offensive outburst was not unforeseeable.

The Stallions put up 42 on the Memphis Showboats in Week 2.

And their last five games of the regular season look like this: 27 points in Week 10, 38 in Week 9, 27 in Week 8, 24 in Week 7 and 27 in Week 6. By halftime of the South Division Championship, the Stallions had already put up 26 points before getting the ball back to open the second half. 

McGough, who became the only quarterback the Seattle Seahawks drafted during the Russell Wilson era (seventh round, 2018), notched 300 total yards or more with at least two TDs for the third time in his last four games. At the start of the South Division title game, he’d already been responsible for 25 TDs, 10 more than the player ranked No. 2 (Case Cookus, 15). 

And then he put together one of his best performances in the biggest game the Stallions have played all season. He eventually got the hook with just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter, but not before he accounted for 394 total yards — including 21-for-31 for 310 through the air — with five total TDs. He became the first player in the modern USFL era to pass for 300 yards and rush for 75 in the same game. And the Stallions scored more points in a game than any other team over the past two years.

The Stallions put up more than 500 yards of offense and ended the night with the starting quarterback wearing the WWE title belt on the sideline.

That’s a bit of a contrast from when McGough played every snap of the Stallions’ Week 10 matchup against the Showboats, even though the Stallions had already clinched the regular season division title and home-field advantage for the South title game. And there was never a thought — from him anyway — that he should sit out any part of the last game of the season to stay healthy and recover before Sunday night. 

"We didn’t want to back into the playoffs," McGough told me on "The Number One College Football Show." "We didn’t wanna go in there limping."

No, they went in looking to give an ass-kicking.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast "The Number One College Football Show." Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to "The Number One College Football Show" on YouTube.

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