The spring of 1985 has not been very kind so far to Joe Cribbs and Kelvin Bryant, the two top rushers in the U.S. Football League last year.
Today at Byrd Stadium, Cribbs will be hoping to get back in stride and Bryant will be hoping to continue the form he showed last week as the Birmingham Stallions (3-1) meet the Baltimore Stars (1-2-1) in an Eastern Conference game at 2:30.
Cribbs, a former Buffalo Bill, led the USFL last year with 1,467 yards for Birmingham, but has only 170 yards on 43 carries this season. Bryant, who finished with 1,406 yards for the Stars in 1984, has 304 yards on 68 attempts this year, but 130 of those came last week in a 29-9 victory over New Jersey.
Despite Cribbs' poor start, Birmingham is tied with Memphis and Tampa Bay for the conference lead. The Stars, who have never lost to the Stallions in four meetings, have won only the game in which Bryant played well. Both teams acknowledge they will have a difficult time winning today without establishing a running game.
"Kelvin Bryant finally came around last week, and our offense came alive," said Stars Coach Jim Mora, whose team will probably be without offensive left guard George Gilbert (arthroscopic knee surgery) for two more weeks.
Although Chuck Fusina, the league's top-rated passer last year when the Stars (then in Philadelphia) won the USFL championship, again is playing solidly, the Stars need Bryant running well to ease the heavy pass rush of opposing defenses.
"One reason our offense clicked last week was that Kelvin was running well so our line was able to give Chuck some protection, finally," said Mora.
Bryant says a leather brace he wore on his sprained left ankle last week "made all the difference."
The Stars did not allow one sack against the Generals after giving up a total of 15 in their first three games. They will have a tougher time today against the Stallions, who sacked Memphis quarterback Walter Lewis 10 times last week.
Fusina must also be leery of linebacker Chuck Clanton, who leads the league with five interceptions.
The Stallions have been averaging 30 points per game, most of them as a result of Cliff Stoudt's passing to Jim Smith and Joey Jones. Stoudt has thrown nine touchdown passes, five to Smith, his former teammate with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cribbs will wear a rubber cast to protect two broken fingers, but Birmingham Coach Rollie Dotsch said few good opportunities, not the injury, have kept Cribbs' numbers down.
"Cribbs didn't have a chance to gain much the first few games because we weren't giving him any holes," said Dotsch.
Stoudt says the Stallions are very aware that they have never beaten the Stars, and that both games last year were one-sided.
But, to Mora's thinking, despite the opposite starts, both teams are similar to what they were last year.
"We haven't changed much since we played them last year, but neither have they," said Mora. "I wish I knew why we haven't played well early, but I think we have played better with each game. We haven't played up to potential -- nobody ever plays up to potential -- but last year, we sometimes didn't play up to potential and still won. We have a good team -- in fact, this team could beat last year's team -- we have just made some mistakes that have killed us."