Sun Belt Showdown: ULM Warhawks @ 10 Florida State Seminoles
There’s an old saying: “Eat your frogs early.” Hurricane Irma moved the Warhawks tilt with the Seminoles from 6PM to 11AM.
Hawks vs Noles, Saturday, September 9th, 11:00 AM on ACC Network
From just about every perspective, this game appears to be a lopsided bodybag game for Florida State, who likely see ULM as a mere pebble on its path to the College Football Playoff. However, empires have toppled on less, and though the Warhawks fell to Memphis in Week One, Matt Viator proved that his team was prepared to play pigskin.
The Warhawks are here to to kick butt (not vice versa)
There is an idea circulated by the Power Five Establishment that Sun Belt teams like ULM only play elite teams like Florida State for the cash. There’s a nugget of truth here. These games are important to the well-being of programs without the revenue stream to fund twisty slides, mini-golf courses and spa-like accommodations.
However, the fans and players could care less about the paycheck.
The Warhawks will not enter Doak Campbell Stadium looking only to survive long enough for the check to clear. Viator understands that victory is the only sustainable currency in college football. His eyes are red orbs of fire after spending hours in the film room dissecting the Seminoles performance against Alabama.
The Seminoles may be looking ahead to Miami. But the Warhawks aren’t looking ahead to Southern Miss.
Will the Warhawks’ two-headed QB find success against Florida State’s huge defense?
Garrett Smith (171 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) and Caleb Evans (108 yards, 0 TDs) both saw plenty of action against Memphis last week. Smith’s passing was only slightly more productive, but he was also the Warhawks’ leading rusher, chipping in 48 yards. Will Viator decide to lean more on Smith? Or will he continue to mix looks with Evans?
Meanwhile, Florida State’s defense recorded a pair of sacks and four TFLs on Alabama’s NFL quality offensive line. The offensive line is a Warhawks strength (though it allowed a pair of sacks to Memphis, both on Evans). Nobody is expecting ULM’s beef to match with the Crimson Tide’s, but if it can give Smith/Evans a moment to breathe, perhaps good things happen.
Are the Seminoles a different team without Deondre Francois?
Francois wasn’t exactly destroying Alabama before being wiped out for the season with a leg injury – 210 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs. Still, the sophomore signal caller was the face of the offense. Now the Seminoles are rolling the dice with true freshman James Blackman (6-5 185), an ESPN 3-star out of Belle Glade, FL.
But Florida State may not need Blackman to be good or even capable. The Seminole defense forced three turnovers on Alabama, and held the Tide to 173 yards rushing and 96 yards passing. Jimbo Fisher is probably happy to allow Blackman to mature while the defense hammers ULM.
So Viator’s strategy will be to rattle Blackman, right?
That seems like a good plan: be careful on offense and aggressive on defense. ULM DT Tyler Johnson (6-2, 283) was very active against Memphis, registering 5 solo tackles and collecting the team’s only sack on Riley Ferguson (who was limited to a mind-numbing 97 yards, zero scores and a pick). If I were Viator, I’d unleash Johnson and LB Caleb Tucker and try to force as many mistakes out of Blackman as humanly possibly. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m not a coach)
Second year head coach Matt Viator wasn’t around when ULM inked its deal with Florida State, so he inherits the task of taking down a Playoff Contender in Week 2. His mettle as a coach will certainly be tested, but the outcome might lie in the coolness of his players. If the Warhawks take the field unphased, and if Viator can maintain a solid game plan, then maybe ULM earns a measure of respect in Tallahassee on Saturday morning.
A former notary public, Jeremy Harper is a professional writer and Chief Instigator for Storm the Castle Creative. He spends much of his free time staring blankly into space.