Preview 2017: ULM Warhawks
Previewing and looking ahead at the ULM Warhawks season – and what you need to know.
What You Need To Know About The ULM Offense
There were moments. The Warhawks were able to crank things up here and there, but they didn’t do it often enough to make up for a leaky defense.
Seven starters return led by QB Garrett Smith, who missed the second half of last season hurt. If he’s okay and on the field, the Warhawks have a dangerous passer who should shine with a veteran receiving corps to play with. The top three receivers are back including a few deep threats in R.J. Turner and Xavier Brown.
Not only are almost all of the rushing yards back from last year, but in comes Alabama transfer Derrick Gore to add a strong talent to the rotation. O line coach Rob Sale might be gone along with the left side of the line, but three starters are back to go along with Texas Tech transfer Trace Ellison. The team’s biggest strength last season, the line should once again be a major plus.
Biggest Key To The ULM Offense
Balance out the O. When Smith was healthy, passing game good, running game bad. He got hurt, but the schedule eased up a bit … no pass, lots of run.
There’s experience in the backfield, and Smith is an all-around playmaker, and now the offense has to be able to mix it up and keep the chains moving. The defense isn’t going to be a rock, so ULM has to be prepared to deal with several shootouts. If couldn’t keep up the pace last season – it’s hard to win when you’re scoring 21 points or fewer seven times and the D is getting lit up like a Christmas tree.
Do a little of everything right, have a nice balance, and cranking up points won’t be like pulling teeth.
What You Need To Know About The ULM Defense
The defense had its issues, but there’s hope.
The Warhawks finished 119th in the nation overall and gave up 39 points per game – getting lit up by more than 50 points four times. There has to be more of a pass rush and the run defense has to be far stronger – but more on that in a moment.
Nine starters return with eight of the top ten tacklers back. Overall, this was a young group that took a lot of lumps, with seven underclassmen playing big roles. Now there’s depth, and now there are options to play around with.
There isn’t enough size on the inside, but there’s quickness on the outside and playmakers in David Griffith and Chase Day in the linebacking corps. The losses are in the secondary with CB Justin Backus and S Tre Hunter gone, but this could be a positive area is there’s more of a pass rush to help the cause.
The ULM season, though, hinges on being able to …
Biggest Key To The ULM Defense
Stop … the … run. The defensive front didn’t hold up, allowing 200 yards or more nine times and getting slaughtered by the great ground games – allowing over 400 against Auburn, New Mexico and Appalachian State. There weren’t enough plays behind the line with just 17 sacks and too many struggles generating big things in the backfield. There’s experience, and there are options, but the D has to get stronger – fast.
ULM Will Be Far Better If …
It occasionally wins the turnover battle. The Warhawks aren’t going to be so bad to lose the turnover margin on a regular basis like they did last year. -11 on the season, they were -11 in the eight losses, even in the four wins, and won the margin – going +1 – twice. If they’re not -4 against Idaho, they win. But this is nothing new, going -16 in 2015, and haven’t won the turnover battle since 2012.
Best ULM Offensive Player
QB Garrett Smith, Jr. – Can he stay in one piece? The 6-0, 211-pounder missed the second half of last season hurt, and a few games as a freshman, but when he’s been on the field, he’s been fantastic. He threw for 200 yards or more with two scores in four of his first five games, and tore off 308 rushing yards before getting banged up with a leg injury. He at least gives the team a shot in most games.
2. OG Frank Sutton, Sr.
3. RB Derrick Gore, Jr.
4. WR Xavier Brown, Jr.
5. OT Trace Ellison, Soph.
Best ULM Defensive Player
LB David Griffith, Jr. – One of the few positives on the ULM defense last year, the undersized 6-0, 211-pound Griffith did his best to do a little of everything. He led the team with 76 tackles with three sacks and 12 tackles for loss, hitting double-digit stops three times. While he can play in the middle, he’s at his best on the outside where he’s turned loss. With everyone back in the linebacking corps, Griffith is leading a relative strength.
2. LB Chase Day, Soph.
3. DE Caleb Tucker, Sr.
4. LB Cortez Sisco, Soph.
5. S Wesley Thompson, Jr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
DT Jaylen Veasley, Soph. – SOMEONE needs to be a factor on the inside. The nation’s third-worst run defense needs a whole bunch of help after allowing 260 yards per game and 31 scores, and it’s going to take a village.
There needs to be more size up front and a better rotation, but the 6-2, 278-pound Veasley will help fight the good fight on the nose after making 19 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss in his first year. It’s an experienced group on the inside, but if Veasley – or someone – produces, the team will all of a sudden be different.
The ULM Season Will Be A Success If …
The Warhawks get bowl eligible. It’s possible to be two wins better with a more experienced team that needs a few tweaks. There’s no chance to win the Sun Belt title, but there can’t be any mistakes at home in Sun Belt play, it’s going to take a few upsets, and there absolutely can’t be a whiff vs. …
Key Game To The ULM Season
Sept. 23 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette – It’s the Sun Belt opener, and it’s likely the first shot at a win after an almost-certain 0-3 start. With Coastal Carolina and Texas State to follow, there’s a real, honest chance to go 3-0 in Sun Belt play with a win in Lafayette. After closing out last year with a 30-3 loss at home to the rival, here’s a good shot to show this is a new year and a new team.
2016 ULM Fun Stats
– Penalties: Opponents 87 for 751 yards – ULM 50 for 545 yards
– Rushing Yards: Opponents 3,123 – ULM 2,176
– 1st Quarter Scoring: Opponents 151 – ULM 53