Sun Belt Showdown: ULM Warhawks vs Texas State Bobcats
Nobody projected the Warhawks to be a Sun Belt contender in 2017. NOBODY. And yet, we find Matt Viator’s team poised to be 3-0 in conference play.
Hawks (2-2) vs Cats (1-4), Saturday, October 7, 2:00 PM on ESPN3 at Bobcat Stadium, San Marcos, TX
There’s no way to be kind: the ULM Warhawks were a poop bucket in 2016, going 4-12 (3-5) while the program was led by the world’s most disengaged athletic director, Brian Wickstrom. Now Wickstrom and his negative energy are gone, and the Warhawks have put up a surprisingly solid 1/3 season of football.
ULM is perched atop the Sun Belt standings with wins over Louisiana and Coastal Carolina – scoring an insane total of 107 points. Only the Cajuns have put more points on the board in the Sun Belt than the Warhawks, who suddenly have the bearing not of a punching bag, but of a heavyweight contender.
Ben Luckett might be the final piece of an explosive ground game
We hadn’t seen much of junior RB Ben Luckett (5-11 229) this season, who only logged one carry in three games. But the Warhawks rolled with Luckett against the Chanticleers last week, tallying 127 yards and two scores in short relief of Alabama transfer Derrick Gore (5-10 212). If Gore and Luckett can become a legitimate tandem behind dual-threat QB Caleb Evans (234 rushing yards, 7 ground scores), then the Warhawks may have the best ground game in the Sun Belt.
Texas State has issues, man
The Bobcats score the fewest points-per-game in the Sun Belt (12), courtesy of a total offense that ranks 123rd in the nation. Bobcat starting QB Damian Williams (6-1 215) simply hasn’t provided an offensive spark, tossing three TDs against four picks. After throwing a pick and losing a fumble against Wyoming last week, head coach Everett Withers benched Williams for promising freshman Willie Jones, who might see more PT in the weeks to come.
A change at QB won’t fix the Bobcats’ puny run game, though. Texas State is only getting 2.9 yards per rushing attempt, with sophomore RB Anthony Taylor (5-10 205) not having much success since Week 2 against Colorado. In all, the Bobcats have 3 rushing TDs – two by the QB Damion Williams. The Bobcats ground game should be easily bested by ULM’s run stop, ranked 33rd nationally.
The Bobcats defense could be problems
The Warhawks posted 56 on Louisiana and 51 on the Chants, but those are some pretty weak-ass defenses. Against stiffer defensive units like those from Memphis and Southern Miss, ULM totaled only 46 points. The Bobcats’ linebacker tandem of Frankie Griffen and Gabe Lloyd have 6 sacks between them, and the defense allows about 100 fewer yards than the Warhawks defense. Bobcats don’t have much, but they got D.
If the defense that held Appalachian State to 20 points in Week 3 shows up in San Marcos on Saturday, then maybe Withers can muster enough offense to threaten ULM’s early season supremacy.
The Bobcats spent 2016 in the Sun Belt Basement and they don’t seem interested in climbing out of it. Williams, a transfer from Mississippi State, just doesn’t make big plays behind center. Meanwhile, ULM may be scoring tons of points on porous defenses, but points are points. The Warhawks are on a touchdown high right now, and the Bobcats ain’t bringing them down.
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.