From the Bird’s Nest: Louisiana-Monroe: Breaking Through??
LOCATION: Monroe, LA
STADIUM: Malone Stadium (30,427)
2010Record: 5-7 (4-4 SBC)
COACH: Todd Berry
Record: 5-7 (2nd season)
Overall Record: 34-67 (10th season)
Last meeting with Louisiana: 2010: Louisiana 24, Louisiana-Monroe 23
That’s when Louisiana-Monroe (then Northeast Louisiana) made the jump into the upperdivision of college football.
That’s the number of winning seasons the Warhawks have had since becoming a member of what is now the FBS.
They’ve come tantalizingly close.
In 2005, ULM was posed to win the Sun Belt Conference outright and represent the league in the New Orleans Bowl. But Louisiana stormed into Malone Stadium and embarassed the Warhawks 54-21 and the result was another losing season at 5-6.
In 2007, the Warhawks started 0-4, but won their final three games, including a win over Alabama to break even for the first time at 6-6.
In 2009, Louisiana-Monroe was again one win away from the seven-win plateau, but lost at Louisiana and then to Middle Tennessee to finish 6-6 again.
And, last year the Warhawks had an opportunity to be bowl eligible at 6-6, only to lose to Louisiana again, this time by a single point.
But up in Ouachita Parish, the fans of the maroon and gold think this year just might be their year.
And, looking at their squad, they may have a point.
ULM returns 18 starters, including ten on the offensive side of the ball and optimism abounds. As a reshirt freshman last year, quarterback Kolton Browning threw for 2,552 yards and 18 touchdowns, while completing nearly 62 percent of his passes. And, junior Cody Wells had a great spring, lending creedence to the opinion that the Warhawks just might play more than one quarterback.
When Browning (or Wells) throws, they’ll have the fastest player in the Sun Belt waiting. Luther Ambrose runs a 4.28-40 yard dash. he had 65 catches for 752 yards and six touchdowns last season. Tavarese Mays showed promise last year. He had seven catches and two scores in a losing effort against FIU last season. Senior Anthony McCall and Junior Brent Leonard each caught 33 balls last season, giving the Warhawks plenty of weapons.
ULM struggled to run the football last season, but with an experience offensive line, Coach Todd Berry is optimistic that things will change this year. Sophomore Jyruss Edwards had trouble staying healthy last year but was solid when he was able to play. Centarius Donald and Arkansas product Mitchell Bailey will also see some action.
The offensive line, much maligned last season because of ULM’s inability to run the ball, returns intact and if the Warhawks are going to be better offensively in 2011, it will start with this bunch. Senior center Ryan McCaul is an all-league candidate. The other four linemen all weigh in at 300 lbs. or more, giving ULM plenty of size up front.
On defense, ULM has two good ones at the end position in Ken Dorsey and Troy Evans. Dorsey had twelve tackles for loss and five sacks a year ago. There’s not much behind those two at that position, however, at least in terms of experience. Kentrarius Caldwell moves from end to nose tackle to round out the front line of the Warhawks’ 3-3-5 defense.
At linebacker, the team’s top two tacklers, Jason Edwards and Cameron Blakes return. Again, quality depth could be a question. Some true freshmen will get a look this fall and could add to the depth chart.
Safety Darius Prelow was an all-conference selection in the defensive backfield and he’s back for his senior season. The three safeties should be solid and there’s plenty of quickness at corner, although not a ton of experience.
Both specialists return for ULM. Neither was all-conference material a year ago but both were steady. Kick returns had ULM near the bottom of the league last year and that’s a bit of concern leading into the season.
In Sun Belt play, the Warhawks get both Arkansas State and FIU at home, along with Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky. They have to travel to Troy, but they’ll be in the thick of it in their other road games at North Texas, Florida Atlantic and Louisiana. ULM won their games against two of the three last year, but need to be careful when they travel to Lafayette. Louisiana has won the last three meetings.
OUTLOOK: Was 2010 a harbinger of things to come for the Warhawks or did the youthful exuberance make them overachievers? The question will be answered when conference play begins. The Warhawks return lots of players and they won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year. ULM has to go to Florida State, TCU and Iowa. They’ll have Grambling State at home. With that daunting non-league schedule, ULM will have to go 6-2 to notch their first-ever winning season. That might be a little too much to ask. 5-3 would get them bowl-eligible. That’s doable, but there’s no margin for error. None.