ULM Stunner Highlights Sun Belt Action
It was only a matter of time before a Sun Belt school became the lead story in college football.
Saturday was the day.
The league had some really good moments in the past, but never had a Sun Belt school beaten a top-ten ranked team. On the road, no less.
But on Saturday, Louisiana-Monroe came back from a 28-7 deficit to stun the Arkansas Razorbacks in overtime 34-31 to give the league its best win in its eleven year history.
Some fans of other schools are already trying to downplay the accomplishment, suggesting Arkansas is going to lose a lot of games this year and may not be ranked by the end of the season. Which, of course, is nothing but sour grapes. A few years ago, Michigan lost its opener to Appalachian State and lost a few more games before the season ended. But if you mention App State today, what’s the first thing you think of?
Even if the Razorbacks go into the tank, the reality is, ULM, and therefore, the Sun Belt Conference, is the talk of college football this week. Here’s a quick look around the league.
LOUISIANA-MONROE 34, ARKANSAS 31 (OT)
The Warhawks did it with a defense that did not allow Arkansas a first down on its last six drives. In their final 18 plays before overtime, the Hogs had a grand total of 32 yards.
Kolton Browning led the big ULM by throwing for 412 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 69 net yards as well. He’s been named the league’s offensive player of the week.
ULM travels to Auburn next week. The Tigers looked woeful against Mississippi State. If the Warhawks pull it off again this week, they’ll be the first-ever Sun Belt team to crack the top 25.
LOUISIANA 37, TROY 24
Larry Blakeney’s streak of never having lost a home opener is done, and the Cajuns did it convincingly. Jermarlous Moten’s 56 yard fumble return gave the Cajuns a 14-7 lead and Louisiana would not trail again.
Terrance Broadway replaced an injured Blaine Gautier late in the first quarter and efficiently led the Cajuns to 23 points. He also suffered dropped passes that would have resulted in two more touchdowns. Brett Baer broke the league record for consecutive field goals. Both Moten and Baer were named players of the week on defense and special teams.
But the story of the game was up front, where the Cajuns manhandled Troy on both sides of the football. The Cajuns defense held Shawn Southward to 33 yards on16 carries.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE 31, FLORIDA ATLANTIC 17
After being embarrassed by McNeese State of the Southland Conference in its season opener, Middle Tennessee opened up conference play by piling up 480 yards, 302 on the ground. They might have scored more, but lost two fumbles in FAU territory in the first quarter. The Owls rushed for just 96 yards and had 356 yards overall, an improvement over their woeful offensive showing against Wagner in their season opener.
ARKANSAS STATE 33, MEMPHIS 28
There are three facets to football, not two. Arkansas State nearly found out the hard way that special teams are just as critical as offense and defense.
Arkansas State gave up a blocked punt for a touchdown and fumbled a punt that resulted in another touchdown, but escaped with a 33-28 win over Memphis.
It turned out to be a week of good news for the Red Wolves, who announced a $25 million dollar building project, including an indoor practice facility, earlier in the week and then Saturday announced that Liberty Bank had acquired the naming rights to ASU Stadium for 15 years at a cost of $5 million.
In addition, the crowd of 28,041 was the fourth largest in stadium history.
Offensively, the Red Wolves were stellar, rolling up 619 yards in offense, including 317 on the ground, and tallied 33 first downs. But woes in the kicking game made this a lot closer than it should have been.
FIU 41, AKRON 38 (OT)
The pre-season favorites to win the Sun Belt have done nothing to look the part after their first two games. After getting torched by Duke’s “mighty” offense, the Panthers were taken to the limit by lowly Akron before escaping with a 41-38 overtime win. Akron’s Dalton Williams threw for four touchdowns against FIU’s secondary and the punting game allowed the Zips to average over 21 yards per punt return including one that was returned for a touchdown. Jack Griffin hit a field goal at the gun to tie the game then kicked the game winner in overtime. FIU outgained Akron 441-411. Quarterback Jake Medlock threw for 209 and rushed for 141. My guess is FIU better start playing better in a hurry.
#1 ALABAMA 35, WKU O
The Hilltoppers can play some defense. Alabama actually gained more than 100 yards more against Michigan than they did on Saturday. WKU also sacked ‘Bama quarterbacks six times. And, the Hilltoppers turned it over four times in the game, which led to 21 points. The Tide smothered WKU’s running game, holding them to 46 yards on 28 carries.
NORTH TEXAS 34, TEXAS SOUTHERN 7
The Mean Green found out Texas Southern isn’t LSU. But North Texas struggled to score points early, wasting a couple of opportunities before pulling away in the second half. The Mean Green defense was stellar, however, holding TSU to 31 yards rushing and 185 yards total offense. It was the first win in a home opener for North Texas since 2006.
SOUTH ALABAMA 9, NICHOLLS STATE 3
The good news? South Alabama held the Colonels to 118 yards in total offense. The bad news? South Alabama’s offense couldn’t score a touchdown against Nicholls State. The Jags had just 279 yards in offense.
We’re only through week two and already every Sun Belt conference team has won at least one game. That’s the earliest that has happened in league history.
However, no one has an easy road this week.
Middle Tennessee travels to Memphis. FIU goes to UCF, who was more than competitive with Ohio State. The rest of the teams all play teams from AQ conferences, and only Troy plays one at home (Mississippi State.)
That means teams in the league have a lot of chances to feel like ULM did on Saturday night.
(NCAA Box Scores and league members Sports Information departments were helpful in this story.)