Can ULM Challenge in the West?
(This is the twelfth and final in a series previewing the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns 2019 opponents. Today: ULM. The Warhawks visit Cajun Field to close the regular season on November 30th. Information from Phil Steele’s College Football Preview contributed to this story).
ULM was oh, so close a year ago.
The Warhawks got wins over Southern Miss and Georgia Southern and were 6-4 with two games to go. They actually controlled their own destiny in the SBC West. But they fell by two touchdowns to Arkansas State in Jonesboro and lost to Louisiana 31-28, missing a field goal as time expired. 6-6 wasn’t good enough for the bowls and ULM’s season came to a close. With 15 starters returning, ULM is hoping their second ever bowl game is within reach.
Certainly a reason for their optimism is quarterback Caleb Evans. He took a step back last year. He completed over 60%of his passes and threw for 2,869 but his touchdown/interception ratio went from 17/6 to 16/12. That has to be better this year. Derrick Gore, their leading rusher is gone but Austin Vaughn, who was third behind Gore and Evans is back to lead the way. The good news is, the offensive line, which was god-awful three years ago, comes back intact and will be one of the better OL’s in the league. Evans needs to find some new guys to throw the ball to, however, as ULM lost all three WR starters. Xavier Brown, who missed most of last year with an injury, will be the lead guy. But TE Josh Pederson is one of the better pass catching tight ends in the league and will certainly help the passing game.
Defensively, ULM had 26 sacks a season ago and return most of their front seven. The Warhawks allowed 186 yards rushing per game, the best in four years. The issue for ULM was their secondary, which was one of the worst in the FBS a season ago. Two starters return there, but this might still be the soft spot in an otherwise decent defensive football team.
The Warhawks lose an outstanding kick returner in Marcus Green along with PK Craig Ford, the all time leading scorer in ULM history. Jared Porter, who punted for ULM last season, will do double duty as the place kicker.
SCHEDULE: Be still my heart. ULM has six home games this year. It will be difficult to do better than 1-3 in non conference with Memphis at home and Florida State and Iowa State on the road. They miss Troy in league play, but should do well at home in the league with games against South Alabama, Coastal Carolina and Georgia State. They also get Arkansas State at home after an open date. They’ll play Texas State on a Thursday night, and visit Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Louisiana. Pretty formidable. Seven is the magic number and that might be tough with only one sure non-conference win. But if Evans reverses his turnovers from a year ago and becomes one of the elite quarterbacks in the league, you never know. Matt Viator is a very good coach with a solid staff. They do a lot with a little.