Preview: ULM Warhawks

Wesley Hitt

This is the third part of a 12 part series that will preview every team that Wake Forest faces on its schedule this year. The Deacs return to BB&T Field for the third week of the season against Louisiana Monroe of the Sun Belt Conference on September 14 at 12:30 p.m.

Update:

So far ULM is 1-1 on the season in two completely different games. They opened their season in Norman, Oklahoma to take on the Oklahoma Sooners and they got whacked 34-0. They generated a mere 166 yards of total offense and averaged just 38 rushing yards on 22 attempts for an average of 1.7 yards/carry. Meanwhile, they had matador rush defense at best. They allowed Oklahoma to rush for more than 300 yards and average 6.1 yards/carry; freshman quarterback Trevor Knight ran for more than 100 yards by himself.

ULM's other game this year was against Grambling State, whom they defeated 48-10. According to the Sagarin ratings, Grambling State is predicted to be the 235th best team in the nation out of 251. Another way of looking at it is that Presbyterian would be a 2-3 point favorite over Grambling State. ULM racked up 571 yards of total offense in this one, including a whopping 367 rushing yards with an average of 9.7 yards/rush. ULM still did give up 109 yards to Credic Skinner on just 19 carries, so they are vulnerable to the run.

My guess is as good as yours on this one. If we are going to establish a running game, this would certainly be a good game to start.


What I wrote in August

Last year the Warhawks made a national statement when they defeated the then #8 ranked Arkansas Razorbacks in a 34-31 overtime thriller. Louisiana Monroe has had a history of scheduling  extremely difficult non-conference opponents since Head Coach Todd Berry began in 2010. Over the past three seasons they have played Arkansas (twice), Auburn (twice), Baylor, Florida State, LSU, and TCU. This year is no different as they open the season at Oklahoma, and also take on the Baylor Bears in addition to our own Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

Louisiana Monroe returns 17 starters from a team that went 8-5 (6-2) last season and should compete for the Sun Belt Conference Title along with Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Middle Tennessee State. Last season the team's only conference losses came against Louisiana Lafayette and Arkansas State. It is worth noting that quarterback Kolton Browning missed most of the Louisiana Lafayette game and all of the Arkansas State game due to injury. If he did not get injured, it's quite possible the team would have won the conference title.


Offense

Critical to Louisiana Monroe's success this season will be senior quarterback, Kolton Browning, who ranked 21st nationally last season in total offense with 294.8 yards/game. Someone you may have heard of before, Johnny Manziel, finished 1st. In addition to leading his team in total offense, Browning was also the team's leading rusher. The Warhawks also return running backs Jyruss Edwards and Monterrell Washington, who each averaged over 4 yards/carry and scored 6 touchdowns a piece. Edwards missed the final 5 games last season after suffering an injury against South Alabama, however the school did not reveal what the actual injury was.

The Warhawks lost their leading receiver Brent Leonard who had over 1,100 receiving yards last year, but return a pair of senior receivers in Je'Ronn Hamm and Tavarese Maye, who combined for over 1,500 receiving yards last season. Don't expect UL Monroe to utilize their tight end much, as graduating senior Keavon Milton only had 14 receptions last year, and the only two other tight ends on the roster combined for just 10 receptions.

In addition to having outstanding experience at the skill positions, Louisiana Monroe will feature an offensive line that will feature one senior and four juniors who  have a whopping 87 career starts between the five of them. The right side of the line will be their biggest weakness as the right tackle Demiere Burkett and right guard Ben Risenhoover only have 18 starts between them.

Defense

UL Monroe runs a 3-3-5 defense, meaning they utilize 3 defensive linemen, 3 linebackers and  5 secondary players. It's an aggressive defense that utilizes a lot of blitzes along with zone coverages. It's one that is built on speed, but not necessarily physicality.

Their defense will feature a defensive line that could potentially be very good. They literally return every single defensive lineman who had at least one tackle last season. Their line will be led by nose tackle Gerrand Johnson who led the line last season in sacks (4), tackles (39), forced fumbles (2), and tackles for loss (6). The linebackers lose R.J. Young, who led the team in tackles (71), but return Ray Stovall and Michael Johnson.

Their secondary continues UL Monroe's theme of experience. They return 7 of their 8 leading tacklers from the secondary, including both starting cornerbacks. The Warhawks will have to improve in this area, however, as they gave up 276.5 passing yards/game, which ranked 111th nationally. A key adjustment this team will need to make is finding a more efficient balance between applying pressure and risking getting beat for big plays down field.

Special Teams

UL Monroe returns junior kicker, Justin Manton, who was only 5/9 on field goal attempts last season and ranked 78th nationally in touchback% at 30.99%. For comparison, Wake's Jimmy Newman was 15th nationally at 54.35%. In today's #smallsamplesizedeac, Deacons' sophomore kicker Chad Hedlund went 3-3 on field goal attempts last season. In addition to being the team's kicker, Justin Manton is also the team's punter. He ranked 83rd nationally in punting average at 39.83 yards/punt.

Conclusion

UL Monroe is just a loaded football team that should absolutely be in contention to win the Sun Belt. This team has a superb dual-threat quarterback, talented skill position players, experienced offensive line, and a great defensive line. UL Monroe must get better defending the pass. They simply cannot rely on their offense to just outscore opponents, they must get stops. I don't know if Todd Berry will leave this program after this season, but I can guarantee that several BCS schools will be contacting him and making an offer. UL Monroe is not a one-hit wonder; they will follow up on last season's success.

If you want to see an incredible preview of Louisiana Monroe by SB Nation's own Bill Connelly, click here. Seriously, it's phenomenal. He has done a similar analysis for nearly every team in college football. If you want to be the smartest guy about an opponent in the room or at the tailgate, then read his work.

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