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.
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.
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.
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.