Warhawk Inside Slant

won't have to go far for its first bowl appearance in the program's history.
Shreveport, the site of the Dec. 28 Adovcare 100 Independence Bowl, is a mere 97
miles on Interstate 20 from the Warhawks' campus in Monroe. The Warhawks will
play Ohio, which finished 8-4 after starting the season 7-0.
athletic director Bobby Staub, in a release, said the Warhawks "couldn't have
picked a better location for our first-ever bowl game," which was has been a
postseason staple since 1976.
Warhawks earned their first bowl appearance by posting an 8-4 record, their best
ever on the FBS level, finishing with wins over North Texas and Florida
International. They were 6-2 in the Sun Belt Conference, good for a tie with
Louisiana-Lafayette and Middle Tennessee State behind 7-1 Arkansas
Along the
way, the Warhawks had to overcome injuries that cost them key figures like Kolton
Browning (for a game-and-a-half), Colby Harper, Jyruss
Edwards and Centarius Donald on offense and starters Cameron
Blakes, Kentarius Caldwell, and Mitch Lane on defense.
Lane is
expected back for the bowl game and Browning started the last two games of the
regular season, but Edwards, Donald, Harper, Blakes, and Caldwell all will miss
the game.
The loss
of the defensive players was especially felt in early November losses to
Louisiana-Lafayette (40-24) and Arkansas State (45-23), but the Warhawks seemed
to be getting back together in the 42-16 win over North Texas and 23-17 overtime
thriller against Florida International.
"I think
we're getting healthier," coach Todd Berry said. "After the Arkansas State loss,
we had a couple days and came back against North Texas and played better. We've
had some injuries, obviously, that have kind of plagued us throughout the season
and we're still not quite a deep enough football team. I think we will be here
pretty shortly once we get the redshirt class through here and we get healthier.
But I thought we played really well at times."
Bobcats figure to challenge the Warhawks with their running attack, which has
produced over 202 yards a game. They are giving up over 165 yards a game to
opposing rushers and nearly 230 through the air.
Players To
QB Kolton Browning is the unquestioned leader for ULM. He finished No. 2 in
total offense in the Sun Belt Conference to Arkansas State's Ryan Aplin
after leading for much of the season. He missed one game to a foot injury but
still threw for 2,830 yards and rushed for 441.
WR Brent Leonard isn't the only one but he is Browning's favorite
target. He averaged a Sun Belt best 8.1 receptions per game and was No. 2 in
receiving yards (86.8).
LB R.J. Young anchors a defense that was vulnerable at times against
the pass but pretty solid against the run. He led the Warhawks in tackles with
90 and was tied for second in tackles-for-loss with 10.5. He also had an
interception that he returned for 55 yards and recovered three fumbles.
Senior LB DaCorris Ford was one of the unsung heroes for
the Warhawks. About one in every four of his 47 tackles ended up in negative
yards for the opponent, and he had three sacks and three interceptions, second
on the team to S Isaiah Newsome's four picks.
Bowl History: This will be ULM's first bowl appearance. The Warhawks
moved to the FBS level in 1994 after competing in the I-AA playoffs the previous
two years but had never finished with a winning record until this year.
Quote To Note: "One of the things that I like about our football
team is that everybody wants to go make a play. The bad thing about our defense
right now is that everybody wants to go make a play. Their hearts are right, but
we've got to see things for what they are rather than what they aren't. We're
too tempted right now for everybody to make a big play."-Coach Todd Berry, on
the reason behind some of his team's breakdowns on defense.
Bowl Breakdown:
Scouting the running game: ULM's running game faded as the season went
on because of season-ending injuries to RBs Jyruss Edwards and Centarius Donald.
QB Kolton Browning ended up the leading rusher with 441 yards despite missing
one game because of injury. He's often the only one in the backfield when the
ball is snapped.
Scouting the passing game: With the running game gone, ULM turned to a
short passing attack to counter and Browning proved very effective at it. He
threw for over 257 yards a game and has a deep receiving corps. Senior QB Cody
Wells has been effective in spot duty. The Warhawks have been known to have
both Browning and Wells on the field at the same time.
Scouting the run defense: Statistically, the Warhawks had the best run
defense in the Sun Belt Conference in limiting opponents to just under 136 yards
a game on the ground. But they gave up 234 to Louisiana-Lafayette and 200 to
Arkansas State in their two conference losses.
Scouting the pass defense: ULM's secondary has proved vulnerable at
times, giving up a long touchdown pass in the closing seconds of the season
finale at FIU when everyone in the stadium knew a pass was coming. Among Sun
Belt teams, only Louisiana-Lafayette surrendered more yards through the air than
the 271.5 the Warhawks allowed.
Scouting the special teams: Sophomore Justin Manton does
double duty in handling both punting and placekicking, triple if you count
kickoffs. He attempted only eight field goals, making five, and was 55-of-56 on
PATs. WR Brent Leonard is a sure-handed punt returner (8.2 average) and redshirt
freshman Cortney Davis averages nearly 22 yards running back kickoffs.
Intangibles: This is ULM's first bowl appearance, and that has fans excited.
The Warhawks have been on a high since the opening win over Arkansas, though
there were a couple of bumps in the back-to-back losses to Louisiana-Lafayette
and Arkansas State, the latter with QB Kolton Browning out. Ohio is coming in on
a three-game losing and has dropped four of its last five games.
Roster Report
Redshirt freshman S Mitch Lane, the starting "hawk" in ULM's 3-3-5
scheme, is scheduled to return for the bowl game after missing the last five
games because of injury. Coach Todd Berry considered Lane his best defensive
back when he went down.
Junior WR Je'Ron Hamm finished the season strong. Of his 58
receptions for the season (second to Brent Leonard's 97), 23 came over the last
three games.