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December 12, 2012
Warhawk Inside Slant
ULM already has completed the bulk of its preparations for its first bowl appearance, and coach Todd Berry has given the Warhawks a break until they report back to campus on Dec. 23. At that time, the Warhawks will get in one more workout at Malone Stadium, then depart the next day for Shreveport, La., where they will finish up pregame preparations and play Ohio on Dec. 28 in the Advocare 100 Independence Bowl.
"They were anxious to go home for Christmas break so everyone was highly energized," Berry said, noting the enthusiasm of the players for the school's first postseason game since the I-AA playoffs back in 1993. "This whole week, I'm really proud of them. They've done a great job. We talked about the game being a little ways off and these guys have been tremendously focused all year, and they've carried that through the bowl preparation."
The team had eight of the 15 workouts allowed before breaking. The game plan is in, Berry said, and the only thing left is for the players to maintain conditioning.
ULM qualified for its first bowl after finishing the regular season with an 8-4 record, its best since moving to the FBS level of competition in 1994. The Warhawks will go into the bowl riding a two-game winning streak after defeating North Texas at home and Florida International in overtime on the road.
Ohio, on the other hand, lost its last three games of the regular season to Mid-American Conference rivals Bowling Green, Ball State and Kent State, the latter two on the road, also to finish 8-4.
Despite that season-ending skid, the Bobcats look to be a serious challenge to ULM's defense.
They are rushing for 202 yards a game and throwing for over 233. ULM is giving up just under 136 a game rushing and over 271 passing.
The Warhawks offense has become a pass-oriented affair with the injuries to running backs Jyruss Edwards and Centarius Donald and is producing 146 yards a game, mostly on runs by quarterback Kolton Browning.
Browning, the Sun Belt Conference's Offensive Player of the Year, is throwing for over 257 yards a game and with senior quarterback Cody Wells also seeing spot action, the Warhawks are passing for nearly 297 a game.
• ULM won't have to go far for its first bowl appearance in the program's history. Shreveport, the site of the Dec. 28 Advocare 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.
ULM 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.
The 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 behind 7-1 Arkansas State.
Along the way, the Warhawks had to overcome injuries that cost them key figures like Browning (for a game-and-a-half), Colby Harper, Edwards and 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, Blakes and Caldwell all will miss the game, Harper is questionable.
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," 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."
The 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 Watch:
• Junior 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.
• Senior 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).
• Senior 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.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
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 streak and has dropped four of its last five games.
• 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.