Our final regular season installment—but hopefully not final for the season—of our Opponent Q&A series features a chat with Adam Luckett, chief Sun Belt correspondent at Underdog Dynasty, SB Nation’s site covering the American, Conference USA, Sun Belt, and Independents. You might remember that we already talked with him during Week Two, just before a hurricane appeared to cancel this match-up. In order to consolidate all of Adam’s wisdom regarding the Warhawks in one place, I asked him to update his answers to those questions this week. He graciously agreed, and the results are below. So while neither you nor I have any idea what to expect from 27-point favorite (?!) FSU this week, read on, and we’ll have a better idea about what to expect from its opposition. Come on, it’s not like there’s anything else relevant going on right now at FSU.
TN: ULM suffered a woeful 4-8 campaign in 2016 and finished 126th in S&P+. However, they almost pulled off an upset at Memphis on opening night. How much do you expect the Warhawks to improve this season? Do you think the program is on the right track?
UD: To answer your question, yes this program is on the right track. Matt Viator has done an excellent job as he starts off year two and the Warhawks had no business winning four games last season. The defense is still a huge problem and they’re going to get gashed by nearly everyone on the ground all season. However, the pass defense should be better as ULM is a year older in most spots. Offense is where I think you’ll see the biggest leap as ULM should have one of the best offensive lines in the Sun Belt and plenty of options at running back. There is still a battle going on at quarterback between sophomore Caleb Evans and junior Garrett Smith, but both were able to move the chains last week against Memphis. If ULM can figure out their fumbling issues, this offense should be just fine.
TN: And how right Adam was. ULM’s offense currently ranks 19th in the nation by S&P+, while its defense sits at 129th. Adam adds:
UD: Offense is where the biggest leap has been as Caleb Evans has emerged as a star at quarterback. He’s the biggest reason this group is putting up monster numbers.
TN: The Warhawk offense finished 112th in 2016 by S&P+. What type of attack does ULM utilize? Who are a couple of players for FSU fans to keep an eye on this weekend?
UD: Offensive coordinator Matt Kubik is entering his second season as the play-caller in Monroe after calling plays for FCS Stephen F. Austin in 2014 and 2015. Kubik runs spread offense where ULM is either in shotgun or pistol with a quarterback run game built in. Viator is an offensive coach and last year was his first time in 15 years where he did not call plays for his team. Balance is the key but this year I think they’ll lean a little more run due to their quarterback issues and it allows them to play to their strengths by leaning on that offensive line.
TN: Correct again. This is a very good ULM offense.
TN: If ULM is going to move the ball against the FSU defense, how will they do it?
UD: Luck. Florida State has one of the best defenses in the country and it’s going to be a long night for this ULM attack. I think you’ll see Kubik spread the field as much as possible and try to get isolation situations on perimeter so his receivers have a chance to make plays. It’s going to be extremely hard for ULM to block that Florida State front seven so I’d expect to see a lot of passes on Saturday night.
TN: Upon further review, Adam adds:
UD: Expect them to use tempo and to try to get the ball out of the perimeter where there will be isolation situations. ULM will run it inside to keep the Seminoles respectable. Expect a lot of misdirection and ULM should have a trick play or two up their sleeves.
TN: The ULM defense struggled as well in 2016, checking in at 126th. What does this group look like schematically, and what are its strengths?
UD: The Warhawks run a 4-2-5 scheme where they try to get as much speed on the field as possible. Therefore they have former safeties playing linebacker and former linebackers playing defensive end. It’s a very small defense as both defense ends do not weight more than 250 pounds and no starting linebackers are above 220 pounds.The strength of this group are their linebackers Chase Day and David Griffith. The duo combined for 15.5 tackles for loss last season and ULM is dependent on them to make a lot of plays.
TN: Griffith and Day are ULM’s leading linebacker tacklers, while the leading Warhawk tackler is safety Roland Jenkins.
TN: FSU will be breaking in a true freshman quarterback against the Warhawks. What will he see from the ULM pass defense?
UD: He won’t see much of a pass rush as that was a weakness for ULM last season. Florida State will have a huge athletic advantage on the outside and it should be a very easy first start for James Blackman. The uniqueness of the ULM could confuse the diaper dandy early, but he’ll have some nice opportunities to connect for some big plays off the play-action.
TN: ULM’s pass rush remained dreadful in 2017, and they rank 103rd in the country in havoc rate.
TN: Finally, what will you be looking for from the Warhawks against the Seminoles that might signal a successful 2017 season from ULM?
UD: The ULM offense flashed some signs of life against Memphis and if they can have some success moving the ball against an awesome Florida State defense that is nothing but good news. The fact of the matter is that ULM will have to score points if they want to complete for a bowl spot this fall.
TN: The Warhawks did not make a bowl game in 2017, currently sitting at 4-7, but they do boast an offense that was one of the best among G-5 teams. They’ll face a Florida State squad that, while a large home favorite and playing for bowl eligibility, has to be feeling some ill effects from the week gone by. This one may be a little more interesting than we would hope.
Thanks to Adam for his insight! Be sure to head over to Underdog Dynasty for all of your Sun Belt information.