We’re very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of team sites to work with during game weeks. For this week’s match-up with the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks, we’re joined by Adam Luckett, chief Sun Belt correspondent at Underdog Dynasty, SB Nation’s site covering the American, Conference USA, Sun Belt, and Independents.
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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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.
Thanks to Adam for his insight! Be sure to head over to Underdog Dynasty for all of your Sun Belt information. Our questions to their answers will be up shortly.