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The big 2015 ULM football guide: Can the Warhawks' funky offense rebound?

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Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

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1. Short term vs. long term

Three top-100 rankings in four years. An upward trickle in the recruiting rankings. Minimal turnover and improving depth. A defense that was both young and outstanding.

On paper, Todd Berry continues to do mighty impressive things in one of the tougher jobs in FBS. Cash flow is improving -- and with it, so are facilities -- but even with three money games per year, the athletic budget is still the lowest in FBS, the recruiting budget is barely one-eighth that of Sun Belt mate South Alabama (plus, ULM uses UL system standards for athletic eligibility, not NCAA standards), and in a state saturated with schools fighting for football talent, the peak for ULM recruiting isn't going to be high. But Berry seems to be making things work. On paper.

On the field, ULM has now regressed by two wins in each of the last two seasons. A drop-off was expected in 2013, following an eight-win season and the school's first bowl bid. But last season's 4-8 dud was surprising. At least, it was to me.

Whether you are predisposed to assume that 2012 was a one-time thing or that 2014 will represent a nice bounce back after frustration in 2013, you have quite a bit of evidence to cite. [...]

I'm confident the Warhawks can get back to six or seven wins and a top-100 F/+ rating this year. That could be good enough for third in the conference, second with solid injuries luck.

I was partially right, anyway. The F/+ rankings show ULM was a top-100 team last fall. But early-season good fortune turned into late-season bad luck, and while the defense was easily Berry's best since 2011, an offense that had taken a few steps backwards in 2013 took another one. ULM took down four of the five worst teams on the schedule and no one else, and their last five losses came by a combined 24 points. They only needed a little more offense to turn four wins into seven or eight.

So now what? Where should we set the bar for a program that has one arm tied behind its back and has to face brutal non-conference slates every year? Berry has pushed a lot of the right buttons, and his 2012 season featured enough incredible memories for two or three seasons. But one fun season loses its luster after a while.

Berry's 2015 squad should be competitive again simply because of the defense. It was one of the best in the mid-major universe last year, and it returns two of its top four linemen (along with a load of exciting underclassmen), its top three linebackers, and four of its top five defensive backs. There will once again be plenty of play-making potential from this speedy, confusing 3-3-5.

But there's nothing guaranteeing the offense will rebound, and if it doesn't, ULM will again be more a tough out than a Sun Belt contender.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 2-10 | Final F/+ Rk: 97
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
28-Aug Wake Forest 101 17-10 W 79% 18.5 100%
6-Sep Idaho 112 38-31 W 45% -3.0 75%
13-Sep at LSU 22 0-31 L 1% -51.8 0%
27-Sep Troy 126 22-20 W 30% -11.9 51%
4-Oct at Arkansas State 66 14-28 L 20% -19.7 3%
11-Oct at Kentucky 68 14-48 L 8% -33.6 0%
25-Oct Texas State 95 18-22 L 44% -3.7 33%
1-Nov at Texas A&M 42 16-21 L 45% -2.8 28%
8-Nov at Appalachian State 104 29-31 L 46% -2.3 33%
15-Nov UL-Lafayette 72 27-34 L 24% -16.5 5%
22-Nov at New Mexico State 124 30-17 W 55% 2.9 91%
29-Nov at Georgia Southern 57 16-22 L 45% -2.9 12%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 19.9 115 27.9 62
Points Per Game 20.1 115 26.3 59

2. Crashing narratives

When you're a young team with a struggling offense, you want to see improvement from September to November. That was the case, and that's a strange thing to say for a team that lost seven of eight to finish the season.

  • Average percentile performance (first 6 games): 31%
    (Record in one-possession games: 3-0)
  • Average percentile performance (last 6 games): 43%
    (Record in one-possession games: 0-4)

After holding Wake Forest to 94 total yards, ULM survived a visit from Idaho and was held to 93 total yards by LSU. The Warhawks won a tossup game over a bad Troy, then got outgained by Arkansas State and Kentucky by 312 yards and outscored by 48 points. They were 3-3, but they weren't very good.

Then they outgained Texas State by 24 yards and lost by four. They outgained Texas A&M by 104 yards but fell short in an upset bid by five points. They lost by a combined nine to an improving Appalachian State and UL-Lafayette. And despite getting significantly outgained by Georgia Southern in the season finale, they managed to stay close.

The offense never came around, but after averaging better than 4.9 yards per play just once in the first nine games of the season, ULM did so in each of the last three games. That's a plus. And while the defense faded, the Warhawks still allowed fewer than 5.8 yards per play (the national average) in eight of 12 games.

But this would be more encouraging if the offense that improved late in the year didn't also have to replace its starting quarterback, starting running back, leading receiver, and three multi-year starters on the line.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.71 123 IsoPPP+ 70.5 124
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 37.9% 106 Succ. Rt. + 87.7 114
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 31.1 90 Def. FP+ 99.0 77
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.8 110 Redzone S&P+ 88.9 97
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.5 ACTUAL 17 -3.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 109 120 114 124
RUSHING 126 127 119 127
PASSING 25 103 89 111
Standard Downs 120 114 123
Passing Downs 122 107 124
Q1 Rk 74 1st Down Rk 120
Q2 Rk 122 2nd Down Rk 117
Q3 Rk 127 3rd Down Rk 125
Q4 Rk 115

3. Misplaced mojo

When the casual fan thinks of ULM, they start with one of two things: either the 2012 upset of Arkansas, or the two-QB formation. The 2012 offense set the bar impossibly high; it ranked 62nd in Off. S&P+, scored three second-half touchdowns in the upset of Arkansas, put up 410 yards and 28 points against Auburn, and, yes, whipped out a two-QB look against Baylor on national television.

The magic ran out in 2013. Despite returning eight offensive starters, the Warhawks plummeted to 111th in Off. S&P+. Kolton Browning battled injury, and an efficiency offense forgot how to be efficient. Fifth-year Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas provided a stopgap at quarterback, and the pass efficiency improved a bit, but the run game was a nightmare. The line couldn't open holes, and the running backs couldn't create on their own. ULM had to pass more than it wanted to, and despite a decent receiving corps, there just weren't enough big plays.

ULM's reputation made shade to the offensive side of the ball, but the Funroe left two years ago.

Thomas, leading rusher Centarius Donald, and top target Kenzee Jackson are all gone, as are three linemen who had combined for about nine seasons' worth of starts (four from tackle Joseph Treadwell). Thomas was solid, but some new blood in the run game isn't an awful idea. And if recruiting has indeed improved in recent years, then perhaps a transfusion will be exactly what the Warhawks needed. But on average, replacing six starters doesn't improve a unit.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Pete Thomas
301 501 3181 14 6 60.1% 44 8.1% 5.4
Brayle Brown 6'2, 207 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 14 24 172 1 1 58.3% 0 0.0% 7.2
Earnest Carrington 6'2, 223 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000
Brian Williams 6'4, 205 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000
Anthony Monken 6'4, 209 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8126
Daniel Fitzwater 6'6, 233 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8200
Chandler Eiland 6'0, 196 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8019

4. No shortage of quarterbacks

Thomas was asked to carry a heavy load in 2014, attempting 45 passes per game and, not including sacks, rushing another five or six times per game. Recruiting quarterbacks has been a strength for Berry (per the 247Sports Composite, he has signed three three-star quarterbacks in the last two years) and thanks to minimal turnover -- two seniors are scheduled to return, as is sophomore Brian Williams -- Berry and offensive coordinator Steve Farmer have their pick of a large litter.

When you've got six potential starters, including some with high ceilings, the odds are good that the winner will be solid, be it big JUCO transfer Daniel Fitwater, veteran Brayle Brown, big-armed redshirt freshman Anthony Monken, etc.

A mobile quarterback allows you to more effectively create numbers and matchup advantages, and perhaps with so many interesting candidates, you can fear injury less and run your QB a bit more. ULM needs all the help it can get, but the winner will face significant pressure to create opportunities.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Centarius Donald RB
153 606 6 4.0 3.3 30.7% 3 3
Pete Thomas QB
66 240 3 3.6 2.0 36.4% 3 2
Tyler Cain WR 5'8, 185 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 63 214 0 3.4 2.1 33.3% 1 1
DeVontae McNeal (2013) RB 5'11, 211 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.7000 29 205 2 7.1 15.2 31.0% N/A N/A
Kaylon Watson RB 6'1, 220 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7685 9 31 0 3.4 1.7 33.3% 0 0
Brayle Brown QB 6'2, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 8 15 0 1.9 3.2 37.5% 3 0
Nathan Meadors, Jr. RB 5'7, 166 Jr. NR N/A 6 25 0 4.2 2.0 50.0% 0 0
Ben Luckett RB 5'11, 216 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7652






5. A rushing nightmare

In 2013, big plays bailed out an inefficient attack. Four ULM rushers had at least one carry of 50-plus yards, and five had at least one reception of 40-plus. But big plays are inconsistent beings. They are volatile and unreliable.

The best offense is the one that consistently creates big-play opportunities, and those opportunities were next to nil for Warhawk rushers in 2014. ULM had 18 rushes of 10-plus yards (worst in the country), three of 20-plus (ditto), and not a single rush of 30-plus. That's amazing.

So it's hard to think the losses will have too much of an effect. The return of explosive senior DeVontae McNeal might help, and big sophomore Kaylon Watson (who saw playing time as a freshman because McNeal was lost to injury) might be ready for a heavier load. And while losing three multi-year starters is never a good thing for an offensive line, injuries and general shuffling did allow for other players to get experience. Two sophomores (tackle Chase Regian and guard Frank Sutton Jr.) combined for 19 starts, and junior guard Jimmy Chung got a start, too.

If the run game can provide any sort of consistent threat, the passing game could be exciting. Rashon Ceaser averaged more than 14 yards per catch in his first two seasons (he was relegated to more of a possession role in last season's attack), and Ajalen Holley had a few huge games in 2014 -- six catches for 175 yards against Idaho, five for 109 vs. Troy, three for 105 vs. UL-Lafayette. Incoming freshman Markis McCray was a Composite three-star, and ULM has signed a few interesting wideouts in the last two classes. Give the defense any reason to pay attention to the ground game, and the pass could thrive.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Kenzee Jackson WR
133 79 866 59.4% 26.5% 62.4% 6.5 -104 6.6 93.6
Rashon Ceaser WR 6'0, 188 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 112 77 872 68.8% 22.3% 72.3% 7.8 -47 7.8 94.3
Ajalen Holley WR 5'10, 192 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7600 97 57 863 58.8% 19.3% 58.8% 8.9 162 8.9 93.3
Tyler Cain WR 5'8, 185 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 59 45 273 76.3% 11.8% 50.8% 4.6 -255 4.5 29.5
Centarius Donald RB
32 21 189 65.6% 6.4% 56.3% 5.9 -64 5.9 20.4
Alec Osborne TE 6'3, 226 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7894 29 17 116 58.6% 5.8% 69.0% 4.0 -93 3.6 12.5
Tony Cook WR
18 9 102 50.0% 3.6% 55.6% 5.7 -13 5.7 11.0
Tyrone Carter WR
7 2 17 28.6% 1.4% 28.6% 2.4 -13 1.4 1.8
Harley Scioneaux TE 6'5, 244 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 5 5 22 100.0% 1.0% 80.0% 4.4 -34 2.6 2.4
De'Vonte Haggerty WR 5'11, 179 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7500 4 2 9 50.0% 0.8% 50.0% 2.3 -16 1.9 1.0
Pete Thomas QB
2 1 8 50.0% 0.4% 50.0% 4.0 -5 4.6 0.9
Jared Mapps WR 6'2, 201 Sr. NR N/A
D'Marius Gillespie WR 6'1, 211 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7726
Marcus Green WR 5'8, 185 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7433
Brennan Bradley WR 6'4, 196 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000
Stoney Hawkins TE 6'3, 232 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7533
Markis McCray WR 5'10, 171 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8044
Xavier Brown WR 5'11, 186 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7400

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 75.9 2.49 2.31 33.1% 71.4% 20.4% 74.1 6.6% 10.0%
Rank 125 115 124 116 35 80 117 98 105
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Joseph Treadwell LT 48
Demiere Burkett LG
31
Ben Risenhoover RG
29
Chase Regian RT 6'2, 289 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7759 12
Colby Mitchell C 6'2, 280 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 11
Frank Sutton, Jr. LG 6'4, 295 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 7
Jimmy Chung RG 6'2, 287 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7752 1
Jeremy Burton LT
0
Matthew Oubre LG
0
Trey Martin C
0
Brandon Bridgers LT 6'4, 316 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7300 0
Jeff Savage LG 6'2, 296 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7985 0
Brian Thlang C 6'1, 294 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7683
Keaton Baggs RT 6'5, 290 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7652
Jake Snyder RG 6'2, 281 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000
Rey Baltazar LT 6'6, 303 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7433

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.86 74 IsoPPP+ 105.7 51
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 39.3% 42 Succ. Rt. + 105.2 45
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 28.1 108 Off. FP+ 98.0 88
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.3 58 Redzone S&P+ 101.1 61
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.9 ACTUAL 16.0 -1.9
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 48 47 45 51
RUSHING 86 63 49 75
PASSING 14 40 47 41
Standard Downs 53 41 66
Passing Downs 44 59 35
Q1 Rk 34 1st Down Rk 26
Q2 Rk 54 2nd Down Rk 23
Q3 Rk 53 3rd Down Rk 88
Q4 Rk 24

6. Wasting a nasty defense

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of ULM's 2014 offense wasn't that it was bad; it's that it prevented ULM from taking full advantage of a fun, aggressive, effective defense. Despite inheriting awful field position, the Warhawks managed to hold six opponents to 22 or fewer points and resist the run despite a 3-3-5 formation that brings built-in size disadvantages.

Opponents knew to run, but ULM forced enough passes to maximize an unpredictable pass rush. The Warhawks had at least five sacks in four different games, and seven players had at least three sacks each. Linebackers Hunter Kissinger and Michael Johnson made plays against both run and pass, and defensive coordinator Troy Reffett had the pieces. ULM both harassed the quarterback and prevented big plays on passing downs, and per the ratings above, the Warhawks' best defensive quarter was the fourth.

ULM held two SEC foes to 26 points per game and limited a strong Georgia Southern offense to 22. This was an excellent unit.

There were a few more breakdowns down the stretch, and while one can possibly blame that on exhaustion from carrying the offense, depth may have been an issue. ULM really only played four linemen and four linebackers while redshirting most of its 2014 class.

It bears mentioning that ULM was a bit lucky on the injury front; the Warhawks were able to play only eight players in the front six, after all, and the top five linemen, four of the top five linebackers, and six of the top eight defensive backs played in all 12 games. Injuries were limited mostly to the offensive side.

Thanks to redshirts, if the injury bug does bite, the Warhawks could be equipped to handle it: the under-used second string returns mostly intact, and the Warhawks boast not only a large batch of athletic redshirt freshmen, but also a few potential high-impact newcomers -- three-star ends Donald Louis and Sam Miller, three-star defensive backs Cortez Sisco Jr. and Xavier Dias, and JUCO end Colton Moorehead.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 100.6 2.80 3.65 39.0% 74.4% 20.3% 166.5 7.8% 13.0%
Rank 59 44 96 65 103 49 4 8 4
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Gerrand Johnson NT 6'1, 290 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8535 12 62.0 9.1% 12.5 6.5 0 0 0 0
Joey Gautney DE
12 37.0 5.4% 5.5 3.5 0 1 2 0
Lorenzo Jackson DE 6'2, 244 Sr. NR N/A 12 36.0 5.3% 12.5 3.0 0 1 0 1
Malcolm Edmond DE
12 11.0 1.6% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Jacob Tyson DE 6'1, 272 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7519 12 6.0 0.9% 2.0 2.0 0 0 1 0
David Elias, Jr. NT 6'2, 276 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859 11 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jackson Randle NT 6'2, 251 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000
Shaquille Warren DE 6'2, 239 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7659
Ben Banogu DE 6'4, 246 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7578
Colton Moorehead DE 6'3, 255 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7867
Donald Louis Jr. DE 6'2, 268 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8017
Sam Miller DE 6'4, 220 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8082
Jaylen Veasley NT 6'2, 278 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7948







Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Hunter Kissinger LB 6'3, 230 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 12 60.0 8.8% 10.5 5.0 2 1 0 0
Michael Johnson LB 6'2, 226 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 12 59.0 8.7% 16.0 8.0 0 0 1 0
Cody Robinson LB 6'1, 216 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 12 39.5 5.8% 6.0 3.5 1 3 2 0
Ray Stovall LB
10 37.0 5.4% 8.5 3.5 0 1 1 0
Braxton Moore LB 6'0, 226 Jr. NR N/A 12 5.0 0.7% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tevyn Cagins LB 6'2, 228 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7100 11 4.0 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Alex Johnson LB 6'0, 202 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7800 12 2.0 0.3% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jarred Dunn LB 6'0, 224 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7500
Sterling Doss LB 6'0, 227 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7700
David Griffith LB 6'1, 209 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7719
Cody McGuire LB 6'3, 229 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7494
Chase Day LB 6'2, 215 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7759








7. Potential for further nastiness: high

Depth aside, of the seven players with at least three sacks, five are scheduled to return, including a trio of senior linebackers (Johnson, Kissinger, Cody Robinson), and super-active nose tackle Gerrand Johnson. Robinson was also solid dropping into pass coverage, and thanks in part to the pressure up front, safety Mitch Lane was able to put together an all-star campaign in 2014: 4.5 tackles for loss, seven passes defensed. Lane also returns, there's no immediate reason to assume any of these players will be less effective.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Mitch Lane HAWK 6'1, 215 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 12 71.0 10.5% 4.5 0 3 4 0 0
Cordero Smith S
12 49.0 7.2% 1 1 0 3 1 0
Justin Backus S 6'2, 182 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7600 12 44.0 6.5% 1 0 2 5 0 0
Trey Caldwell CB 5'9, 189 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7200 10 36.5 5.4% 1 0 1 7 0 0
Lenzy Pipkins CB 6'1, 195 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7900 9 28.0 4.1% 3 1 1 2 0 0
Rob'Donovan Lewis CB
12 20.5 3.0% 0 0 0 4 0 0
Bryce Ray S
12 17.5 2.6% 0 0 1 1 0 0
Tre' Hunter S 6'0, 184 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7200 12 9.5 1.4% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Ferrando Joseph CB
7 8.5 1.3% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Junior Williams CB 5'11, 193 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7519 11 7.5 1.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Marquis McCullum HAWK 6'0, 189 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 12 2.5 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Roland Jenkins S 6'0, 185 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7700
Grant Dotsy CB 5'10, 185 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7300
Wesley Thompson S 6'0, 188 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7652
Marcus Hubbard CB 5'9, 176 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7644
Aaron Townsend S 6'1, 170 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7433
Cortez Sisco Jr. S 6'1, 206 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8377
Xavier Dias DB 5'11, 189 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8126

8. Depth should pay off

Depth was tested a bit more in the secondary, with both corners Trey Caldwell and Lenzy Pipkins missing time. Then-senior Rob'Donovan Lewis was able to fill in, but he's gone, as are safeties Cordero Smith and Bryce Ray. Recent recruiting classes might first be tested in the secondary, but at first glance, there are plenty of exciting candidates who might be ready.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Justin Manton 76 42.4 8 18 20 50.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Justin Manton 54 59.9 29 2 53.7%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Justin Manton 23-23 15-17 88.2% 5-7 71.4%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Tyler Cain KR 5'8, 185 Sr. 36 21.7 0
De'Vonte Haggerty KR 5'11, 179 So. 2 14.0 0
Rashon Ceaser PR 6'0, 188 Sr. 12 9.5 0
Trey Caldwell PR 5'9, 189 Sr. 2 4.5 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 82
Field Goal Efficiency 18
Punt Return Efficiency 62
Kick Return Efficiency 77
Punt Efficiency 92
Kickoff Efficiency 103
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 38

9. One Manton = three lost starters

Justin Manton was a shaky 5-for-9 on field goals during ULM's strong 2012, but he morphed into one of the Sun Belt's steadiest legs; he averaged more than 42 yards per punt, booted touchbacks on more than half of his kickoffs, and made nearly every kick under 40 yards last fall (and made five of seven longer than 4). That he was asked to kick 24 field goals tells you something about ULM's inability to turn opportunities into points, but he still made sure ULM got something out of the opportunities it had.

The loss of Manton is a scary one, not only because he was a solid place-kicker, but also because any dropoff in leg strength could shine a light on some awful coverage units. Despite solid raw averages from Manton, ULM ranked 92nd in Punt Efficiency and 103rd in Kickoff Efficiency. Maybe Manton's replacement i fine -- and whoever it is, hopefully he isn't asked to attempt 24 field goals -- but this is a red flag.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
5-Sep at Georgia 4
12-Sep Nicholls State NR
26-Sep at Alabama 2
10-Oct at Tulsa 117
? Appalachian State 104
? Arkansas State 66
? Georgia Southern 57
? New Mexico State 124
? at Idaho 112
? at Texas State 95
? at Troy 126
? at UL-Lafayette 72
Five-Year F/+ Rk -22.4% (100)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 119 / 123
2014 TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -1 / -2.7
2014 TO Luck/Game +0.7
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 13 (5, 8)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 4.3 (-0.3)

10. Is this year any different?

Todd Berry doesn't enjoy the "U" word, but ULM was an underdog's dream in 2012, combining funky formations with strong crunch-time performances, upsetting one power-conference opponent and nearly taking down two more, and going 6-2 in conference play despite all the built-in disadvantages. But the Warhawks have fallen from eight wins to six to four, and that's always going to be a concern.

This program is as healthy and deep as it has ever been. But one has to be concerned about both the offensive dropoff and the turnover on the offensive first string. Can the defense not only hold its own again but dominate, especially if injuries are a little less kind? Can new blood give this offense an energy boost? With one "yes" for those two questions, this is a potential bowl team. But a yes isn't guaranteed.

Whatever ULM's goals are, a win at Tulsa would be a nice way to get there. ULM faces only two power opponents in non-conference play, and Tulsa hasn't been Tulsa for a couple of years now (and is breaking in a new head coach). If the Warhawks can go 2-2 in non-conference, reach six or seven wins overall seems far less of a chore.