2014 CFN Preview - ULM Warhawks
ULM S Cordero Smith
ULM S Cordero Smith
Posted Jun 11, 2014

CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - 6-6 wasn't enough last year. Can ULM be more consistent? (Getty Images)

ULM Warhawks

Preview 2014

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By Pete Fiutak
- 2014 ULM Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players

- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Todd Berry
5th year: 23-26
13th year overall: 52-86
Returning Lettermen
Off: 13, Def. 22, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 19
Ten Best ULM Players
1. LB Hunter Kissinger, Jr.
2. QB Pete Thomas, Sr.
3. NT Gerrand Johnson, Jr.
4. LB Ray Stovall, Sr.
5. WR Rashon Ceaser, Jr.
6. S Cordero Smith, Sr.
7. P/PK Justin Manton, Sr.
8. RB Centerius Donald, Sr.
9. S Mitch Lane, Jr.
10. OT Joseph Treadwell, Sr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 28 Wake Forest
Sep. 6 Idaho
Sep. 13 at LSU
Sep. 27 Troy
Oct. 4 at Arkansas State
Oct. 11 at Kentucky
Oct. 25 Texas State
Nov. 1 at Texas A&M
Nov. 8 at Appalachian State
Nov. 15 UL Lafayette
Nov. 22 at New Mexico State
Nov. 29 at Georgia Southern

There are two ways to look at the 2013 ULM season.

The season is half full – the 6-6 season didn’t really represent a massive dip. There were some huge clunkers, and there were some games the Warhawks should’ve been more competitive in, but there was a win over Wake Forest and a nice season-ending victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. A two-game drop wasn’t the end of the world.

The season is half empty – The were way too many blowouts to mediocre teams, losing to Tulane, Western Kentucky and South Alabama by a combined score of 98 to 38. Just one extra win over an average team would’ve meant 7-5 and a likely bowl bid, but instead, ULM dipped right back down to its own pre-2012 world.

Now the Sun Belt is bigger, a bit stronger, and a lot better up top, and ULM has to try to navigate its way through it and become more of a conference factor.

The Warhawks won a piece of the 2005 Sun Belt title, but it’s been hard to come up with the consistency of Arkansas State or Louisiana-Lafayette over the last few years. There’s only been one bowl appearance in the school’s history, and coming up with winning records has been rough with just one – 2012 – since joining the Sun Belt.

But head coach Todd Berry kept his team chugging down a rough backstretch, and even the though the offense wasn’t good enough after a great 2012, there were just enough explosions to get to six wins. This year, with no Kolton Browning at quarterback and just five starters returning, it’s going to be a bit of a transitional year, and that’s where the defense has to come up big.

Hit-or-miss, the D struggled a bit when the offense wasn’t providing any help. It was okay for the most part - allowing fewer than 20 points in four games and seeing the stats blow up in losses to Oklahoma and Baylor - but it got worse as the season went on. With nine returning starters and nine of the top 11 tacklers back, the potential is there to be a bit more consistent.

Berry has made this into a solid Sun Belt program. It’s now a danger to the BCS conference schools after coming up with wins in each of the last two years, and it has shown the ability to rise up and tag anyone in the Sun Belt. Now it has to find more of an even keel, and it has to be more than just the also-ran watching other league teams go to bowls.

What to watch for on offense: The running game had better work. It didn’t blow up in the great 2012 season with 1,847 yards, but it was spread out over the season – actually, over the first chunk of the season – and scored 24 times. When the running game died, the losses and problems kicked in. Last year, the running game came up with 1,474 yards and just ten touchdowns. Even worse, 367 of the yards and two of the scores came in one game against Grambling, and 225 more came in the blowout over the woeful Georgia State. There were moments when Kolton Browning and the passing attack saved the day, but for the most part, when the ground game didn’t hit 100 yards, ULM struggled. The Warhawks were under 140 yards on the ground in all six games.

What to watch for on defense: All the experience returning has to translate into one of the best defenses under Todd Berry. It was a good D last year, even with the problems late, but the run defense struggled mightily against the better teams. Coinciding with the losses and problems when the offense couldn’t run the ball, the run defense couldn’t come up with stops and couldn’t get off the field way too often. Just like the team couldn’t win when the offense didn’t run well, the losses came when the defense couldn’t hold up, allowing 200 yards or more on the ground in five of the six losses and getting ripped up late by Arkansas State and South Alabama. There are too many veterans not to be better.

The team will be far better if… it scores when it gets the chance. Disastrous in the red zone, ULM scored just 25 of 38 times when getting inside the 20. Part of the problems was just getting there – there were times when the team just wasn’t even close – and part of the problem was converting. It’s not like there were a slew of close losses that came from misfires, but if the offense is going to rebuild a bit, it has to score and come up with points when they’re there for the taking.

The Schedule: The Warhawks don’t leave the state of Louisiana until October, highlighted by a non-conference opener against Wake Forest before starting out the Sun Belt season with Idaho and Troy. The problem, though, is one of the in-state games is at LSU. The other huge problem is the payback that comes after with six of the final eight games on the road. Texas State and the rivalry showdown with Louisiana-Lafayette are at home, and going to New Mexico State, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State shouldn’t be that big a deal, but a midseason road stretch of at Arkansas State, at Kentucky and at Texas A&M will be a problem.

Best offensive player: Senior QB Pete Thomas. The NC State and Colorado State transfer has found a home. The big passer isn't going to run like Kolton Browning, but he has a big arm and should improve the passing attack. Junior receiver and punt returner Rashon Ceaser should now blow up - he didn’t exactly rock, he was the team’s most dangerous target leading the team with 65 grabs for 964 yards and five touchdowns and did a great job as a punt returner. For a team that needs playmakers and has to find options to build around, Ceaser is a great place to start.

Best defensive player: Junior LB Hunter Kissinger. There are several good veterans in the secondary in safeties Cordero Smith and Mitch Lane, and there are some solid linemen in Gerrand Johnson on the nose and Darius Lively on the end, but Kissinger is the team’s leading returning tackler and the one the D will work around. Great in pass coverage as well as a run stopper, he should be in the mix for all-star honors.

Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Pete Thomas. Kolton Browning meant just about everything to the offense, but Brayle Brown got his shot and two starts – he wasn’t bad. A great athlete, he's every bit the runner that Browning was, and while he struggles with the passing game, that means Thomas should be able to step in and star right away. All of a sudden, the Warhawks have helped themselves in a huge way.

The season will be a success if ... the Warhawks win seven games. As last year showed, six wins isn’t going to get it done for a bowl game and isn’t going to move things forward. The offense didn’t rock last season and the team still got to six wins. With a better defense, and several winnable games mixed in with the forget-about-it dates with LSU and Texas A&M. If the Warhawks can take care of conference home games against Idaho, Troy, Texas State and Louisiana-Lafayette, they might get there with one upset and wins in two of three road dates at Appalachian State, New Mexico State and Georgia Southern.

Key game: Sept. 20th at South Alabama. The Jaguars are coming off a strong season and have the potential to be a major player in the Sun Belt title chase. It’s Georgia Southern’s first true Sun Belt game, and if it can come up with a win on the road, all of a sudden the chance is there for a great start with Appalachian State, New Mexico State, Idaho and Georgia State up next – 5-0 in conference play isn’t out of the question before facing Troy. However, beating USA on the road is a must.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Penalties: Opponents 93 for 860 yards – ULM 61 for 503 yards
- Sacks: Opponents 27 for 139 yards – ULM 16 for 82 yards
- Red Zone Scores: Opponents 33-of-43 (77%) – ULM 25-of-38 (665)

- 2014 ULM Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players