First Look: Baylor Bears vs. ULM Warhawks

Brett Deering

After a week of twiddling their thumbs during which I imagine the offense scored 70 more points on someone, the Baylor Bears are back in action this weekend at The Case.

vs.
20/19 BAYLOR (2-0) vs. NR/NR ULM (2-1)
Sept. 21, 2013 | 3:00 p.m. CT
Waco, Texas | Floyd Casey Stadium (50,000)

TV: FOX Sports 1
Listen | GametrackerGametracker | Game NotesNotes | Tickets | In-Game BlogSportStream | Gameday Central

OPPONENT: ULM Warhawks (Sun Belt)
OFFICIAL WEBSITE
: ULMWarhawks.com (same people who made this AMAZING video in 2011)
2013 ROSTER, DEPTH CHART (opens as a .pdf)
LAST MEETING (between the teams): 47-42 Baylor win, ODB Game Hub, Highlights
LAST GAME (for ULM): 21-19 win over Wake Forest
SB NATION BLOG: ULM doesn't have one.
SPREAD: Baylor -27 (or 28, depending on the place)
TV COVERAGE: Fox Sports 1
WEATHER FORECAST: High of 88 for Saturday, 40% chance of rain

SB Nation Preview: How High Can You Fly?

2013 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug at Oklahoma 7
7-Sep Grambling State NR
14-Sep at Wake Forest 76
21-Sep at Baylor 36
28-Sep Tulane 111
? Arkansas State 64
? Georgia State 125
? South Alabama 119
? Texas State 107
? Troy 102
? UL-Lafayette 78
? Western Kentucky 94
Five-Year F/+ Rk 100
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 116
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* +7 / +5.3
TO Luck/Game +0.6
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 17 (8, 9)
Yds/Pt Margin** -1.6

Obviously, this schedule was made before the season -- 7 months ago, in fact-- and doesn't show results.  So far, the Warhawks are 2-1, with one disappointing offensive show at Oklahoma in the season opener (they lost 34-0), a home win over Grambling (48-10), and a close road win this past weekend over Wake Forest (21-19).  Overall, I think ULM Head Coach Todd Berry would probably say he's where he expected to be, record-wise, but is disappointed in his team so far, especially on offense.  Kolton Browning hasn't been as sharp as he was last season, and their offense as a whole has suffered.

STATISTICS

Before I go any further, let me say that I hate the nnew stats page at the NCAA website.  They didn't need to change the way they did things before, but since they did, I won't have the paste-able table of stats for each team like I used to.  So thank the NCAA for that.  Here's what we do have.

Team Stats - Through games 09/14/2013
Stat Rank Value
Total Offense T-73 387.0
Rushing Offense 69 171.3
Passing Offense 79 215.7
Team Passing Efficiency 106 105.18
Scoring Offense 89 23.0
Total Defense 33 330.3
Rushing Defense T-49 138.0
Passing Yards Allowed 36 192.3
Team Passing Efficiency Defense 40 113.59
Scoring Defense T-48 21.0
Turnover Margin T-109 -1.0
3rd Down Conversion Pct 67 0.404
4th Down Conversion Pct T-73 0.400
3rd Down Converstion Pct Defense 57 0.367
4th Down Conversion Pct Defense T-1 0.000
Red Zone Offense T-116 0.615
Red Zone Defense T-91 1.000
Net Punting 74 36.72
Punt Returns T-110 2.00
Kickoff Returns 5 32.80
First Downs Offense T-53 61
First Downs Defense T-56 51
Fewest Penalties Per Game 17 3.67
Fewest Penatly Yards Per Game 20 33.33
Time of Possession 37 31
View Complete Ranking Summary

Gone are the comparison to national and league leaders (for an example, look here).  Gone are stats like sacks and tackles for loss in a collected, easy-to-use format.  Gone is any semblance of sanity in how the NCAA approaches team reports.

The thing about ULM we don't know as of yet is how good OU's defense actually is.  If you believe OU's defense is superb, the shutout in Norman looks better for the Warhawks.  If you don't, you start wondering where the high-flying ULM attack went.  The fact that they didn't exactly light up the scoreboard against Wake this past weekend should trouble even the most ardent ULM supporters.  The flip side to that, however, is that Wake's offense is designed to slow games down and limit opposing possessions.  It's just impossible to know.

I'll go into more detail about ULM later this week, once the FootballOutsiders stats update and we get a better picture of what we're facing.  Before last week, F/+ had them ranked 80th in the country, up 3 spots from the week before.  FEI was much more favorable, ranking the Warhawks 69th, while S&P+ puts them at 86.  I'm not sure what a close win over Wake, a team ranked below them in all three metrics, will do, but it seems clear that Baylor should be the large favorite in this game that it is.

One thing we do know is that Baylor fans who saw the game last year or paid attention at the time should recognize quite a few of the names.  QB Kolton Browning, who lit up our defense last year for 270+ yards passing and another 60+ rushing, is back and in charge once again.  As are starting RBs Jyruss Edwards and DeVontae McNeal.  McNeal didn't play against us last year, but Edwards did, running for 124 yards on 21 carries against our beleaguered defensive front.  At WR, ULM returned 4 of their top 5 targets from last season.  Rashon Ceasar leads the way in receptions this year from that group, followed by Tavarese Maye and Je'Ron Hamm.  Whether ULM recruits guys that have awesome names on purpose is not known at this time.

On their offensive line, ULM brought back 4 of their 5 starters from a year ago to form a group that, coming into this season, had a total of 87 starts between them.  Those numbers have now all gone up.  New RG Ben Risenhoover (another awesome name!) is the least-experienced among them.  All in all, on offense, this team should clearly be a step up from both Wofford and Buffalo, and Browning ("the poor man's Johnny Manziel" as Prashanth called him) is a particularly dangerous player.  He nearly beat us last year, and though he hasn't played as well in 2013, he's still a formidable, experienced foe.  (Stats below from 2012.)

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 42 98 91 102
RUSHING 87 95 103 86
PASSING 27 101 79 106
Standard Downs 107 115 100
Passing Downs 77 47 92
Redzone 57 54 55
Q1 Rk 89 1st Down Rk 102
Q2 Rk 98 2nd Down Rk 92
Q3 Rk 103 3rd Down Rk 56
Q4 Rk 41

On defense, the Warhawks run that odd 3-3-5 stack formation as their base.  Last year, we passed almost at will on them, but they were actually able to do an admirable job bottling up our running game, holding us to only 178 yards on the ground.  Of course, that was before the Lache Seastrunk era had truly begun at Baylor, so take those numbers with a grain of salt. On their defense, Bill Connelly says in the preview linked above...

ULM's offense wasn't amazingly explosive, but the Warhawks and coordinator Troy Reffett's 3-3-5 defense made sure that opponents weren't either. ULM suffered all sorts of glitches on passing downs, in terms of both allowing opponents to move the chains and leaking a few too many big plays, but they were confusing and efficient early in downs. The 3-3-5 certainly allows you the speed to form a cloud in front of a given play and swarm to the ball, and ULM had the depth to pull this off in 2012.

That's pretty much what the 3-3-5 is intended to do: form a cloud over the top with 5 DBs on the field and confuse the OL with a variety of blitzes and stunts up front.  As he says, why ULM had so many problems on clear passing downs (something we took advantage of a year ago) is a mystery.  (Stats below are from 2012.)

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 42 80 85 79
RUSHING 87 69 77 65
PASSING 27 75 87 73
Standard Downs 43 63 34
Passing Downs 114 109 117
Redzone 102 80 113
Q1 Rk 58 1st Down Rk 60
Q2 Rk 102 2nd Down Rk 83
Q3 Rk 88 3rd Down Rk 98
Q4 Rk 62

Another thing Bill mentions that is worth noting is the incredible number of returning players ULM has on their defensive line.  To a man, everyone who notched any kind of statistic on their DL last year, came back this year.  The same isn't true for their LB corps, which lost both its #1 and #3 tacklers, or the secondary, which fared better losing only two backups from last year to graduation.

BOTTOM LINE:

We're not playing a team on the level of Buffalo or Wofford this week. ULM is a team, particularly on defense, that has tremendous depth, with an unusually high number of players having logged a ton of time over the past 2 years, especially.  They are also more skilled on offense than they've looked thus far from the stats alone.  This is clearly Baylor's biggest challenge yet, especially for our defense.  I haven't seen anything that makes me fear the ULM defense much, if at all.

But there is this...

I think that game might have taken a year off my life, at least.

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