In Part I of the preview this morning, I attempted to get a better handle on the unfamiliar defense ULM runs in the 3-3-5 while trying to figure out how we might combat its strengths and exploit its weaknesses. Now, in Part II, it's time to flip the scales a bit and talk about the ULM offense against Baylor's defense. I firmly believe at this point that Baylor's offense will be able to score points on ULM's defense, which isn't that good. What will determine the outcome and/or margin of the game will be our own ability to stop ULM. On that point I'm less confident.
Below the jump, I'll talk about why I'm apprehensive, which players we should watch when ULM has the ball before trying to tie the two posts today together and make a prediction. As always, there's a poll below the jump and I hope you make yourselves heard in the comments.
Just in case you need a refresher from yesterday, here are the best links I can find about this game:
----- ULM Official Athletics Site-- From there you can find links to their roster, depth chart, and game notes. Or I can just give them to you.
----- Bill Connelly's post-game writeup about the Arky win. The discussion about ULM's offense in the second half of that game is especially illuminating.
----- SB Nation's preview of ULM's 2012 season; and...
----- FootballStudyHall's Team Profile for ULM. Those two links will be instrumental in understanding what Baylor can expect from the Warhawks on Friday night.
----- A breakdown of ULM's final drive to force OT against Arkansas by a contributor at FSH. Great stuff, you should read it.
Let's start with ULM's offensive philosophy:
In a press conference yesterday about the game Friday night, ULM's coach Todd Berry stated his belief that the offenses for Baylor and ULM are mirror images of each other. With all due respect to Coach Berry, I hope he continues believing that into Friday night because, though the offenses may look similar when they do similar things, the objectives sought could not be more different.
I say that because ULM loves to throw the football. They love it. So far this season, QB Kolton Browning, ULM's biggest playmarker and the primary reason they've been so successful against the dregs of the SEC West, has attempted over 110 passes. Here are his stats:
|2012 - Kolton Browning||2||93.0||70||113||61.9||649||324.5||5.7||6||1||30||127||63.5||4.2||2||-||-|
113 attempts this season for "only" 649 yards. For the sake of comparison, here are Florence's stats.
|2012 - Nick Florence||2||93.0||45||71||63.4||653||326.5||9.2||7||2||12||104||52||8.7||0||-||-|
42 fewer attempts for 4 more yards. 25 fewer completions. And you can't blame Petty for poaching the numbers, he's only got 5 attempts of his own. You should also note that Browning has more than double Florence's carries, that's going to be important.
Here are ULM's team stats for this season to highlight the run/pass disparity in ULM's offense. Note also how many rushing attempts Browning has compared to the team's leading rusher.
See what I mean? Theirs is a team that runs because they have to in order to keep defenses honest, not because they want to. That's why only about 39% of their offensive plays are designed runs. Yardage-wise, they're actually even worse; they've gained 32% of their yards this season on the ground. These numbers aren't outliers, either; they did basically the same thing last season to basically the same results. Situation-wise, they pass even in obvious running situations. They simply don't like to run. And it makes sense because they're not all that good at it. Baylor has, ever since Art Briles got here, emphasized balance in the two phases. We were the only team in the country in 2011 in the top-10 in both passing and rushing. This season the yardage doesn't even out yet, but the attempts do; we have 76 passing attempts vs. 68 on the ground. That balance makes all the difference. So if Coach Berry thinks we're going to come out passing as much as his own team loves to do, he is sorely mistaken.
Why does ULM pass so much?
Turning back to ULM, the true reason for their passing proclivity is probably a combination of things. One, as you can see above, their best player is clearly Kolton Browning, the QB. Asking him to run more than he already does (15.0 carries per game) is flirting with offensive disaster should he get hurt. And at 6-1, 198 pounds, he's not all that big to begin with. Two, their offense is geared towards short, quick passes. That leads to an extremely high number of attempts, over 56 per game so far, and an extremely low yards per attempt at 5.7. They throw it deep probably less than any team we'll play this season. "Airing it out" for ULM is throwing intermediate passing routes, and they don't even like to do that. Only two of their receivers listed above average more than 10 yards per reception. (Watch, now that I say that, they'll bomb us over the top). Baylor has five.
So what we should expect to see from ULM in the passing game is repeated short, high-percentage passes to grind away yards. Like what Lee Hays tried to do with the Bear Raid and failed at miserably. They really do run short passes in lieu of running plays, and they like to do it to a myriad of different receivers (look how many have caught passes so far this season). Still, Brent Leonard, Je'Ron Hamm, and Tavarese Maye are the biggest names to know.
Pace-wise, they were well above-average in 2011, so they like to get after it. That number is probably distorted a bit by their pass attempt totals-- incomplete passes stop the clock and make a team appear faster than they really are-- but it's also probably true that they want to catch the defense off guard.
But when they run...
They do it through a combination of designed running plays for Kolton Browning and power/trap plays for Jyruss Edwards. Browning is the one you really have to worry about. He's not a speedster by any means, but he's shifty and athletic, and they take advantage of his abilities. I suspect they'll do that to us, too, especially if we use our 3-down alignment. To combat this, my guess is that Bryce Hager and Eddie Lackey will switch off responsibility for Browning when they suspect ULM will let him loose. As long as our defensive ends keep contain, and they should, giving up the edge shouldn't be a big problem.
Before I make the same mistake of last week by underestimating our opponent, however, I should note that their offense has been very good this season in two games. FEI has them ranked 24th in offensive efficiency, and that's after playing two different teams that were both probably more talented than the Warhawks. No, neither Arkansas nor Auburn has been good at all defensively this season (98 and 93 in defensive efficiency, respectively), but Kolton Browning by himself should give us reason to be worried. I'm personally concerned about whether Bennett will be willing to tighten up coverage to stop ULM's short passing game or if we'll see them nickel and dime us down the field repeatedly. I think the time has come in this game to give K.J. Morton and Demetri Goodson the chance to show what they can do in tighter coverage on ULM's wideouts.
So let's get to the prediction:
After all the post-game hand-wringing and retrospection about taking the Bearkats too lightly, my official prediction from last week actually wasn't that far off. I predicted 52-20 for the final score and it turned out to be 48-23. 7 combined points is not that bad!
This week, I see our offense taking advantage of an over-aggressive Warhawks defense keen for another upset in front of a home crowd. We'll score between 45-49 points. The Warhawks manage several sustained drives of their own while we steadfastly refuse to tighten up our coverage, but their offense isn't built to grind time off the clock itself because of all the passing, and they score 28-31. That means I'm taking Baylor to beat the spread and the Over. These teams aren't stopping each other enough to keep it low-scoring.
Baylor 45, ULM 30.
Briles frees Lache enough in the second half to score another TD, rush for over 70 yards, and make us all yearn for even more in conference play. Florence has a typical NickFlo day with 300 yards passing, 3 TDs, and no interceptions. Baylor's running game Glasco Martin's ULM to death to the tune of 85 yards and 2 TDs. Lanear Sampson leads the team in receiving yards. Bryce Hager leads the team in tackles. Demetri Goodson picks off a pass. I could keep going.
For those petrified of ULM because they beat Arkansas at home, read Bill C's article I linked above. I'll link it again. It took a basically perfect game from ULM and a total hatchet job from Arkansas for ULM to force OT and eventually win that game. Give them credit for doing so, but don't be blinded by that one result. The confluence of events that led to it are not likely to happen again.
Now give me YOUR prediction on the outcome of the game in the poll below and whatever else you feel comfortable saying in the comments!