After eleven days of rest, the Texas State Bobcats travel to Louisiana to take on the ULM Warhawks in an attempt to get above .500 on the season. The Warhawks, coming off of a bye week of their own, look to do the same. Two of the teams ranked right in the middle of our Sun Belt power rankings will determine which is slightly less mediocre than the other.
HOW TO BEAT THE BOBCATS
- CONTAIN TYLER JONES: Unlike Tulsa or the Illini, the Ragin' Cajuns didn't concede the wide areas for Jones or CJ Best to make plays in the option or end around, nor did they make it easy for Jones to dump it off to his check down man. They often sent their defensive ends outside to contain Jones in the pocket and then either kept one or both linebackers at home for containment or a delayed blitz. Until Coach Fran and his coaches make some offensive adjustments, expect this defensive strategy from most of Texas State's opponents all year to throw off the sophomore quarterback.
- STUFF THE RUNNING BACKS BETWEEN THE TACKLES: Robert Lowe does a good job of following his blocks and is a bit more elusive side-to-side between him and Terrence Franks, but both backs are more oriented to run between the tackles than receive a pitch near the sideline and make a man miss. Idaho made the mistake of missing some key assignments and reads and gave up some massive runs to the speedy, more north-south oriented Franks, so ULM will need to play disciplined football and minimize any daylight between the tackles for Lowe and Franks to run through.
- GET A FAST START: Much has been made of Texas State's inability to mount second half comebacks under Dennis Franchione, but the Bobcats haven't exactly lit the world on fire coming out of the opening kickoff either. Idaho, Illinois, ULL, and Navy all scored on their opening drives against Texas State, and the latter three teams (all victors over the 'Cats) scored a punch-in-the-mouth touchdown to set the tone early. If the Bobcat offense continues to struggle as mightily against a sound ULM defense as it did against the Ragin' Cajuns, then an opening touchdown would be a good way to put Texas State on the mat early.
HOW TO BEAT THE WARHAWKS
- WIN HALFTIME: In ULM's three losses, they were either tied or still within striking distance going into the locker room at halftime. In those games (@ LSU, @ Arkansas St, @ Kentucky), they've been outscored 49-0 in the third quarter. Todd Berry is widely regarded as an excellent in-game coach, but this season he has not been making the correct halftime adjustments (or, just not enough of them), and that has resulted in some ugly second halves - on both sides of the ball. If the Bobcats are to win this game, Dennis Franchione has to out-coach Berry in the second half.
- DON'T STOP RUNNING: If there's one thing the Warhawks try to hang their hat on, it's the ability to stop the run. They were even able to keep the LSU and Kentucky rushing attacks in check for much of those games. In all, the ULM defense is giving up just 3.7 yards per attempt on the ground. The problem is that the Warhawks are pretty thin up front, and have the tendency to wear down over the course of a game. The 28-14 loss to Arkansas State was a perfect example: ASU RB Michael Gordon and QB Fredi Knighten combined for just 55 yards rushing in the first half. They finished with 239. If the Bobcats don't find success on the ground early and feel like they have to throw on every down to stay in it, they won't have success.
- KEEP HOLLEY IN CHECK: The ULM passing attack is pretty woeful, but the one downfield weapon that has caused problems for every defense the Warhawks have faced this year is sophomore WR Ajalen Holley. He's got five touchdowns on the year and is averaging over 20 yards per catch. Defensive coordinators have been allowing ULM senior QB Pete Thomas to throw short routes to Rashon Ceaser all day, but if Holley is able to get behind Texas State safety Germod Williams just once and connect with Thomas, that could be all the Warhawks need to get the victory in what should be a low-scoring defensive battle.
Will: The Bobcat defense likely has enough stamina to bend but not break against ULM's struggling offense for a half or even three quarters, but like last year their efforts won't matter if Texas State can't put the ball in the end zone or hold onto the ball. Tyler Jones has to get his groove back and the coaches have to either find a way to successfully execute their predictable strategy or try some new looks in the up tempo offense. If the Bobcats are forced into a one-dimensional rushing attack by ULM's serviceable pass defense, they'll likely suffer more than a few three and outs and Texas State's defense will lose the war of attrition late. ULM 24, Texas State 17.
AJ: In our weekly power rankings, I actually ranked Texas State just above ULM. After taking a closer look at the Bobcats since then, I'm inclined to lean towards thinking the Warhawks pull away with a close victory (as if they know how to win any other way). Centarius Donald is probable after an injury sidelined him two weeks ago, and I think he'll find success against a below-average Texas State defensive front. A healthy, productive Donald completely changes the look of this offense and takes a lot of pressure off of Thomas. Thomas isn't a great quarterback, but when he has time he can make plays. Warhawks 21-Bobcats 17