Heading into this season, people associated with the ULM Warhawks program were quietly excited about being able to pass the football. Sure, replacing a 3,000 yard passer and the top receiver from the 2014 season would not be an easy task, but there was lots of talent left.
As a whole, the Warhawks are averaging 228.6 yards per game in the air, while averaging only 5.9 yards per pass attempt.
Rashon Ceaser and Ajalen Holley were expected to step in and become the 1-2 threat that would challenge secondaries, while other receivers were supposed to emerge for redshirt freshman Garrett Smith. Holly (39/480/3TD) has been very good this season, and Ceaser (26/272/2TD) has been excellent in the three games he has played, but no one else has stepped up.
Ceaser is currently out with an injury and the timetable for his return is not very soon. Next man up, right? As much as ULM would love for that to happen, the exact opposite has happened with Holley proving to be the only significant option in the passing game.
Smith has completed 112 passes in 183 attempts for 1,113 yards and nine touchdowns, with a 61.2% completion rate. Those numbers are good for a redshirt freshman, but looking deeper, we see a disturbing trend of Smith only finding one (two with Ceaser healthy) option on a regular basis. Of the 183 pass attempts, 36.4% have been in the direction of Holley. Excluding Ceaser, Holley’s 67 targets are a higher total than the next six receivers targets combined.
If you add in Ceaser’s 34 targets from three games, the duo has accounted for 103 targets on the season. With Ceaser out for an extended time, things must change for the Warhawks. Part of the problem is Smith being a redshirt freshman and unable to read the field like a seasoned veteran. The other part comes from a group of wideouts that have not proven an ability to get open.
Two players have emerged in the last two weeks as possible options for Smith. Wide receiver Jared Mapps and right end Harley Scioneaux.
Jared Mapps (10/79/1TD), a 6-0, 192 pound junior has been in the program long enough that he must step up as an option in the passing game. His 58.8% catch rate is a cause for worry, though he has made nine of his ten catches in the last two games. Mapps is not the game breaking type, but his ability to take some pressure off of Holley is very important.
Tight end Harley Scioneaux (8/89/2TD) should be seeing many more options in the passing game if the Warhawks want to fix their passing game woes. Scioneaux is 6-5, 243 pounds has been the third leading receiver in each of the last two games, but that was for a total of four catches. Smith has to use an option like that in the open field and not just in the red zone.
So, how do you fix the issues in the passing game in the easiest fashion? Work on another aspect of the offense completely. Wait, what? Yes, the ULM run game is among the worst in the nation in averaging 95.2 yards per game and only 3.2 yards per carry. With such a poor running game, why should any team not square off to stop the pass?
Smith has the most carries on the team, despite Kaylon Watson (39/155/0TD), Ben Luckett (20/100/1TD), and DeVontae McNeal (21/96/2TD) all averaging 4.0 yards per carry or higher. The Warhawks have to get those players more carries to give the passing game a chance to succeed.
Garrett Smith has the ability to be a good quarterback with more time in the system and make ULM a feared passing offense. If he is put in situations of the defense knowing a pass is coming, not only is he not often successful, but his growth as a player is being stunted.