Start Time: Saturday, October 21st, 5:00 PM ET
Announcers: Brock Bowling (play-by-play) and Watson Brown (analyst)
Location: Ladd-Peebles Stadium (33,471)
Series: ULM leads 2-1
Odds: South Alabama (-4.5) 59 total
After a 3-0 start in conference play, the Warhawks were smacked at home by Georgia State last weekend. The Panthers rolled up 670 yards of total offense at Malone Stadium as Conner Manning threw for over 400 yards and eight different players combined to run for 224 yards against the Warhawks. This one became a blowout very quickly as Matt Viator’s program blew a great chance to pick up a significant home win.
The Warhawks head on the road this week and they may have another quarterback controversy. After lighting up Sun Belt defenses, Caleb Evans really struggled against Georgia State as he only passed for 89 yards on a 6.4 yards per attempt average, lost one fumble, and could only muster 12 yards on 12 carries. Viator and offensive coordinator Matt Kubik would then turn to junior Garrett Smith in the second half.
Smith excelled as he led ULM to four touchdowns in four consecutive possession as he went 14 of 23 passing for 235 yards and three touchdowns. Matt Viator is expected to give Evans the start on Saturday, but do not be surprised to see Smith at some point in the first half. The two have combined to put up a 10-to-1 touchdown/interception ratio and this position is much improved from last year.
The ground game struggled against Georgia State as the Panthers totally shutdown Evans and senior Derrick Gore was held to 32 yards on 10 carries. The Alabama grad transfer has a foot injury that is holding him back at the moment. Ben Luckett (no relation) has provided the ground game with some pop and I expect he’ll get some more carries moving forward.
The fact of the matter is that this rushing attack is based on Caleb Evans. When he plays well the Warhawks really roll, but when defenses can slow him down this offense can become very pedestrian.
Marcus Green continues his spectacular play as the junior from Mississippi is averaging 17.9 yards per catch, 10.6 yards per carry, and has two kickoff returns for touchdowns. Green has been the dynamite on the perimeter this offense needs and look for him to become a more focal point of the gameplan moving forward.
Last week was so ugly for the ULM defense and S&P+ now has the Warhawks ranked 127th on this side of the football. The Warhawks are giving up 225.2 yards per game on the ground as opponents are averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Meanwhile, the pass defense isn’t much better as foes are averaging over eight yards per attempt and have thrown 15 touchdowns to only four interceptions.
It’s been a rough year two for defensive coordinator Mike Collins and it’s clear this defense has not taken a big step this fall.
The special teams play remains strong and it’s been spearheaded by the kick returns from Marcus Green. Craig Ford has been excellent as he’s gone 6-for-7 on field goals and punter Harrison Helm is averaging over 42 yards per attempt.
South Alabama Outlook
It won’t get much better for the Jags program than last week as they brought The Belt back to Mobile and pulled off a monster upset in their archrival’s house. Now, after the long week, Joey Jones and his squad will look to put back-to-back strong performances together as they attempt to get into the Sun Belt title race.
Last week, Cole Garvin was pulled for Dallas Davis in the second quarter and the junior gave South Alabama its best quarterback play of the season. Davis was 7-for-10 for 120 yards and one touchdown. The junior was behind center for South’s only long touchdown drive on the night as he made multiple big completions on third downs.
For the year, Davis has put up better numbers than Garvin and I’d be pretty surprised if he’s not the team’s permanent starter behind center moving forward for new offensive coordinator Richard Owens.
Xavier Johnson has been the biggest weapon for this offense as the senior is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and has scored four touchdowns. However, Johnson left the Troy game with an ankle injury and we’re not sure if he will suit up on Saturday. Denzel Foster ran the ball very well in the second half against Troy and he should split carries with sophomore Tra Minter if Johnson cannot go.
Malik Stanley stepped up for the Jags last weekend as the junior recorded four receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown. With the emergence of Stanley, this has evolved into a very balance passing attack as five players have recorded at least nine receptions.
With Davis taking snaps moving forward, I look for this passing game to make a big jump in the second half of the season. Stanley proved to have a real connection with Davis last week, but the play of Sa’Mory Collier and Jamarius Way will determine this group’s success for the rest of the season.
After playing some explosive offenses in the first month of the season, the numbers got a big out of whack for defensive coordinator Kane Wommack’s unit. Now we’re starting to see the real South Alabama defense and they are mighty impressive.
The Jags have forced 10 takeaways and are limiting opponents to only 3.7 yards per carry. After being lit up by Ole Miss and Oklahoma State to start the season, the Jags are only allowing 239.8 passing yards per game. If this secondary can start producing interceptions at a more frequent rate this group could become scary.
Jeremy Reaves is one of the best safeties in all of college football and he currently leads the squad in tackles and tackles for loss. The pass rush is beginning to come alive and Louisville transfer Finessé Middleton paces the defensive line with 3.5 sacks.
The Jags have the strongest special teams unit in the conference and it starts with punter Corliss Waitman. The junior is averaging 45.5 yards per punt and serves as the team’s kickoff specialist. Gavin Patterson has been really strong as he’s connected on all of his extra points and is 10-for-12 on field goal attempts. Losing Xavier Johnson will hurt South’s kick return team.
It’s a unique spot for a Sun Belt Saturday as ULM is coming off a brutal home loss on homecoming while South Alabama is fresh off one of the biggest wins in program history. It’s homecoming in Mobile and everything tells you that South Alabama should roll.
However, South is a little banged up after a physical game against Troy and they haven’t played in over a week. It appears Xavier Johnson will be sitting out and the Jags are likely making another change at quarterback.
ULM enters this one after a brutal loss, but there were some good things to take from last week. The passing attack remains dynamic as Marcus Green is a flat out playmaker. ULM has issues on defense and with their ground game, but a better performance by Caleb Evans should help eliminate those worries.
South Alabama doesn’t appear to have the offensive firepower to take advantage of ULM’s defensive issues. I think Caleb Evans bounces back with a strong performance and ULM has the special teams play to void South’s biggest strength. Warhawks pick up a huge victory at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Prediction: ULM 30, South Alabama 24