Kickoff: 6:00 pm CST
Location: Malone Stadium, Monroe, LA
Stream: ESPN 3
Radio: K-104.1 FM
Series Record: 4-3 Idaho
Betting Line: ULM -5, O/U 59
Last Meeting: 27-13 Idaho (2015)
With 2-3 and 1-3 records respectively, the window of bowl eligibility is rapidly closing for both Idaho and ULM as they progress through Sun Belt play. The S&P+ predictor gives the Vandals a 31.9% chance of reaching six wins while the Warhawks currently sit at just 15.5% probability of earning bowl eligibility. These two teams are very evenly matched but the loser will probably be staying home during bowl season.
The Warhawks have labored through a tough opening schedule that featured three consecutive road games against Oklahoma, Georgia Southern, and Auburn. Matt Viator’s squad struggled mightily against their Power Five opponents but put a scare into Georgia Southern, losing by just two points.
Idaho also took it on the chin against their Power Five opposition this year, losing to Washington and Washington State by a combined score of 20 - 115. Following their match ups with Pac 12 opponents, the Vandals topped UNLV on the road by three before losing to the rising Troy Trojans in the Kibbie Dome.
Three Things To Watch
Idaho QB Matt Linehan vs ULM’s Conservative Secondary
The Warhawks’ defense is one of the most conservative defenses on paper that I’ve ever come across. ULM’s defense is ranked 11th in the nation in preventing explosive plays but dead last in efficiency. This means that ULM is preventing huge plays while conceding yardage up front, perhaps a byproduct of facing two option teams in Auburn and Georgia Southern. Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan has a big arm but he’ll need to play with a steady hand and take what the defense gives him.
Idaho’s Ability to Finish Drives
The Vandals are averaging just 3.44 points per drive when within their opponent’s 40 yard line (national average 4.72). Idaho will need to do better than just walking away with a field goal when in plus territory. Fortunately for the Vandals, ULM’s defense is below average with their backs against their own end zone, conceding 5.03 points per trip within their own 40.
ULM’s Power Run Game vs Idaho’s Front Seven
ULM isn’t excellent in many areas offensively but they are very effective running the ball in short yardage situations. The Warhawks top two running backs (sophomore Ben Luckett and freshman Austin Vaughn) both weigh over 210 pounds and are averaging 4.3 yards per carry or better. Idaho will need to swallow up running lanes on third and short or better yet just keep the Warhawks out of those advantageous down and distance scenarios.
How much of the Warhawks’ defensive woes are tied to their strength of schedule? Can Matt Linehan return to his impressive level of production from the 2015 season in which he completed 63.4% of his passes for nearly 3,000 yards? I’m guessing the answers are “not that much” and “yes, absolutely”. Give me the Vandals on the road in Monroe as Idaho eats up the clock and makes just enough defensive stops to escape a contested fourth quarter with a narrow victory. Idaho 28 ULM 24