Two different types of upstart teams take the field on Saturday in College Station when the Warhawks of University of Louisiana at Monroe (2-0) head west to take on the Aggies of Texas A&M University (1-1). The contrast of styles may not be exciting to the average college football fan, but the play on the field should give reason for fans to tune in.
Lumps taken in 2017 by the Warhawks (4-8) are showing signs of fruitfulness in the early going of the new season. ULM has an upperclassmen-laden team led by pre-season Maxwell Award watch list nominee Caleb Evans. Seemingly playing right at the level of their competition thus far with a 34-31 win over Southeastern Louisiana and a 21-20 victory over Southern Miss, the Warhawks are learning how to claim victories behind a balanced offensive attack.
On the other side of the field, is there a fan base for a Power Five team more energized and hopeful for the future after a loss than Aggie Nation? A&M went toe-to-toe with No. 2 Clemson in Week 2, falling 28-26 but not before a dramatic comeback and near misses leaving the coaches, players and fans to think what could have been. Head coach Jimbo Fisher appears to have found his quarterback going forward in dual-threat Kellen Mond. Mond came up big in the loss with 430 passing yards and three scores without a pick but must give much credit to receiver Kendrick Rogers for his seven-catch, 120-yard and two-touchdown performance.
ULM at Texas A&M
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 15 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Texas A&M -26.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Caleb Evans vs. the Aggies' defense
Evans has been strong in ULM’s first two games, hitting 62 percent of his passes for 541 yards with four scores. Evans has helped his own cause with his mobility, scrambling for 106 yards with one trip into the end zone. The big question is, can he hit his top receivers, Marcus Green and RJ Turner, consistently to keep the chains moving against a battle-tested Aggies defense?
While there is excitement about A&M’s play against Clemson, the defense was porous against the pass, allowing 298 yards and two touchdowns between Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence. One thing new defensive coordinator Mike Elko can be proud of, his A&M defense limited the Tigers to 115 yards on 32 carries with the bulk coming from Bryant’s 54 yards.
2. ULM’s defense
The Warhawks’ win-loss record a year ago can be tied back to a defense that could not stop anyone. Out of 132 FBS football teams, ULM finished ranked 129th in total defense surrendering 532 yards per contest. Statistically improved, the Warhawks are still in the lower tier in the nation giving up 437 yards on average.
While Fisher wants his quarterback to develop, no team can win in the SEC without a running game. Clemson held the Aggies to 71 yards on 32 carries; granted it was against one of the best defensive lines in the nation. Expect A&M to pound the ball with Trayveon Williams looking for continuity ahead of another looming college football beast in Week 4.
3. Looking ahead with a letdown
College football history is full of "letdown" games seeing a good football team essentially not show up for a game following a big win or a tough loss. How well A&M responds to ULM will be a good indication of how strongly the team has taken to Fisher’s coaching tactics. Beyond the physical and mental exhaustion of the Clemson game Fisher must push his players past, he must also navigate past his team looking ahead to No. 1 Alabama next week.
The ideal scenario is a big lead early to rest guys in the second half for the Crimson Tide showdown. Coming out sloppy allowing ULM to hang around can serve as a teaching tool but may extend the team beyond what they want for a good showing against Alabama.
ULM was a scrappy team early in the 2017 season until a 42-17 beatdown by Auburn in Week 10. The offense is a veteran group led by four returning starters up front but face a very difficult challenge squaring off against linebackers Tyrel Dodson and Otaro Alaka with end Landis Durham putting pressure on Evans.
Under former head coach Kevin Sumlin, the Aggies were Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in non-conference games against Group of Five competition; sometimes squashing the opposition and at other times playing to their level.
Prediction: Texas A&M 45, ULM 14
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.