Conference play begins Saturday for the Texas State Bobcats (0-2) and ULM Warhawks (0-1) as both look for their first win of this young season.
Offense hasn't been the issue for the Bobcats through their first two games, averaging more than 400 yards against both SMU and UTSA. Defensively, it's looked a lot like 2019, as Texas State has surrendered more than 1,000 yards through two weeks. Saturday presents an opportunity to get right against a ULM squad that scored just one touchdown in its opener last week against Army, totaling 200 yards of offense in a 37-7 loss.
The Warhawks have had it rough in the last calendar month, having to withstand a coronavirus outbreak, deal with the effects of Hurricane Laura, as well as an abrupt change at defensive coordinator just 10 days prior to the start of the season. A home opener in front of the fans (25 percent capacity allowed at 27,617-seat Malone Stadium) could be the morale boost this team needs.
Texas State at ULM
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Texas State -5.5
When Texas State Has the Ball
It's been a difficult start to the season for the Bobcats, losing the first two contests by a combined 10 points, including last week's 51-48 overtime heartbreaker to UTSA. Texas State put up nearly 500 yards of total offense despite playing with a backup quarterback in Tyler Vitt, who wound up tossing four touchdowns. Starting QB Brady McBride missed the contest due to the school's COVID-19 protocols but was back at practice this week with the starters and is expected to be under center on Saturday.
The Bobcats have been extremely balanced on offense through two games, averaging 288 passing yards while topping 150 rushing yards both contests. The biggest surprise thus far has been on the ground where Texas State finished 127th in the country a year ago, but is averaging 4.2 yards per carry as a team thus far with two standouts in the backfield in Brock Sturges and Calvin Hill. When the Bobcats take to the air, it has been a committee approach as eight different players have four or more receptions already. Junior college transfer Marcell Barbee is one to watch as the tall (6-2) target reeled in two touchdowns last week.
When ULM Has the Ball
The ULM quarterback competition extended into the opener between sophomore Colby Suits and junior college transfer Jeremy Hunt, with the former winning out as head coach Matt Viator said this week that he can't see any reason Suits doesn't get the nod again on Saturday. Suits played well against Army, completing 14-of-19 passes for 148 yards and a score, while his counterpart Hunt struggled in limited duty with just 15 yards and an interception.
ULM was held to just 200 yards of total offense against Army, managing 4.5 yards per play and just four first downs all day. Not only will the passing game have to be better against Texas State, but the Warhawks will need more from star running back Josh Johnson. The former 1,300-yard back was held to just 32 yards on 12 carries but should have opportunities against a Texas State defense that was gashed for 330 rushing yards by UTSA.
At receiver, ULM is expected to get some reinforcements back in the lineup with starting receiver Zach Jackson likely returning after missing last week's contest. Star tight end Josh Pederson was the team's leading receiver against Army with five catches for 56 yards and will remain the focal point of the passing attack.
Neither team is very good defensively, and Texas State has shown so far they can light up the scoreboard. Getting Brady McBride back under center should help the cause further, and the Bobcats could already be described as battle-tested compared to a ULM team that held the ball for less than 24 minutes against Army and has played just one game. Texas State wins in a shootout.
Prediction: Texas State 34, ULM 31
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— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.
(Top photo courtesy of ULM Athletics)