From a preseason perspective, it's a simple contrast. ULM has a good offense and a bad defense. Coach Matt Viator's team needs to sustain the former while improving the latter for the Warhawks to be in bowl contention. That's especially needed in Sun Belt play, where ULM allowed an average of 41.3 points in its four wins.
Previewing ULM Football's Offense for 2018
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Eight starters are back from an offense that averaged 33.9 points and 458.0 yards per game last season. And the most important piece, dual-threat quarterback Caleb Evans, enters his second season as starter with a high ceiling. As a sophomore, Evans rushed for 573 yards and a conference-best 13 TDs and passed for 2,868 yards and 17 TDs, and he's surrounded by a strong supporting cast. Evans will work behind four returning starters on a line that protected him well last season. He will throw to a talented receiving corps, led by All-America all-purpose performer Marcus Green (54 catches, 812 yards, five TDs) and R.J. Turner (38 catches, 693 yards).
A big X-factor is the growth of running back Derrick Gore, who was solid but not spectacular last season after transferring from Alabama. He led the team with 585 rushing yards, but he reached 20 carries in only two games and ran for 100 yards only once. ULM will mix in multiple ball carriers, but the offense will be at its best if Gore can look like a feature back.
Previewing ULM Football's Defense for 2018
It can't get much worse for a defense that allowed 41.0 points and 532.1 yards per game last season. In fairness, the Warhawks were ravaged by injuries. Now healthy, they must improve dramatically.
In a 4-2-5 scheme, the secondary is pivotal. Safeties Luke Hedrick, Nick Ingram and Collin Turner return after missing much of last season due to injuries. Turner will start at buck safety. Hedrick and Ingram were still recovering in the spring, but even their limited return allowed Marcus Hubbard and Rhoy Williams to move from safety to cornerback, their natural position.
Linebacker should be a strength with veterans David Griffith, Chase Day and Cortez Sisco back. But, again, they were the cogs of a defense near the bottom of the FBS ranks, so experience doesn't necessarily equal performance. ULM needs a better pass rush, but a healthy secondary should aid in that area.
A few junior college transfers will get on the field, and some injured veterans return and their replacements now have experience. It should create much-needed competition that was absent last season.
Previewing ULM Football's Specialists for 2018
Green is ULM's most explosive weapon, and nearly half of his school-record 2,008 all-purpose yards came in the return game. He tied for first in the FBS with four kick return TDs and ranked fourth with a 32.4-yard average. Craig Ford is a steady placekicker, making 70 percent (28-of-40) of his career field goal attempts. Mark Deaves, a 25-year-old Australian, takes over as punter.
Overall, ULM has posted back-to-back 4-8 seasons since Viator's hiring, but there are hints of progress. The Warhawks went 1-14 on the road in two seasons before Viator, but they won two road games last season.
Any chance at a winning record must include victories in non-conference play, where ULM went 0-4 last season. There are tough trips to Ole Miss and Texas A&M on the schedule, but also more manageable matchups against Southern Miss and FCS foe Southeastern Louisiana.