A 35-yard field goal was all that stood in the way of ULM securing a winning record and its first bowl bid in seven years. Instead, the Warhawks' 2019 season concluded in heartbreaking fashion with a 31-30 loss to Louisiana and a disappointing 5-7 record (4-4 Sun Belt). A turbulent offseason has done nothing to provide relief. In the last month alone, Hurricane Laura and a coronavirus outbreak have cost the Warhawks 10 days of practice, along with an all-important scrimmage. Not to mention the reshuffling of the schedule and three key players opting out due to the pandemic. But there was no bigger surprise than defensive coordinator Mike Collins announcing his resignation just 10 days before the first game. The Warhawks now face the difficult challenge of making their season debut on the road against a potent Army squad that has a big head start. Head coach Matt Viator can only hope that better days lie ahead.
Other than schedule adjustments, Army was fortunate to have its offseason go largely unaffected by the pandemic. That seemed to pay dividends last Saturday, as the Black Knights kicked off their 2020 season in front of 4,300 cadets at Michie Stadium with a blowout victory over Middle Tennessee. Army unleashed its triple-option attack to rack up 340 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, while the defense generated four turnovers in the 42-0 shutout of the Blue Raiders. Head coach Jeff Monken referred to it as one of Army's best performances in his seven seasons at the helm. The Black Knights will look to keep things rolling on Saturday against upset-minded Louisiana-Monroe.
ULM at Army
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 12 at 1:30 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Army -19
When ULM Has the Ball
The Warhawks averaged 460.9 yards (top 20 in the FBS) and 31.6 points per game a season ago, but there are some big shoes that must be filled. Chief among them is star quarterback Caleb Evans, who has been at the forefront of ULM's success on offense over the last three seasons. The Warhawks are also tasked with replacing leading receiver Markis McCray and four starters along the offensive line. That leaves plenty of question marks for this offense heading into Saturday's matchup against Army.
Sophomore Colby Suits will get first crack at the vacated quarterback spot after edging out junior college transfer Jeremy Hunt for the starting nod on Saturday. However, Viator made it clear that both quarterbacks will see action against Army, suggesting that the quarterback competition is ongoing. Despite the loss of Markis McCray, both signal-callers will have a talented group of pass-catchers at their disposal. All-Sun Belt tight end Josh Pederson leads the effort after a team-best nine touchdown catches last season. Wide receivers Perry Carter Jr., Jonathan Hodoh, and Zach Jackson also return after combining for 83 receptions and 1,150 receiving yards in 2019.
The run game could be a real strength for the Warhawk offense in 2020, provided the new-look offensive line is up to the challenge. And given ULM's lack of experience at quarterback, you can probably expect to see a heavy dose of all-conference running back Josh Johnson against Army on Saturday. Johnson ran for an impressive 1,298 yards and 11 touchdowns during a breakout 2019 season. Isaiah Phillips, Kadyn Roach, and Javin Myers will provide depth in the backfield.
Unfortunately, the Warhawks will be faced with the tall task of breaking in their new quarterback(s) and a revamped offensive line against a formidable Army defense. The Black Knights return seven starters from a unit that gave up just 342.3 yards (30th in the FBS) and 23 points per game last season. And if last week's dominant performance against Middle Tennessee was any indication, the ULM offense will surely have its work cut out for it on Saturday. Under the direction of new defensive coordinator Nate Woody, Army handed Middle Tennessee its first shutout loss in eight years, forcing four turnovers and limiting the Blue Raiders to just 184 yards of total offense.
When Army Has the Ball
Army's mission offensively is always the same — dominate the line of scrimmage, run the football down the opposing team's throat, and control the clock. The Black Knights executed that game plan flawlessly last Saturday against Middle Tennessee, utilizing ten different ball carriers to rack up 340 yards and five scores on the ground. Freshman running back Tyrell Robinson led the way with 94 rushing yards on nine carries in his collegiate debut. Junior quarterback Christian Anderson orchestrated the Black Knights' triple-option attack with ease en route to 51 rushing yards and a touchdown of his own. And senior fullback Sandon McCoy ran for 50 yards on the day, racking up three rushing touchdowns in the first half alone. The Black Knights will employ that same recipe on Saturday in a highly favorable matchup against ULM.
The strength of the ULM defense lies in the secondary, where the Warhawks return a wealth of experience, including a pair of all-conference talents in senior cornerback Corey Straughter and safety Tyler Glass. However, that probably isn't going to do much to help their cause against an Army offense that only throws the ball a handful of times per game. The real challenge comes in slowing down Army's run game. The Warhawks struggled mightily in that department last season, surrendering an average of 252.7 rushing yards per game (128th in the FBS), and that was against conventional rushing offenses. Army's option rushing attack is anything but conventional. That could make for a tough afternoon for the ULM defense.
A difficult offseason has left ULM with little time to prepare for this matchup, much less get into true football shape. Meanwhile, Army already has a game under its belt, along with a full slate of practices and scrimmages. That doesn't bode well for a ULM offense breaking in a new quarterback and an unproven offensive line. Defensively, the Warhawks are surely going to have their hands full against Army's triple-option ground attack. That problem is further compounded by the fact that new defensive coordinator Scott Stoker has only been on the job for just a handful of days. Viator is a proven offensive play-caller, and that should be enough to buy the Warhawks a few points on the scoreboard. But there's little doubt that Army will be the superior football team on Saturday.
Prediction: Army 38, ULM 14
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.
(Screengrab courtesy of goarmywestpoint.com)