As we approach the midpoint of the 2019 college football season, the ULM Warhawks and Texas State Bobcats can both turn their full attention to Sun Belt Conference play. Both ULM and Texas State enter Thursday night’s matchup with a 2-3 overall record after facing tough non-conference slates. Both also have the opportunity to improve to 2-0 in conference play after winning their respective league openers last month.
ULM at Texas State
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 10 at 9:15 p.m. ET
Spread: ULM -3
When ULM Has the Ball
The Warhawks have moved the football consistently this season, regardless of opponent. ULM has gained at least 419 total yards in all five games this year and has averaged more than 5.3 yards per play in each contest. Overall, the Warhawks rank 26th nationally in total offense (469.6 yards per game) and 37th with an average of 6.31 yards per play. Those figures rank third and fourth in the Sun Belt, respectively.
ULM has also been balanced offensively. The Warhawks have averaged 249.4 passing yards and 220.2 rushing yards per contest. Quarterback Caleb Evans ranks third in the Sun Belt in passing (234.4 yards per game), having completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 1,172 yards (7.2 yards per pass attempt) and 10 touchdowns with three interceptions. Top target Josh Pederson leads the Warhawks with 23 catches, 283 receiving yards and five touchdowns, and he leads all Sun Belt tight ends in each category.
Running back Josh Johnson leads the Sun Belt in rushing (119.6 yards per game). Johnson has averaged 7.12 yards per carry while racking up 598 rushing yards, and he has surpassed 100 rushing yards in three games. He has scored four touchdowns as well but hasn’t reached the end zone in either of the last two games. Evans has run for 286 yards and five touchdowns. Last week against Memphis, Evans gained 112 yards and scored twice on the ground. Johnson ran for 119 yards against the Tigers.
Texas State ranks third in the Sun Belt in yards allowed per play (5.67), and the Bobcats are coming off their best defensive performance of the season, allowing a season-low 75 rushing yards, 220 total yards, and 4.0 yards per play in the 24-3 victory over Nicholls.
When Texas State Has the Ball
The Bobcats have yet to reach the offensive expectations that came with the offseason hiring of former West Virginia offensive coordinator Jake Spavital as their new head coach and former Colorado School of Mines and Montana head coach and offensive folk hero Bob Stitt as play-caller. Texas State ranks eighth in the Sun Belt in total offense (323.4) and ninth in yards per play (4.70).
The biggest struggle to date has been a rushing offense that ranks dead last in the league — and by a large margin — in both yards per game (81.0) and yards per carry (2.7). Those figures rank No. 128 and No. 127, respectively, among the 130 FBS programs, though both are vast improvements over the rushing numbers Texas State produced in its first three games, during which the Bobcats ran for a combined 85 yards on 66 carries (1.29 yards per attempt).
Quarterback play and the team's lack of success throwing the football have also had a role. The Bobcats rank ninth in the conference and No. 112 in the country in yards per pass attempt (6.2). Quarterback Tyler Vitt started the season opener against Texas A&M but was replaced by junior college transfer Gresch Jensen after tossing two interceptions. Jensen has started each of the last four contests, completing 64.2 percent of his passes for 1,121 yards and five touchdowns. He has been intercepted six times. The good news, however, is that Texas State posted its most efficient passing performance of the season in the win over Nicholls, as Jensen completed 22-of-29 pass attempts (75.9 percent) for 253 yards and two touchdowns, posting a season-high 8.7 yards per attempt.
It’s also good news the Bobcats will face a ULM defense that ranks ninth in the conference in both total defense (506.8) and yards allowed per play (6.92), which rank 126th and 124th nationally, respectively. The Warhawks have been extremely susceptible to the run and rank last in the league and No. 129 in the country in both rushing defense (556.2) and yards allowed per carry (6.04).
A win for either squad would be huge. At 3-3 overall and 2-0 in the Sun Belt, Thursday’s victor would control its fate in the race to the West Division title and a spot in the conference championship game. It would also be halfway to bowl eligibility — a major step given that ULM and Texas State have appeared in exactly one bowl game between them throughout their histories (ULM lost 45-14 to Ohio in the 2012 Independence Bowl, in case you were wondering).
Texas State comes in with the momentum of two straight wins, and the Bobcats have shown improvement on both sides of the ball following a slow start. However, ULM has a more potent offense, and the Warhawks’ biggest defensive weakness (run defense) is matched up against Texas State’s worst-performing unit. At this point, it’s easier to trust ULM’s ability to stop the Bobcats offense than it is to expect Texas State to outscore the potent Warhawks.
Prediction: ULM 31, Texas State 24
(Top photo courtesy of ULM Photo Services)