This weekend Oklahoma will get it's season started hosting Sun Belt foe UL-Monroe, who gained much notoriety in 2012 after downing Arkansas in the season opener in Little Rock and nearly knocking off both Auburn and Baylor in the following two weeks. This will be the first meeting of the two programs with the Warhawks bringing in 17 returning starters from am 8-5 team that went to the first bowl game in school history. The Warhawks, led by head coach Todd Berry burst onto the scene in 2012 and finished in a three-way tie for second place in the Sun Belt. Below we go Under the Hood of ULM and take a look at the Warhawks in their school's historic 34-31 overtime win over Arkansas on Sept. 8, 2012, and we'll try to give you an idea of just what the Sooners are facing Saturday night.
Against the Razorbacks, Monroe rushed for 138 yards on 35 attempts (3.9 yards per carry) and completed 42-of-68 passes for 412-yards (6.2 yards per attempt). NOTE: The full broadcast was unable to be found, a condensed broadcast was used for this feature.
Though it's a non-conference matchup this storyline reads just like it were, as quarterback Kolton Browning goes, so go the Warhawks.
Browning is a player that though he may not be exactly like the last quarterback Oklahoma faced, the Mabank, Texas native is more than capable of creating plays with his feet. But unlike his oft-troubled predecessor Browning isn't a player that choose to run for yardage all that regularly. If he runs it's simply a product of there being nothing to do down the field. Browning uses his feet to buy time for his receivers to find open space and work throwing lanes for himself. Browning doesn't have a huge arm and his deep throws aren't lacking but aren't the strength of his game either.
During the game the returning player who made the biggest impact was junior Colby Harper, who has recently been removed from the team, but that's not to say that Harper was the only weapon vertically for the Warhawks. Joining him in the game as real difference makers were Tavarese Maye and Je'Ron Hamm who combined for 15 catches and 168-yards. Hamm is a massive receiver - listed at 6-foot-4 and 233-pounds - and time after time proved a handful for the Razorbacks secondary to take down. On the other hand Maye is an interior receiver with explosive athleticism who you can bet will try and challenge Oklahoma up the seam. Monroe is built to be a timing based offense but much of their success against Arkansas coming from broken plays after the Razorbacks got immediate pressure on Browning.
For all of the success through the air there was an equal amount of impact in the running game with Browning leading ULM with 69-yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Aside from him Jyruss Edwards averaged just over two yards per carry with 36-yards on 15 attempts.
Part of this work was an offensive line that while solid, wasn't dominant against the Razorbacks front four. That being said, it's a group that returns four of five starters with Josh Allen at center, left guard Jon Fisher, and the tackle pairing of Demiere Burkett and Joseph Treadwell. Allen, at times seemed to struggle with the snap, but the group handled the noise of the Little Rock crowd exceedingly well. The group did a nice job managing limited fronts - particularly in passing situations when Arkansas decide to drop into coverage however in one on one battles they struggled as often as not though Browning continually bailed his offensive line out. Joining the four returning players is Jenks, Okla. alum and Warhawk right guard Ben Risenhoover.
Against the Warhawks, Arkansas rushed for 96 yards on 26 attempts (3.7 yards per carry) and completed 17-of-40 passes for 281-yards (7 yards per attempt).
Unlike the offense the Warhawks don't lay claim to any one particular star in their 3-3-5 alignment but just like the offense sees a boatload of returning starters with only two new starters among ULM's starting lineup - those two new starters are linebackers Austin Moss and Cameron Blakes. Some may remember Moss' name as he drew considerable attention from the Sooners before accepting an offer from Arkansas prior to ending up in Monroe. Blakes, on the other hand is thought to be one of ULM's more physically gifted defenders.
Joining the two newcomers is a defensive front that may not have a true star in it's three-man alignment but makes up for it in experienced depth. Expected to start for the the Warhawks are Darius Lively and Joey Gautney at defensive end and nose tackle Kentarius Caldwell. Caldwell might be the standout of the group but is backed up by former Missouri Tiger Gerrand Johnson and the duo will be an interesting aspect to watch and a crucial part of the Warhawks plans going against Oklahoma's big and experienced interior offensive line. The starting trio combined for nearly 20 tackles for loss last year with only Caldwell factoring in as a full-time starter.
In spite of not being the country's biggest group and playing in a three man front they did a nice job dominating the line of scrimmage and preventing Arkansas' run game led by talented players like Alvin Bailey and Knile Davis from ever getting rolling.
Joining Moss and Blakes at ULM's second level is former Booker T. Washington standout Ray Stovall who started 10 games and accumulated 10.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore in 2012. He didn't flash a lot in this game but Stovall is a player you can almost guarantee will factor heavily into the Warhawks blitz packages due to his gifts as a pass rusher and ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
It's in the secondary where the Warhawks may be as strong as anyone, at least in the film from the Arkansas game. The player who showed up again and again is sophomore Mitch Lane who made a touchdown saving deflection and numerous other big plays in slowing down the Razorbacks. The 'Hawk' in ULM's 3-3-5 alignment Lane has a ton of ability to make plays in the open field.
Though Arkansas was able to find some joy through the air in the first half the cornerback duo of Rob'Donovan Lewis and Vincent Eddie were strong in coverage in spite of giving up some real size to Arkansas' bigger perimeter receivers, in fact the 5-foot-8, 153-pound Eddie pulled off an early interception that got the Warhawks defense going. Last year the safety duo of Cordero Smith and Isaiah Newsome each started every game and combined for 128 tackles and Newsome managed four interceptions.
IF I'M Oklahoma, I…
...blitz, blitz, and blitz some more. It's the exact same lead-in to my commentary from last year's Texas A&M game and I think it's even more crucial here though it is somewhat based on the assumption Oklahoma's defensive front will have trouble creating pressure of it's own. If that's not the case then Oklahoma has athletes in Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper who are capable of putting pressure on Browning and unlike Manziel are able to drag the elusive though not overly athletic Browning down.
In the game ULM found the most joy when going four and five wide and finding the matchups they liked by placing Arkansas' safeties against the Warhawks receivers. The interesting aspect will be the reality that Oklahoma's Gabe Lynn and Julian Wilson may be technically safeties but have more than a bit of experience at cornerback and could play a big role for the Sooners. The interesting aspect will be Browning's football IQ and the Sooners lack of their normal starter Cortez Johnson at one cornerback. In the Arkansas game the Razorbacks cornerback Tevin Mitchel went out with an injury and almost immediately Browning began going at his replacement - could this mean a huge challenge for Zack Sanchez?
In run defense the Sooners will simply have to prevent the big play from popping while focusing on the Warhawks ability through the air. Even though the team's breakdown of offensive snaps for the season was only about 55/45-percent run/pass, respectively, two-thirds of their offensive yardage came through the air a ratio that the Sooners will hope grows to force Browning and co. to be more and more one-dimensional.
Against the ULM defense the Sooners will need to establish the run and try to wear down a defensive front that averages about 265-pounds per man with Kentarius Caldwell being the 'bellcow' at 273-pounds and anchoring the middle. If Oklahoma has hopes of being a more physically dominant team in 2013 this will be a key chance for them to show that ability. And if Damien Williams, Brennan Clay, and Roy FInch can get going and open up space for first-time starter Trevor Knight. The run game is probably the best way to attack a smaller but athletic Warhawks defense and it may also be the best way to allow Knight to get his feet under him before truly throwing him into the fire.