By Acid Reign
The fun begins at last, on August 30th, against Louisiana Monroe, at Jordan Hare Stadium. As any Alabama fan could tell us, this is a team that definitely should not be overlooked.
When we last played Monroe, coach Charlie Weatherbie had just taken over the moribund squad, and we hung 73 points on them in a homecoming laugher. Louisiana Monroe would give up 467 points that year, an average of almost 39 points per game. That 1-11 squad is no more. The Warhawks have improved quite a bit under Coach Weatherbie.
.....Charlie Weatherbie is now in his 6th season with Louisiana Monroe, and the Warhawks have risen to the upper echelon of the Sun Belt Conference. Weatherbie is a veteran, hard-nosed coach, with previous head coaching stints at Utah State, and Navy.
Coach Weatherbie has emphasized defense, and the running game. The Warhawks finished second in points allowed, 332 for the season, in the Sun Belt Conference, last year. That trailed only Troy. ULM had a penchant for creating turnovers, as witnessed against Alabama last season.
On offense, ULM ran the ball 46 times per game, and threw it 28 per game. They had the leading rushing attack in the Sun Belt, averaging 209 yards per game, and 4.5 yards per carry. Overall, the Warhawks averaged 384 yards per game.
.....Charlie Weatherbie faces personnel challenges this year, having had to replace 4 departed assistant coaches, as well as a number of key players. Steve Farmer will take over coordinating the offense, moving up from the offensive line.
The line that paved the way for the best rushing attack in the Sun Belt, loses three starters, as well as the team's top rusher, to graduation. Sophomore Frank Goodin should be a capable replacement in the backfield. He rushed for 596 yards as a freshman, averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
The starting defensive front seven will be solid, if unspectacular. There is almost no depth behind them.
.....All of ULM's starting receivers return, and they'll be bolstered by the return of speedster J. J. McCoy, who was out last season with an achilles injury. ULM also has a veteran senior quarterback, Kinsmon Lancaster.
Lancaster will be going into his third season as a starter. Last season, he completed 59% of his passes, for a respectable 6.3 yards per attempt. He threw 13 touchdown passes, against 10 interceptions. Lancaster was only sacked 14 times all season.
Auburn defensive line vs. ULM offensive line: This should be a clear win for the Tigers. I don't envy the rookie ULM linemen getting their first action against SenDerrick Marks, Antonio Coleman, and Antoine Carter!
Auburn linebackers vs. ULM backs: Again, this will be advantage, Auburn. We are quite deep, and fast. This linebacker corps is very experienced in shutting down good backs. See Dmac, Tebow, Green-Ellis, etc., from last season.
If the D-line is causing havoc, as I think they will, the linebacker should feast on backs in the backfield.
Auburn corners vs. ULM receivers: Jerraud Powers should be able to take one guy away from the ULM arsenal, but the other matchups concern me. Walt McFadden and the others have very little experience against major college receivers, and they'll be facing a fairly deep, veteran group. Advantage: ULM.
Auburn safeties vs. ULM quarterback and secondary receivers: We are starting two second-year players here, and they face a veteran QB and receiving corps. I liked the cover-two deep work our guys did during A-Day, but I was not impressed with their ability to stay with speedy receivers man-to-man. Our zone was very vulnerable underneath. Advantage: ULM.
Punting: Auburn's Ryan Shoemaker enjoyed an excellent rookie season, and punt coverage was generally very good. ULM returns a consistent punter, Scott Love, who averaged 42 yards per punt, and most impressively, had 23 punts downed inside the 20, against only 6 touchbacks.
ULM opponents averaged only 6.1 yards per return, and don't forget that they were the team that sent Javier Arenas to the shop... Slight advantage: ULM
Kickoffs: Auburn was abysmal early last year, with short kicks and poor coverage. This improved dramatically towards the end of the season.
ULM averaged kicking the ball to the 8, and gave up 23 yards per return. That's pretty good for ULM, but they have to find a new kicker this year. Advantage: Auburn, on experience.
Kick Returns: Frank Goodin averaged 22 yards per game last year as ULM's primary kick returner. Auburn wasn't terribly special here, last year, either. But, with the return of Tristan Davis, as well as Mario Fannin and Brad Lester, Auburn has a chance to be really good, if we can block! Advantage: Auburn.
Place Kicking: Wes Byrum proved that he can make the clutch kicks, last season, and he has a great leg. ULM has only one kicker (with no experience) on their website roster, redshirt freshman Radi Jabour. Huge advantage, Auburn.
Auburn offensive line vs. ULM defensive line: Auburn has a veteran, nasty bunch, as well as great depth. ULM's starting guys are capable, but not noted for speed.
They posted 20 sacks last season. There is no depth for ULM. The no-huddle offense should take a serious toll, in the August heat. Big advantage: Auburn.
Auburn backs against ULM linebackers: ULM gave up 153 yards per game on the ground, last year, and they have depth issues. Auburn sports a plethora of talented backs that bring different styles to the table. Auburn should romp.
Auburn receivers vs. ULM corners: Auburn's receivers improved dramatically this spring. ULM replaces both starting corners. Big Advantage, Auburn.
Auburn Quarterback/secondary receivers vs. ULM Safeties: Auburn still has a bit of a quarterback controversy, it seems. ULM returns a speedy, veteran safety, Greg James.
James had 5 picks last season, and a lot of passes defended. We won't be able to abuse him like we did against our own safeties during A-Day. Jerred Berry is solid, at the other safety, as well. Advantage: ULM.
.....On paper, the Tigers should win big. ULM will hang tough for a while, and they'll have some success on offense, if they manage to throw it around early. ULM may look better than expected, on defense, too.
I doubt Tony Franklin will show too much of the new offense. We'll likely just pound the ball, and try to wear the thin ULM front seven out. The only way this game will be close is if ULM totally stones our running game, creates turnovers, and gets a quick-passing game going on.
Likely, Auburn will be way too much, even with most of our best schemes kept under wraps. Under Coach Weatherbie, ULM has usually been a slow-starting team, not playing its best football till November.
.....Prediction: Auburn prevails, in a ho-hum, 38-13 victory.