War Eagle, everybody! It's time once again for an Acid preview of an Auburn football opponent. In week three of 2012, Auburn plays host to the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks, in a game tailor-made for a crack-of-dawn SEC Network broadcast. It's a game the Tigers can't afford to overlook, sandwiched in the center of a 5-game stretch of Clemson, Mississippi State, ULM, LSU and Arkansas. To make matters worse, ULM brings in a veteran offense, many of whom played in Auburn back in 2010. Unfortunately for Warhawk chances, their defense took some hits in the off-season, and lost pretty badly to the offense in the ULM spring game.
ULM is in their third season with head coach Todd Berry. Berry was hired in 2010 to try to lift the Warhawks to their first winning record in FBS football. Thus far, he's declined a bit from the .500 football of predecessor Charlie Weatherbie, who managed a Sun Belt co-championship in 2005 and a stunning upset of Alabama in 2007. Under Berry, ULM has had records of 5-7 and 4-8. The highlight of last season for the Warhawks was a 38-10 beating of Troy on the road. Given the Warhawk schedule this season, matching the 4-8 record might be difficult. They start at Arkansas and at Auburn, then host Baylor. Add in road trips to Tulane, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, and Arkansas State, and you've got 8 likely losses right there.
The ULM offense is basically a pass-to-run spread, operated mostly from the shotgun. Junior quarterback Kolton Browning is a returning two-year starter who's a dual threat. Browning passed for over 2400 yards, and rushed for 443 last season. He was the team's second leading rusher, behind junior tailback Jyruss Edwards, who had 667 rushing yards. A host of veteran receivers return as well, including Tavarese May, who Auburn fans might remember caught six balls against the Tigers in 2010. The ULM line features a couple of veterans, center Josh Allen and senior guard Jonathan Gill, who both have Jordan-Hare starts under their belt. However, the Warhawks lost 3 multi-year line starters to graduation. Being green at tackle is not a good thing against Auburn ends!
The ULM defense has some holes. When the first thing the team report says is that the team will be looking for starters in the secondary in fall camp from the newcomers, it's a recipe for trouble. The strength of the Warkhawks last season was the line and linebackers, and they lost their top tackling linebacker and top three defensive ends to graduation. The Warhawks have JUCO transfer Austin Moss (formerly of Arkansas) listed as their starting middle linebacker, and he has yet to play a FBS snap for them.
The ULM special teams were mostly sub-par last season, and it cost them. A blocked punt was critical in a 5 point loss to Arkansas State. Luther Ambrose was good returning kickoffs, but he graduated. Last season, the warhawks kicked it off very short, punted short, didn't cover punts terribly well, and didn't do much beyond Ambrose on returns. Returning sophomore kicker Justin Manton hit only 6 of 14 field goal attempts.
Unit Matchups after the jump!
Auburn defensive line vs. ULM offensive line: A front four of junior Dee Ford, junior Jeffery Whitaker, sophomore Gabe Wright, and junior Corey Lemonier should be pretty special, and Auburn is at least two deep behind the starters. For the Warhawks, junior center Josh Allen is a two year starter, and senior guard Jonathan Gill is a three year starter. Sophomore Ben Risenhoover is holding down the other guard spot. Tackles are young. Penciled in as as starters are sophomores Jeremy Burton and Demiere Burkett. While ULM has pretty good size up front, they are facing a very athletic and deep Auburn line. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn linebackers vs. ULM backs: Auburn should have some combination of Darren Bates, Jake Holland, Kris Frost and Jonathan Evans starting for this one. ULM returns their top two running backs from a year ago, juniors Jyruss Edwards and Donald Centarius. What ULM likes to do is throw a lot of quick passes, which slows down the rush of the opponent's front seven. Then they try to break one of these guys or the quarterback loose up the middle. After facing Andre Ellington and Ladarius Perkins the first two weeks, Auburn's backers should match up better with the step slower Warhawk contingent. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn corners vs. ULM receivers: This was an area where Auburn was torched last season, but much of it was due to a non-existent pass rush. This season, Auburn has the depth to keep corners fresh. Sophomore Robensen Therezie and junior Chris Davis have the speed to match up with anyone, and there's fast, talented guys two deep behind them. This is a game where the depth will be needed, as ULM has the numbers at receiver to spread the ball around, with 4 of their top 6 receivers returning. Juniors Tavarese Maye and Je'Ron Hamm are joined by senior Brent Leonard and sophomore Colby Harper in the ULM spread. Depth comes from the speedy redshirt freshmen Rashon Caesar and Cortney Davis. The Warhawks are a frustrating, persistent bunch to guard consistently, and consistency has been the Auburn secondary's biggest issue over the past few years. Advantage: Even.
Auburn safeties vs. ULM secondary receivers and quarterback: Right now, sophomore Erique Florence and junior Demetruce McNeil are penciled in as Auburn starters, but expect sophomore Ryan Smith to play a lot, and also walk-on Trent Fisher. Auburn's young here, and the safeties in vanGorder's system have to make a lot of defensive calls. ULM has senior Keavon Milton and junior Kevin Steed at tight ends in some packages, but the pair only combined for 13 total catches in 2011. Far more frequently used is tailback Jyruss Edwards, who flared out of the backfield to catch 31 balls. At quarterback, junior Kolton Browning is a two year starter. Browning is a dual threat, able to both run and throw pretty well. Particularly worrisome is an Auburn trend noticed on A-Day in Auburn's new defense: quarterback keeper plays were not well defended, often with only a safety trying to hang on ten or twenty yards downfield. Advantage: ULM.
Punting: Auburn returns Ray Guy finalist Steven Clark, who hit the ball well again this spring. Clark tends toward towering balls that can't be returned. Auburn punted 72 times last season, and only allowed 10 returns for 62 yards. Clark pinned 33 of those punts, nearly half, inside the opponent's 20. The heir apparent at ULM is sophomore Connor Fryoux, who hit 11 punts for a 37.8 yard average in 2011. ULM pinned only 14 punts out of 68 inside the 20, and allowed opponents 10.6 yards per return. Sophomore Tyler Cain returned punts for ULM last season, and managed only 19 yards on 10 returns. Auburn's Quan Bray averaged 7.4 yards per return. Advantage: Auburn.
Kickoffs: Auburn junior kicker Cody Parkey was a weapon last season on kickoffs, hammering 38 touchbacks on 66 kickoffs. With the tee spot moved from the 30 to the 35 yard line this season, Parkey could improve that ratio, unless the coaches decide more sky-kicks are in order. ULM was in the sky-kick business last season, with sophomore Justin Manton averaging only the 16 yard line on his kicks, with 4 kicked out of bounds and no touchbacks. The short kickoffs did hold down the opponent's return yard average, to only 18.8. Auburn gave up 22.1 yards on the average, when they allowed a return. Jyruss Edwards will probably return kicks for the Warhawks, and he averaged 19.3 yards on 18 returns last season. Auburn had 4 different return men last season who averaged at least 22 yards per return, led by Onterio McCalebb's 30.7 yard average. I'd not be surprised if ULM uses a lot of squibb kicks, rather than giving McCalebb or Bray a shot from the 16 yard line! Advantage: Auburn.
Place kicking: Auburn junior Cody Parkey was 13 of 18 on field goal kicks last season, while Justin Manton hit only 6 of 14. That includes hitting only 2 of 10 from beyond 29 yards. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn offensive line vs. ULM defensive line: Auburn's starting offensive line for A-Day from left to right was redshirt freshman Greg Robinson, senior John Sullen, sophomore Reese Dismukes, sophomore Chad Slade, and true freshman Patrick Miller. I'll be shocked if Miller is still starting in the Georgia Dome, but stranger things have happened. The most likely result is for Slade to move to right tackle, and either sophomore Eric Mack or redshirt freshman Christian Westerman to start at right guard. In any event, Auburn is very young, if talented on the o-line. The good news is that most of these guys were bloodied early and often last season. The Warhawks run a 3-3-5 stack on defense, and they'll likely struggle against Auburn's size and strength. Redshirt freshman Gerrand Johnson will try to fill the middle, while junior converted tackle Kentarius Caldwell and sophomore Joey Gautney handle the end slots. These guys are listed at 267, 266, and 248 pounds, respectively. They'll likely be quick, but overmatched against Auburn's bevy of 300 pound or more linemen. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn backs vs. ULM linebackers: Speed back Onterio McCalebb has been a factor for 3 years in the Auburn offense, and should be again. There was a battle in the spring for the "between the tackles" back, between sophomores Tre Mason and Corey Grant. Sophomore Mike Blakely provided elusiveness in the A-Day game. Junior All-American transfer from Illinois Jay Prosch has been a one-man wrecking crew at fullback. ULM routinely blitzes all three linebackers at the same time, and tries to crowd the backfield. They give up big plays, but also manage a good many tackles for loss. Senior outside linebackers DaCorris Ford and Cameron Blakes combined for 14 tackles for loss last season. The mystery is in the middle, where JUCO transfer Austin Moss is penciled in as the starter. These guys should have the speed to combat Auburn's runners, but might have problems with Prosch as a lead blocker. Advantage: Even.
Auburn receivers vs. ULM corners: Auburn senior Emory Blake is a proven weapon, but he spent much of last season banged up. A second outside receiver has yet to step up, although Auburn has talented candidates. The speedy sophomore Trovon Reed has the most explosiveness, if he can manage to stay healthy. Senior Travante Stallworth looked good in the A-Day game, and has a good bit of game experience. Junior ULM cornerback Vincent Eddie returns at one corner. He's fast, but is listed at only 5'8" and 157 pounds. He was in on 63 tackles but only had three passes defended, 2 intercepted and 1 pass broken up. Penciled in on the other side is sophomore Otis Peterson, although a couple of true freshmen could compete for the job this fall. Covering Auburn's veteran receivers will be a tall order for this unit. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. ULM safeties: All eyes will be on the Auburn quarterback, at this point likely to be sophomore Khiel Frazier. Frazier looked good this spring, and is an athletic guy. The chief Auburn secondary receiver is senior tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen, who has had a great Auburn career thus far. Lutz will likely be a high NFL draft pick in 2013. Junior Isaiah Newsome was active in the ULM secondary last season, with 63 tackles, 3 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries. Senior nickle back Henry Mitchell has experience also. Joining those two will be sophomore Cordero Smith, who played in 10 games last season and made 8 tackles. Advantage: Auburn.
The way ULM runs the 3-3-5 defense, there will room for a lot of intermediate passes. They rush 6 or 7 guys (or more), and cover with 4 or 5. With the youth at corner, they'll have to be careful. Auburn will likely rotate running backs, and it will be tough for ULM to stay fresh up front in the heat on September 15th. The biggest key for the Tiger offense is not to be forced into a rash of turnovers. Ideally, Auburn would like to get out to a big early lead and rest some starters. Likely, it will be more of a slow start against a team with little to lose, who's already experienced Arkansas earlier in the year.
Defensively, ULM's a pain to deal with. They throw on first down a good bit of the time, and get the ball out quickly. When guys are starting to rush with their hands in the air, and the back defenders are looking to jump routes, the Warhawks break a draw or quarterback keeper. They know that they are not going to out-muscle an SEC team, so they try to throw when you think they'll run, and run when you think they'll throw. The key is to stay patient on defense, make tackles in space, and make ULM drive the ball. When the two teams played in 2010, ULM chewed up 270 yards, but was not able to get into the end zone.
Prediction: Auburn will be able to tackle the quick hitches and slants, and ULM will be hard pressed to handle the Tigers up front. The offense starts slow, but Auburn cruises to a 34-0 win.