ULM is a mentally tough team. They sit at 4-4 overall, but their four losses are to Sunbelt powerhouse Troy and 3 BCS schools.
They have beaten both FIU and FAU in competitive games that really didn't show me much beyond mental toughness, but they broke the hearts of the Arkansas State Red wolves on a wet field in Louisiana last month.
ASU was playing some very tough football and ULM just flat punched them in the mouth, grinding out a smash mouth win on the ground—without the Warhawks' starting QB who was lost in the game.
For anyone who thinks UNT will sneak up on these guys and run away from them in a 55-45 shootout, I would strongly suggest a less optimistic view.
UNT can beat these guys, but it would have to be in a slug out. UNT will have to commit to stopping the run and their starting CBS will have to play out of their minds. The Mean Green OL will have to have a great game opening holes for Dunbar. If any of these things don't happen, the Warhawks should win this game.
ULM gives up 99 yards rushing per game
UNT will face a very tough front seven. UNT fans love Lance Dunbar and praise him like he is the second coming, but they need to cool that off a bit in preparation for this game and look at the Troy game. The last time UNT faced a good run defense, their offensive line was exposed as the undersized pass blocking line that it is.
Dunbar is a reasonable talent as a runner. He isn't exceptionally big or strong yet. He isn't a physical runner who can regularly and repeatedly break tackles yet. He is a very smart runner who sets up defenders and eludes blockers. He has good speed, but really he has good burst. He is really an ideal fit for the Dodge offense, which spreads a defense wide and allows Dunbar to find gaps and burst to open space.
In the time Troy had their starters in, Dunbar had no gaps to run through. Troy's starting defense owned the UNT OL. While the Trojan starters were in, Dunbar had nowhere to go.
UNT had a hard time scoring at all. UNT is a dramatically lesser offense when they cannot run the ball. Riley Dodge may have played very well last week, but I am not ready to predict he can play an interception free half without a strong running game in support. As much as he and the passing game improved from a maturity point last week, I think his development will be a process, not an overnight thing.
If the run is taken away again this week this could be a hard game for UNT. UNT's line has to have a great run blocking day.
UNT gives up 194.8 yards per game
UNT cannot spot these guys 200 yards on the ground. ULM has a very good but not exceptional running game. They aren't the most explosive running game UNT will see, but they will go back to the run time and time again.
Statistically ULM's rushing totals are great, running for 174.2 yards per game. Frank Goodin is a very sound back who has been ULM's workhorse this year accounting for about half of their rushing yards. He has 707 yards on 147 carries for a strong 4.8 yards per carry.
This team will pound on UNT all day long.
On the flipside, UNT might be the same weak run defense we have seen for the last month plus or they may play to their talent and really give ULM trouble.
UNT may commit to stuffing the run with some safety help like they did in the fourth quarter vs. WKU. UNT held the Hilltoppers to 16 total yards in the fourth quarter when they committed to stuffing the run.
On the positive side, UNT won't struggle nearly as badly as they did in the first half vs. WKU. Every problem UNT had in the first half vs. WKU was correctable and most of it was corrected in the second half of that game.
The swapping of Eddrick Gilmore to DE and Tevinn Cantly to DT solidified both positions a great deal. Gilmore is a big defensive end who has a great sense of when to switch to a power rush. He forced WKU's QB out of the pocket on a play that forced a fumble that he then recovered that lead to a game tying TD. He also beat his man for a safety last week that iced the game.
He may very well be guy who disrupts things and regularly forces the QB out of the pocket, generating the easy plays that this DL has desperately needed all season long.
Cantly for his part had a solid second half at DT vs. WKU. Cantly has the size and athleticism to be a good player at any spot on the DL but seemed to be a little bit of a disappointment at end. Lost in the shffle. At DT he is much closer to the action and it seemed to really suit him last game. He is still adjusting to the move, but I would not be suprised to see a breakout game from Cantly in the last few games.
215 lb Freshman DE KC Obi may still be abused a little at the other spot vs. the run due to a lack of size and strength, but Obi is technically sound and the rest of the DL looks stronger than it has been all season.
Soph pass rush specialist Brandon Akpunku has lost some of his playing time due to stupid penalties, but is a bigger, better, more explosive and fiery player than Obi and may take that time back.
Redshirt freshman OLB Jeremy Phillips is likely to get most of the snaps in place of converted safety Kylie Hill. Hill is better in coverage, but Phillips is a good 4 inches taller and 10 lbs heavier. Phillps seems to see the field better and has natural ball instincts at the spot.
Still do not expect miracles from Phillips—he is still a skinny developing player. He missed a special teams tackle last week that just made me cringe. It was the softest huggy bear arm tackle one could imagine a linebacker every trying to make.
Still, he should be a net positive as in spite of Hill's skills, Hill really wasn't making any plays to stop drives or change momentum, areas at which Phillips excels.
UNT's CBs need to come up big
ULM backup QB Cody Wells has played fairly well, so whether Trey Revell plays doesn't seem as big of an issue to me as it is to some.
I think the surrounding talent on the ULM offense is impressive. Senior WR LaGregory Sapp is a big powerful hoss of a WR who is averaging an eye-popping 18.2 yards per catch. At least UNT can take some solace that he really has never displayed the nose for the end zone that top WRs have—he has scored one TD this year and his career high for a season is three TDs.
The opposite WR spot is manned by the slightly smaller but still large Darrell McNeal. He has scored six TDs already this year.
These are two very good big receivers who will give UNT's smaller, shorter CBs a very hard time.
If UNT's CBs can stay with these guys well enough to allow the safeties to over commit to the run at least some of the time, UNT could really control the ULM offense. If they cannot, look for ULM to be able to grind out a victory.
First off, I think 20,000 UNT fans make the game tomorrow. Probably most will want to see Lance Dunbar run for 200 again—probably not likely vs. this defense—but hey, as long as they come.
Ultimately, I think UNT will win this game. I think ULM will control the UNT running game and slow the offense, but I expect the Mean Green Defense to have their best game since the Ball State game.
Additionally, I have been raving about UNT KR Jamaal Jackson for two weeks now. I expect him to beat a suspect ULM coverage team at least once in this game for a 80 yard return. ULM has one of the worst kick coverage teams in the sunbelt, but I would strongly doubt they have faced a better returner than Jackson. I think these team are actually fairly well matched. I think his returns may be the difference in this game.
Finally, I am really going to go out on a limb and predict UNT to win the fourth quarter against this very tough minded ULM team and that would be a big upset. Over the last few weeks there seems to have been a dramatic change of focus with the UNT players regarding finishing out games.
I think that mindset becomes contagious and makes poor to average team into good ones. I think we will see a strong fourth quarter again tomorrow.
UNT 30, ULM 27