Baylor @ Louisiana Monroe
- Friday, September 21st
- Game Time: 7:00
- TV: ESPN
- Sirius Channel: 85
- The Spread: Baylor -7.5
The Lowdown: Take a quick peek back to three weeks ago and look at Baylor's schedule: SMU, FCS opponent Sam Houston State, and Louisiana-Monroe. No real cause for alarm there. Most everyone in Waco was already looking forward to September 29th when the Bears travel to Morgantown to play West Virginia in their first ever Big 12 conference game.
But then UL-Monroe beat Arkansas. And then they almost did it again the next week falling to Auburn in overtime, both on the road, mind you.
Now all of a sudden, Baylor looks to have a big hurdle to clear before they even dare start thinking about their trip out east.
Friday night's game against Baylor will be the home opener for the Warhawks and given how they've played through two weeks, their fans are understandably excited. Ticket sales have spiked tenfold over the past two weeks and even though Malone Stadium only has a listed capacity of 30,427, you can rest assured Baylor will hear every one of them Friday night.
As for what to expect in the actual game, UL-Monroe coach Todd Berry said it best during his weekly press conference. "It's going to be fast break football at a speed that you've never seen before."
What he's referring to is that both teams like to play fast, like really fast. In the two games against Arkansas and Auburn, the Warhawks ran an unbelievable total of 192 plays. Yes, each game went to overtime which increased that number slightly, but you get the point.
On the other sideline, Baylor isn't exactly what you would call a ball control offense. The Bears will also run a hurry up offense, although it might actually look slow to when compared to what UL-Monroe is going to do.
The Warhawks are led by quarterback Kolton Browning. The junior from Mabank, Texas has accounted for eight of the nine touchdowns ULM has scored this season (six passing, two rushing). He has thrown for 649 yards against two pretty good SEC defenses while also rushing for 127 which happens to lead the team, as well. Baylor's sole focus will be on defending Browning. If they can do it, they likely win. If not, well, Monroe might pull yet another upset.
Defensively, Monroe held up better than expected against Arkansas and Aubunr. They did fall behind Arkansas 28-7, but in the process were able to knock Razorback quarterback Tyler Wilson out of the game. In the second half without Wilson, the Razorbacks punted five times in seven drives and also threw an interception. You cancertainly blame that on Wilson leaving the game, but the Warhawks also buckled down holding Arkansas to just seven points after halftime.
Safety Mitch Lane and linebacker R.J. Young lead the Warhawks in tackles through two games with the ULM defense surrendering 397.5 yards per game, not a bad number considering the competition.
But the real story for the season so far as been the play of the offense which is averaging 480 yards per game. Against Arkansas, the Warhawks were fairly balanced (41 rush, 48 pass) but against Auburn they took to the air with Browning attempting a mind boggling 67 throws. Given the fact they ran 103 plays against the Tigers, they still were able to mix in 35 rushing attempts.
Baylor, Keys to the Game: Keep the foot on the gas. In both of Monroe's first two games they came back from 21 and 14 point deficits. If Baylor gets up early, they can't let up because the Warhawks are going to keep coming, keep coming, and keep coming some more. Baylor's defense isn't nearly good enough to let up if the Bears jump to an early lead.
Baylor's pass defense will need to play their best game of the season because Monroe is going to try to exploit a secondary that while improving, still has shown plenty of leaks. SMU threw for 362 yards (they got down big early) and Sam Houston State had success, as well, finishing with 285 yards through the air. Baylor does have five interceptions on the year though and a couple more on Saturday night would certainly g along ways in being Monroe's next upset victim.
UL-Monroe, Keys to the Game: Pressure Nick Florence. Arkansas had plenty of success throwing the ball before Tyler Wilson got hurt. Assuming Florence stays healthy, he'll do the same if he's able to pitch a tent in the pocket. If the Warhawks can get a few hits on him as they did Wilson, it'll help keep Florence from getting comfortable and dissecting the Warhawk's secondary.
Florence isn't the only guy they'll need to worry about, however, which is one reason Baylor's offense is so hard to defend. Yes, they like to throw it, but through two games, the Bears have rushed it 71 times and thrown it 76 which is what the experts call "offensive balance," I believe. If they spend too much time worrying about the pass, Baylor is more than capable of gauging them with Jared Salubi, Glasco Martin and maybe they'll even be a Lache Seastrunk sighting.
The Prediction: There's no question Monroe has Baylor's attention, which is both good and bad. Good because it means the Warhawks have played well against two teams from the SEC. And bad because Monroe can now expect a focused Baylor team coming off a less than impressive victory over Sam Houston State. They now full well what can and will happen if they don't play better this week which will be their first road game of the season.
Monroe will do their share of damage against a Baylor defense that is still finding its way but the Warhawks will still have trouble keeping up with Baylor's attack. Plenty of people are talking about Kolton Browning for good reason, but come Friday night, Nick Florence will be the story of the game. Bears win. Baylor 48 Louisiana Monroe 32