Norman, OK (Sports Network) - The ULM Warhawks face the unenviable task of
opening the 2013 season on the road against the 16th-ranked team in the
nation, the Oklahoma Sooners.
ULM is facing a ranked opponent to kick off a campaign for the sixth straight
year, and while the Warhawks are typically overmatched by the better teams in
the country, they are perfectly suited for competition in the Sun Belt
Conference. ULM pulled off an upset of No. 8 Arkansas last season, marking the
first time a Sun Belt squad had beaten a top-10 team.
Todd Berry is set to embark on his fourth year at the helm, and last season he
led the Warhawks to eight wins -- the most the program has amassed since
joining the FBS ranks. With a 6-2 league ledger, ULM finished second in the
Sun Belt and earned its first bowl bid as a member of the FBS when it dropped
a 45-14 decision to Ohio University in the 2012 Independence Bowl.
Each year, expectations surrounding the Oklahoma football program rival that
of all the top teams in the country. However, Bob Stoops' troops haven't quite
lived up to the hype in recent years, and last season the Sooners suffered a
loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 Conference opener, and dropped a 30-13
decision to Notre Dame, both at home, thus pushing them just outside BCS
consideration to a date with former league rival Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
The Sooners were rolled in that game (41-13), giving them a whole lot of time
to ponder the possibilities as they turned an eye to the future.
Stoops enters his 15th season in charge of the OU football program and has
logged an impressive 149-37 record, won eight Big 12 titles, made four BCS
National Championship Game appearances, winning it all in 2000.
This bout marks the first meeting between ULM and Oklahoma on the football
Quarterback Kolton Browning enters his senior season as ULM's leader is
touchdown passes with 60, and he is tied with Steven Jyles (2002-05) with 76
total career touchdowns. Additionally, Browning ranks second in passing yards,
passing attempts, pass completions, total yards of offense and plays. Clearly,
he is the catalyst for the Warhawks offense, and others will need to step up
in an effort to alleviate the pressure he feels after also serving as the
team's leading ground gainer last season (488 yards, seven TDs).
ULM averaged just shy of 34 ppg last season, and the loss of leading receiver
Brent Leonard (104 receptions, 1,118 yards, 10 TDs) means a guy like senior
Je'Ron Hamm (62 rec., 915 yards, six TDs) will be expected to be even more
While the offense certainly did its part last season, the ULM defense had its
issues, particularly when it came to defending the pass (276.5 ypg, 29 TDs).
As a result, foes put up nearly 30 ppg with five of them scoring more than 40
The defense lost its top overall performer from last year (R.J. Young), but
the return of safeties Cordero Smith (71 tackles) and Isaiah Newsome (four
interceptions), and linebacker Ray Stovall (13.5 TFL) should provide for some
Despite losses to key personnel on offense, there is once again reason to be
optimistic in Norman as Stoops has stockpiled an overabundance of talent.
Despite averaging nearly 39 ppg last season, the Sooners ranked in the middle
of the pack in the Big 12 in scoring, doing so behind an aerial attack that
generated 336.5 ypg to rank third in the conference and fifth nationally.
Quarterback Landry Jones was the guy Stoops relied on to keep the offense
moving, but he is no longer around, and it was thought that Blake Bell was
going to be the heir apparent. A formidable presence in the running game with
24 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons, Bell is clearly a skilled
football player, but he has been beaten out for the starting job, at least for
this game, by freshman Trevor Knight.
Despite naming Knight the starter, Stoops praised the work ethic of both
"Both Trevor and Blake (Bell) have competed hard and both will be ready to
play against Louisiana-Monroe," Stoops said. "Like every other position on our
team, I expect them both to continue competing for the starting job."
Rest assured, Bell will still get his share of touches as part of a rushing
attack that also includes Damien Williams, Brennan Clay and Trey Millard, that
trio combining for nearly 1,700 yards and 17 TDs as juniors last year.
Oklahoma is equally fortunate to have all five starters back along the
offensive line, anchored by All-Big 12 First Teamer Gabe Ikard at center.
The receiving corps took a hit with the loss of Kenny Stills (82 receptions,
959 yards, 11 TDs) and Justin Brown (73 receptions, 879 yards, five TDs), but
Jalen Saunders (62 receptions, 829 yards, three TDs) heads a list of six guys
who logged double-digit catches in 2012.
The Oklahoma defense experienced its share of ups and downs last year, the
unit doing a solid job against the pass (206.1 ypg, second in the Big 12, 29th
nationally), but struggling against the run (192.2 ypg, ninth in the
conference, 89th nationally). The loss of seven starters means there are
likely to be some growing pains this year. The marquee name on the OU defense
is senior corner Aaron Colvin, who finished third on the team last season with
61 total tackles, to go along with four interceptions and a club-best 11 PBU.
The Sooners lost a couple of starters for this contest after it was announced
earlier this week that both defensive tackle Chuka Ndulue and cornerback
Cortez Johnson have been suspended for their involvement in separate off-the-
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