Last year, this game was a big red flag for most Bear fans. ULM started off the 2012 campaign upsetting Arkansas and then taking Auburn to overtime. In addition to that, the Bears would be playing a Friday night game in Louisiana to open their home season. Well, that just sounds terrible. And it was, at least in the first quarter. The Bears walked into a brick wall with two interceptions on their first two drives and a 14-0 deficit. From that point on, Baylor would outscore ULM 42-28. This year, the game is in Waco, in the middle of the day. Also, the Warhawks have not started the 2013 campaign with nearly as much success, especially offensively.
ULM's offense, led by Senior quarterback Kolton Browning, has yet to really hit its full stride, like it did early in 2012. Browning tweaked his knee in the Oklahoma game, and his running ability has been limited as a result. That has taken a dangerous weapon away from the Warhawk attack.
Offense vs. Defense
Baylor Offense vs. Louisiana-Monroe Defense
The ULM defense is one that the Bears won't see very often. It is a 3-3-5 defense that puts more safeties on the field and takes away either a linebacker from a traditional 3-4 front, or a lineman from a traditional 4-3 front. With just 6 traditional players in the box, the 3-3-5 defense has the ability to load the box with two more safeties, or spread out and play the pass with 5 defensive backs in coverage.
It is a very flexible defense designed to bring pressure from any linebacker spot for the fourth "blitzer" and has some of the other strengths in the passing game that the 3-4 offers. The Warhawks will send at least 4 pass rushers on passing downs, meaning the Baylor offensive line has to be disciplined in picking up secondary blitzers.
The big difference between the 3-4 and 3-3-5 defense is in gap assignments. The 3-4 alignment gives the defensive lines the gap to either side of them to defend. However, the 3-3-5 defense pushes that fourth gap defender from the second level, and makes each individual responsible for a single gap. This philosophy takes the guessing game away from the defender and simply tells them to Hit X hole and destroy any blocker or ball carrier in your path.
The negative to this is that the defense has to guess, and guess correctly or they could have a wide open rushing or passing lane that the offense can take advantage of. However, if the defense guesses right, you are looking at a negative play or even a turnover. This is an aggressive defense that attacks the offense, trying to mess up the play before it starts.
Baylor Defense vs. Louisiana-Monroe Offense
The Baylor defense will be without several defensive tackles for this game. Preseason starter Javonte Magee is still not back with the team, and now the Bears are without Trevor Clemons-Valdez and possibly Andrew Billings as well. That is three of the presumed top 6 tackles. They will be facing off against a solid rushing attack for ULM, which has lost some of its big play ability without Browning being a major-threat, at least so far this season.
The Louisiana-Monroe attack has not been nearly as explosive in 2013, averaging just 3.5 yards per play (down from 5.5 in 2012). That ranks just 119th in the NCAA. This leads to a ton of 3rd down opportunities for the Warhawks, getting 22 third downs per game, tied for most in the NCAA with BYU. They have been pretty average in terms of converting those opportunities though, gaining a first down 38.64% of the time, but converted a ridiculous 15 of 28 against Wake Forest in their big road win last weekend.
-The Baylor starting offense has roughly been on the field for 25 minutes and has put up 101 points, or over 4 yards per minute of offense
-Their average touchdown drive is taking 1 minute and 19 seconds with just 1 drive over 2 minutes
-The Baylor offense is averaging 736.5 yards per game through two games, while ULM is gaining 387 yards or roughly 52.5% of the Bears average
-Baylor is first in the nation in scoring offense with 69.5 points per game, and second in scoring defense at 8 points per game. Their scoring margin of 61.5 is more than any other school averages outside of Baylor (Oregon is second at 61.3 ppg)
-Baylor leads the country in tackles for loss per game at 13 (26 total on the year). They had just 58 tackles for loss in 2012 (4.46 per game)
Keys to the Game
-Limit the turnovers – At this point, I think we can all agree that the Bears offense is really only slowed down by turnovers. They are going to get points, and usually 40+ of them is a pretty conservative estimate. What the Bears can't do is turn the ball over though. Turnovers opened the door for Louisiana-Monroe last year and put the Bears in a 14-0 hole. The only game Baylor lost at home in 2013 was against TCU where they turned the ball over 6 times. That was also the only game in 2012 that they failed to score at least 35 points, scoring only 21 points against the Horned Frogs.
The Bears have done a great job so far in 2013 limiting turnovers, and will have to do that against an aggressive ball-hawking defense. ULM has not had as much success as 2012 in getting their hands on the ball, but they are more than capable of getting several turnovers in a game. Bryce Petty will be the key man in this, as he can't force the ball into double coverage or tight spaces, and he has to be aware in the pocket of the blitzing man.
-Get that run game rolling – Last year against ULM, Lache Seastrunk had 1 carry for zero yards. Needless to say, as soon as Lache steps onto the field Saturday afternoon, he will make a larger impact. The star running back had not emerged from the bench yet against ULM. Behind Jarred Salubi and Glasco Martin, the Bears gained 169 yards on the ground, but averaged just 3.6 yards per attempt. That is not nearly the balance that the Bears offense thrives on. It forced Nick Florence into throwing for 351 yards and 4 touchdowns to get the Bears the win.
The Baylor offense is a running heavy attack, and fans saw last year what happens if the ground attack is not dangerous, especially once they hit the conference portion of the schedule. With Lache Seastrunk emerging a few games later, the Bears rushing attack exploded in terms of pure yardage as well as its efficiency. Lache averaged 7.7 yards per carry in 2012, and is over 9 yards so far in 2013. If the Bears rushing attack can gain at least 4.5 yards per carry, the Bears offense should continue to roll.
-Shake off the bye-week rust quickly – The Bears offense has struggled the past few years with turnovers in a game after a bye –week, averaging three per game in 2012. Now, most of that is the TCU game last year at home, where the Bears had 6, but you could feel that whole game, the Baylor offense was just a half click off. With a timing and rhythm offense, the concern is that down-time takes you out of that rhythm. The Bears were hitting on all cylinders the first two games of the year, but this is their stiffest test yet. Baylor can't afford to get off to a sluggish start and spend the first half finding themselves on offense.
-Limit the big plays – The ULM attack last year lived off of the big play. They had 24 passes over 25 yards in 2012, and 16 rushes of more than 20 yards. That breaks down to 3.33 big plays per game. In 2013 though, they have just 1 pass for more than 25 yards and 5 runs for an average of 2 big plays per game. The rushing attack appears to be living up to its end of the bargain, while the ULM passing attack has not taken advantage of its opportunities. As a result, Kolton Browning's yards per attempt have plummeted from 7.1 to 4.2 yards. Is this an offense that has lost some of its big play mojo or is it just overdue to hit on some big passing plays?
-Get to Browning – The Bears pass rush was hit or miss last year, where the Bears only averaged 1.3 sacks per game. They had 19 on the year, but 6 of them came in the Bowl game against UCLA and 3 came against Sam Houston State. In the Bears other 11 games, they had just 10 sacks including 5 games where there Baylor defense did not record a single sack. Against ULM last year, the Bears registered 2 sacks, so they did get some pressure on the ULM quarterback. But so far in 2013, the Bears have 8 sacks, or roughly 42% of their sack total from 2013 through just 2 games. But the Bears pass rush has been even better than just raw sacks. They are getting a sack on 7.14% of passes attempted, up from 2.93% in 2012. That is a huge jump. If the Bears can continue to get after the quarterback and make plays, their defense will be in excellent position to shut down the ULM attack.
Chris Bullajian, BearsIllustrated.com Publisher
Something about this game gives me pause. We all know last year was last year, but the game played between these two teams last season in Monroe was a close one all the way through. However, in last year's game, Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk carried the ball only one time. With Seastrunk adding one more weapon to Baylor's offensive arsenal this season, this Baylor team is simply different than it was at the beginning of last season when these two teams met. Couple the efficient running attack of the Bears with home field advantage and it all equals to a Baylor win. Bears win big.
Steve Brischke, BearsIllustrated.com Administrator
Baylor will be looking for a little payback against ULM this week. Not because they lost, because of course, they won. Rather, the Bears will be looking to show ULM that they can come out hot and rattle ULM from the environment in Waco. The opposite happened in Louisiana last year. ULM has struggled offensively this season when playing FBS teams, which does not bode well against Baylor. There's no reason to think Baylor's prolific offense can't put up another 50 point day, whether that be through the air or on the ground, and ULM will have a difficult time keeping up. Look for another big Baylor victory in this one, perhaps covering the spread of 27 points.
Kevin Barrera, BearsIllustrated.com Contributor
This will be an interesting game this week. Baylor, of course, handled their business last year, but it was a lot closer than it was supposed to be. I believe the players have a chip on their shoulder after ULM put out all the stops for their game against us last year. The players don't need any extra motivation for this game and I feel like the team will come out trying to land the knockout punch early. We will start out a little rusty, but the offense will quickly pick up where it left off, after the first two games. The defense will struggle as well, but will settle in and produce a dominant effort. Lache Seastrunk will show why he is a Heisman trophy candidate and Art Briles will open the playbook up a little more for Bryce Petty. It will be a dominant showing for a crowd that should get a break from the Texas heat this weekend.
Tim Watkins, BearsIllustrated.com Writer
There will be no lull in this offense. It is a machine at this point, one that is fueled not only by the aerial assaults of early 2012, but also the Heisman worthy legs of Lache Seastrunk. This will be his breakout game, resulting in more than 200 yards rushing and a few touchdowns to cap it all off. This is a focused and ready Bears team that seems to be a tad bit angry about the ULM game last year. The Bears will flex their muscle early and get out to a 21 point lead in the first half and never look back.