Idaho (0-0) at ULM (1-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 6, 7 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Malone Stadium (30,427) -- Monroe, Louisiana. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Idaho 0-0, ULM 1-0. Away Record: Idaho 0-0, ULM 0-0. Neutral Record: Idaho 0-0, ULM 0-0. Conference Record: Idaho 0-0, ULM 0-0. Series Record: Idaho leads, 3-2.
GAME NOTES: The Idaho Vandals will make their Sun Belt Conference debut on Saturday night when they venture to Malone Stadium to take on the ULM Warhawks.
Idaho was supposed to kick off its season last weekend at Florida, but heavy rains and lightning postponed the contest. The game was originally delayed for nearly three hours before kicking off at 9:50, but shortly after the unsafe conditions forced the game to be called. The teams will need to decide if they want to make up the contest on the one open Saturday the two share (Oct. 25) or cancel it altogether.
ULM got its season started off on a strong note on Aug. 28 with an impressive come-from-behind home win over Wake Forest, 17-10, successfully avenging a loss to the Demon Deacons suffered last September (21-19). The Warhawks are attempting to move to 2-0 at Malone Stadium, which would match their home win total from all of last season (2-3).
Idaho holds a 3-2 lead in the all-time series with its new conference rival.
Few teams in the nation were worse offensively last season than Idaho, as it put up only 18.2 ppg (115th in the country) and 369.1 ypg. While plenty of adjustments still need to be made in order to improve, the unit will benefit from the return of seven starters, including four along the offensive line.
Chad Chalich was far from impressive during his seven games before going down for the season with an injury, passing for 1,224 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions, but his completion percentage (.614) was much better than his replacements Taylor Davis (.462) and Josh McCain (.481). Redshirt freshman Matt Linehan is also expected to see snaps under center this season.
Dezmon Epps' accomplishments at receiver last season were especially impressive given his team's poor play and opposing defenses keying in on him. He corralled 79 passes for 980 yards and four scores and figures to be in for a similar campaign as a senior. Deon Watson (24 receptions, 279 yards, TD) also brings some experience out wide.
James Baker (593 yards, six TDs) has moved on, but his 4.1 ypc won't be too hard to replace. Expect Jerrel Brown (216 yards) and Richard Montgomery (196 yards, two TDs) to get plenty of opportunities to break out.
As poorly as the offense performed, the main reason for the Vandals' struggles in 2013 was due to the atrocious play of the defense, as the unit ranked dead- last in the FBS in scoring defense, allowing an eye-popping 46.8 ppg.
Hopefully a nice mix of experienced players (six returning starters) and fresh blood will call for an improvement this time around. Top tackler Marc Millan will anchor the unit once again after collecting 91 tackles, 11.0 TFL and four sacks while starting all 12 games. Eric Tuipulotu (54 tackles, INT), Maxx Forde (63 tackles, 9.0 TFL, 5.5 sacks), Bradley Njoku (89 tackles, INT) and Jayshawn Jordan (77 tackles, INT) also return.
After trailing 10-0 at the half, ULM scored 17 unanswered points after intermission, capped off by a nine-yard touchdown run by Pete Thomas with 3:37 left in the fourth quarter to lift the team to victory.
Thomas, making his first start in a Warhawk uniform after transferring from NC State, had a lackluster passing performance, completing 23-of-41 throws for 189 yards, although he played turnover-free football and orchestrated the 12- play, 66-yard final drive.
Centarius Donald was a workhorse in the backfield, turning 26 carries into 117 yards. Tyler Cain (11 carries, 46 yards) was also an important piece to the successful rushing attack.
Kenzee Jackson emerged as Thomas' favorite target, hauling in six passes for 83 yards.
While the Warhawks' offense barely did enough to capture the victory, the defense stole the show. The unit held Wake Forest to only five first downs and a meager 94 yards of total offense, its best performance since allowing 63 yards to Northwestern State in 2005. The Deacons' only touchdown came on a blocked punt return.
Mitch Lane shifted the momentum of the game late in the third quarter when his 31-yard interception return for a touchdown tied the game at 10-10. He also recorded a team-high six tackles and earned the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week award.
The defense sacked Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford seven times, while Jacob Tyson collecting a pair.
ULM is in position to be one of the conference's better teams this season, while Idaho still has a long way to go after winning a total of four games in the past three seasons. Expect the Warhawks to make easy work of the Vandals in this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: ULM 38, Idaho 17
09/03 11:08:04 ET