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ULM (2-2) at Middle Tennessee (3-1)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 6, 3:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Floyd Stadium (30,788) -- Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Television: Sun Belt Network. Home Record: ULM 1-1, MT 1-1. Away Record: ULM 1-1, MT 2-0. Neutral Record: ULM 0-0, MT 0-0. Conference Record: ULM 0-0, MT 1-0. Series Record: Middle Tennessee leads, 9-3.
GAME NOTES: After a run through their non-conference slate that grabbed the nation's attention, the ULM Warhawks are set to begin their Sun Belt season as they visit Floyd Stadium to battle the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders.
ULM began its season with a shocking, 34-31, overtime victory over Arkansas and then came up just short of another huge upset in a 31-28 loss to Auburn. The Warhawks then fell, 47-42, against Baylor before getting back on track last week with a 63-10 rout of Tulane. ULM's total of 63 points was its highest since joining the FBS in 1994. Coach Todd Berry, now in his second season with the program, seems to have built last season's 4-8 squad into a contender for the SBC title.
Middle Tennessee has recovered from a season opening loss to McNeese State (27-21) of the FCS with three straight wins over Florida Atlantic (31-17), Memphis (48-30), and Georgia Tech (49-28). Last week's victory over the Yellow Jackets was the Blue Raiders' third of 2012 after they finished last season with just a 2-10 record. MT has allowed only one sack and is the most efficient passing team in the SBC through four games.
The Blue Raiders hold a 9-3 advantage in their all-time series with ULM. Although coach Rick Stockstill is 5-1 versus the Warhawks in his career, the lone loss came in ULM's 42-14 rout of MT in last season's encounter.
Despite facing three tough opponents from BCS conferences, ULM has the top scoring offense (41.8 ppg) and total offense (518.3 ypg) in the conference. The Warhawks were a middle of the road team offensively in 2011, but they have a made a big jump behind a breakout year from junior QB Kolton Browning.
The three-year starter is off to a sensational start with 1,174 yards and 11 touchdowns with just two interceptions in four games. Browning wasted no time making a statement this season, completing 42-of-67 passes for a career-high 412 yards and three touchdowns in ULM's upset of Arkansas. He added 253 yards and three more touchdowns in last week's rout of Tulane.
The Warhawks have three wideouts within the SBC's top ten in receiving yards. Senior Brent Leonard is the go-to-guy with 300 yards and two scores on 30 catches. Leonard has been able to get free much easier this season as Je'Ron Hamm, Tavarese Maye, and Colby Harper are demanding attention due to their collective capability of torching opposing secondaries for big gains on any given play.
Browning is definitely a pass-first QB, but he is also the team's second leading rusher with 189 yards on 48 carries. Jyruss Edwards began to transition from kick returner to feature back last season as a sophomore. Now playing halfback exclusively, Edwards is averaging 74.3 yards and a touchdown per contest.
ULM's defense allowed 36.3 points to its first three opponents (Arkansas, Auburn, and Baylor), but it had a dominating performance against the struggling Tulane Green Wave last week. Tulane was held to minus-nine rushing and 151 total yards in the contest.
The defense produced two touchdowns against Tulane as Darius Lively returned an interception to the house and Ray Stovall recovered a fumble in the end zone for his first career points.
ULM will have a much tougher test this week, as MT has scored 97 total points in its last two games. The Blue Raiders are shredding opponents with their rushing attack this season. Since losing in the season opener, MT has ran 144 rushing plays and attempted only 68 passes.
The decision to keep the ball on the ground is a no-brainer with Benny Cunningham lining up in the backfield. The senior was plagued with injuries last season, but he came back stronger than ever. MT rode Cunningham to the upset of Georgia Tech last week as he produced 217 yards and five touchdowns on 27 carries.
Drayton Calhoun and Jordan Parker are also featured in the Blue Raiders' attack and rank 11th and 12th in rushing in the SBC, respectively.
While the team clearly is dedicated to running the ball, it still has an able quarterback in Logan Kilgore. The Blue Raiders' signal caller has thrown for 917 yards and eight touchdowns with only a pair of picks.
Anthony Amos is leading MT in all receiving categories with 24 catches for 336 yards and four touchdowns. He ranks second in the league and 38th in the FBS in receiving yards per game.
Defensively, the Blue Raiders have been erratic. They gave up 298 rushing yards and 450 total yards in their season opening loss to McNeese State. None of MT's three FBS opponents have managed to match those numbers.
Over its last three games, MT has forced 10 turnovers and only five giveaways.
ULM may be one of the most highly regarded Sun Belt programs in recent history, but Middle Tennessee is not going to be a cakewalk. The Blue Raiders were killed by the Warhawks' rushing attack last season. This game is going to be very spirited as both sides appear to be aiming for the SBC's number one spot.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: ULM 38, Middle Tennessee 31
10/03 10:50:29 ET