Kentucky enters tonight's 7:00 EST home tilt with the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks looking to push their record over the .500 mark for the first time in a month. Coming off an inspiring 21-14 come-from-behind road victory at Auburn last weekend, UK (3-3, 1-3) figures to have confidence and momentum on their side. The Warhawks, though, aren't exactly Miami (OH). They enter tonight's Commonwealth Stadium contest at 4-2, and a league-leading 3-0 in the Sun Belt Conference.
With UK heading into a stretch of four straight games they should be favored (the 'Cats are favored tonight by 14 points), it's obviously important that the 'Cats continue to maintain focus, but for those battling the demons of complacency, a come-to-Jesus talk with a Wildcat possessing a long memory will result in a history lesson on UK's 42-40 near disastrous defeat to this same Warhawk team in 2006. Yeah, that team: Andre Woodson', Keenan Burton, Wesley Woodyard, Rafael Little, etc, etc. So, taking lightly this Sun Belt Conference member will very likely translate into a game similar to last season's nerve-rattling win over Middle Tennessee ... yet another Sun Belt Conference member.
Over the last three season's, Charlie Weatherbie, the Warhawks veteran coach, has competed very nicely with ULM's SEC opponents -- In 2007 ULM beat Alabama 21-14 (temporarily causing the state to enter into a period of mourning). And to go along with the near win at UK in 2006, last year ULM lost only 28-27 at Arkansas.
In ULM's offense, Kentucky will encounter an attack based on the spread-option ... with a twist; ULM presents the offense with lots of misdirection and motion. Rich Brooks had this to say about the unusual Warhawk offense:
"Offensively they totally mess with your mind. They false key. The pull linemen and run the ball away from where they're pulling them to. All your principles that you teach on defense are out the window in a game like this."
Adding additional question marks to the UK's defensive decision-makers is the absence of ULM starting quarterback Trey Revell. Revell injured his thumb in ULM's 16-10 victory against Arkansas State 11 days ago. He'll be replaced by redshirt freshman Cody Wells.
So without further time-wasting, here is the Warhawk team that UK must put away early:
Warhawk Offensive Personnel
Cody Wells: 6'0", 190 lb redshirt freshman quarterback -- Wells has played in only two games this season, completing seven of 13 passes for 76 yards and one touchdown. After replacing Revell in the Warhawks' game versus Arkansas State, Wells was 5-9 for 67 yards.
In the first five-and-half games of 2009, Revell orchestrated the ULM offense by throwing for 1,124 and eight touchdowns on 81-140 passing (57.9%). He's also proved to be an exceptionally talented runner, rushing 50 times for 194 yards (3.9 yards per carry), and three touchdowns. Wells played well in his relief effort last week, so he comes into Commonwealth with some confidence. He's highly mobile, which fits nicely into the offensive schemes the Warhawks employ.
Frank Goodin: 5'9", 203 lb junior running back -- The Warhawks top ball-carrier, Goodin has rushed 110 times of 558 yards (5.1 ypc), and nine touchdowns. He's also caught six passes for 48 yards (8.0 yards per reception).
Versus Florida International earlier in the year, Goodin ran 19 times for 163 yards and three touchdowns. He's a dangerous runner, possessing both speed and power.
Rodney Lovett: 5'9", 200 lb junior running back -- Lovett has carried the ball 38 times for 147 yards (3.9 ypc), and one touchdown.
Last season against Arkansas Lovett rushed 17 times for 66 yards.
Darrell McNeal: 6'0", 220 lb senior wide receiver -- McNeal has made 24 catches for 360 yards (15.0 yards per reception) and four touchdowns. He also returns punts for the Warhawks; 14 returns for 52 yards (3.7 yards per return).
McNeal has accumulated over 1,600 receiving yards in his career, and he will at times be called upon to take the direct snap out of the "Wildcat" formation. He recorded four rushing touchdowns last season out of the "Wildcat," but has yet to score on the ground this season. Earlier in the year versus Florida International, McNeal made six catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
LaGregory Sapp: 6'3", 209 lb fifth-year senior wide receiver -- Sapp has 18 catches for 336 yards (18.7 ypr), and one touchdown.
The deep threat receiver made seven catches for 96 yards earlier this year in a game versus Florida Atlantic.
Luther Ambrose: 5'10", 175 lb sophomore wide receiver -- A triple-threat in every sense of the term, Ambrose has make 14 catches, good for 207 yards (14.8 ypr) and one touchdown, to go along with 13 carries for 121 yards (9.3 ypc) and another touchdown. Not satisfied with double-duty, Ambrose also returns kick-offs; 19 returns for 425 yards (22.4 yards per return).
In ULM's first game of the year versus then-No. 2 Texas, Ambrose recorded 207 all-purpose yards (receptions, rushes, returns). Ambrose is another weapon utilized in an unorthodox manner; UK must be ready for him to receive the ball both through the air and on the ground.
Alvin Jordan: 6'2", 253 lb junior tight end -- Jordan has made 13 catches for 100 yards (7.7 ypr), and one touchdown.
Warhawk Defensive Personnel
Cardia Jackson: 6'2", 230 lb senior linebacker -- The Warhawks leading tackler with 52 on the year (34 solo), the First Team All-Sun Belt Conference member is regarded as ULM's defensive stalwart. He's also recorded two tackles for loss, and two pass breakups.
In 2008, Jackson averaged 10.6 tackles per game, racking up 18 against Ole Miss. In 2006 versus UK, he made nine tackles.
Aaron Morgan: 6'4", 235 lb senior defensive end -- The Second Team All-Sun Belt performer has made 30 tackles (25 solo) with a team-leading 9.0 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He's also had six quarterback hurries.
This season, Morgan has two, two sack games, versus Arizona State and Texas Southern.
Darius Prelow: 6'1", 205 lb sophomore defensive back -- Prelow has made 38 tackles (31 solo), one tackle for loss, and seven pass breakups.
Josh Thomas: 6'2", 228 lb senior cornerback -- Thomas has 38 tackles (30 solo), two tackles for loss, two sacks and three pass breakups.
Thomas, who has started 30 straight games in his college career, recorded a season-high six tackles versus UK in 2006.
Troy Evans: 6'2", 252 lb sophomore defensive end -- Evans in 2009 has made 16 tackles (10 solo), four tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, three pass breakups, and three quarterback hurries.
Evans is the reigning SBC Player of the Week after forcing two fumbles late in ULM's 16-10 victory over Arkansas State 11 days ago.
Grant Clayton: 5'7", 160 lb freshman kicker -- Clayton, who handles the kick-off duties, has kicked-off 32 times, recording only one touchback, but opponents are averaging only 20.5 yards per return.
Louisiana-Monroe boasts the 12th ranked rush defense in the nation, allowing only 93.3 yards rushing per game ... Last week versus Arkansas State, ULM held ASU to a .9 yards per carry average ... In a 38-14 loss to Arizona State, the Warhawks held the Sun Devils to only 3.1 yards per carry ... ULM is a plus 2 on the season in turnover margin, but were a minus 3 in their loss to Arizona State ... ULM beat Texas Southern 58-0 in the seasons second game ... The Warhawks average 30.7 points per game, but give up 27.8 points ... ULM has more than doubled their opponents rush yards; 1,167 (4.6 ypc) to 560 (2.8 ypc) ... ULM converts 42% of their third down opportunities, but their opponents convert 43% ... In red zone chances, ULM has scored 83% of the time (24-29), but their opponents have scored 91% of the time (20-22) ... The Warhawks have also given up a high number of touchdowns in the red zone, 17 of 22 (77%) ... ULM is off to their best start since 1993 ... ULM quarterbacks have been sacked only five times all year ... The Warhawks have recorded a healthy 34 pass breakups.
In his seventh year at Louisiana-Monroe, Weatherbie (29-44) has done what he's done twice before: Turn around a moribund football program -- As coach at Utah State, he took the Aggies to their first bowl game in 15 years. In his first season as head coach at Navy, Weatherbie went 9-3 with an Aloha Bowl win. This, coming on the heels of 15 straight losing season for the Midshipmen. He's also the first coach in Navy history to record back-to-back winning seasons --Weatherbie took over a ULM program in 1993 coming off a one win season, and in 2005 won the Sun Belt Conference championship, the Warhawks' first conference title since 1992.
Weatherby will be a formidable adversary for Rich Brooks tonight, and with the uncertainty surrounding the ULM quarterback situation, look for some out-of-the-box strategy from the cagey veteran coach.
Kentucky's top running threat is expected to play tonight. Locke, coming off an MCL strain suffered last week at Auburn, practiced lightly this week. Alfonso Smith, coming off a thumb, injury appears to be near 100%. UK will need both backs healthy in their effort to quash any confidence surges from the visiting Warhawks.
Ideally, Locke will rest in the second half of tonight's game, with Smith and Moncell Allen taking over the ball-carrying duties.
Defensively, UK must "stay home," and stay true to their assignments. ULM will use a variety of offensive sets, mixing in the spread-option with the "Wildcat." But, UK has the better athletes, and if the 'Cats attack and wrap-up the way they did last week, holding the Warhawks well below their season scoring average should be an attainable goal.
Offensively, it's the immovable object (ULM rush D) against a surging 'Cat ground attack. After posting the highest team rush total (282 yards) since Bill Curry was calling the plays, UK looks to continue its ground dominance, utilizing Randall Cobb out of the "Wildcat." But, with freshman quarterback Morgan Newton once again earning the start, look for UK to open up the passing game against a Warhawk team that allows 262.5 yards passing per game.
Kentucky 34 ULM 17
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!