ATHENS – The last time a quarterback with jersey number 11 made his Georgia debut, Aaron Murray led a crushing win over Louisiana-Monroe, starting a great career and …
Oh wait, that was Louisiana-Lafayette. Sorry.
So Greyson Lambert opens his Georgia career on Saturday against another hyphenated Sun Belt team from Louisiana. Three times in their history, the Bulldogs have easily handled Louisiana-Monroe, the most recent a 44-7 whomping early in the 2005 season.
Since then, the Warhawks – that’s their nickname, by the way – have had just one winning season, 2012, when they won eight games and made their program’s only bowl appearance. The program has trended downward since then, falling to six wins a year later and just four last year.
Of course a lot of those losses come because of ULM’s scheduling philosophy: Last year it lost at LSU, Kentucky and Texas A&M. This year it not only opens with Georgia, but goes to Alabama (the week before the Crimson Tide visit Athens.)
“I don’t understand why I didn’t get invited to the Southeastern Conference media days,” Louisiana-Monroe coach Todd Berry cracked.
Texas A&M did get a scare from the Warhawks last year, escaping with a 21-16 win. Kentucky and LSU handled the Warhawks better, winning by 34 and 31 points, respectively.
ULM dropped seven of its last eight games last year. But five of their losses were by a touchdown or less, as Mark Richt eagerly pointed out. Still, the program has been trending downward since an eight-win season in 2012, falling to six wins a year later and four last year.
Now, on to this year:
– What kind of defense will Lambert be facing? A good one against the pass, at least statistically. The Warhawks ranked 14th nationally in pass defense last year, holding opponents to 189.9 passing yards per game.
That comes with a slight asterisk, however, as the blowout nature of some games caused opponents to not need to pass as much. Thus the Warhawks slipped to 44th nationally when you change the stat to yards-per-pass attempt by the opponent.
– Still, the Warhawks do have a good pass rush, racking up 36 sacks alst year (tied for 16th nationally), and the front seven returns five senior starters.
– But Nick Chubb and company should carve up the defense. ULM gave up 186.3 rushing yards per game last year, ranked 86th nationally. Yes, the front seven is experienced, and nose tackle Gerrand Johnson is vowing not to be intimidated by Chubb. But if Louisville, which statistically had one of the nation’s best run defenses last year, was run over for 266 yards by Chubb, well then good luck to the Warhawks.
– ULB has a pass-happy offense, with four players catching at least 45 passes last year. (By comparison, Michael Bennett led Georgia with 37 catches.) Senior receiver Rashon Ceasar is the most proven player on offense. He caught 77 passes for 872 yards last year.
The problem is the run game: ULM ranked 126th in the nation (third-worst) last year with 69.5 rushing yards per game. A lot of that was accounting for sacks (ULM tied for giving up the third-most in the nation last year) and the Warhawks still only averaged 3.4 yards per carry.
Finally, the one thing the Warhawks should have in its favor is a lack of awe, at least the veterans. That’s where the scheduling philosophy helps. And while it hasn’t resulted in any program-lifting upsets yet, it’s not going away. Berry said they’re talking to Tennessee about a future matchup.
“I don’t really have control over scheduling here, because we’re going to take the highest paycheck, because we need the money,” Berry said. “That’s the way it is, and I kinda knew that coming into it. We’re not funded very well, as has been pretty well-documented. So we need those checks, and the people who tend to pay the most money are the ones that can’t get games. And for Georgia and Alabama both, or Oklahoma, or Texas A&M, Florida State, TCU – I could go on, all the ones we’ve played here in the past – they tend to pay the most money.”