By Shehan Jeyarajah
No. 20 Baylor football hosts its final non-conference game of the year against a familiar opponent in the University of Louisiana at Monroe at 3 p.m. at Floyd Casey Stadium Saturday. The Bears look to post a more impressive showing against ULM after squeaking out a 47-42 shootout win last season. Even in the hostile setting of Monroe, the Baylor win was a little too close for comfort.
Baylor comes into the game against ULM on a hot streak. The Bears have not lost a game since Nov. 10, 2012, against Oklahoma. Since that game, the Bears have won six straight games.
In the first two games this season, Baylor has been dominant offensively. The Bears have combined to beat opponents 139-16 through two games. The Bears rank at the top of college football in points per game, total offense per game, third in passing yards per game and eighth in rushing yards per game.
Junior quarterback Bryce Petty has led Baylor’s offense so far this season. Petty has thrown for 650 yards and four touchdowns in two games, despite never playing more than a drive in a third quarter. Heisman hopeful junior running back Lache Seastrunk has rushed for 261 yards on 28 carries with five touchdowns. His 9.4 yards per rush attempt ranks him top five among running backs in the country.
The Bears’ wide receiving corps has impressed early. Four separate receivers have caught touchdown passes of 50 yards or more, led by an 83-yard sprint by junior wide receiver Antwan Goodley. Senior receiver Tevin Reese leads the team with nine receptions, 227 total yards and two touchdowns.
Baylor’s defense has been surprisingly dominant this season. The Bears are second in the country in total defense and have held teams to only 8.0 points per game. The Bears defense has not allowed a single point after halftime this season. The defense has forced two or more turnovers in eight of its last nine games, including last week versus Buffalo. Under defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, Baylor is 17-2 when forcing two or more turnovers.
ULM comes into this game coming off the programs first ever win against an ACC team after defeating Wake Forest last weekend. The win was their second win of the season, after a win against Grambling State the week before. In the season opener, ULM lost to then No. 16 Oklahoma.
Senior quarterback Kolton Browning leads the ULM offense. Browning has thrown for 614 yards and six touchdowns through three games, including two straight games with three touchdowns. In the win against Wake Forest last week, Browning threw the ball 68 times. He currently ranks third in all of college football in pass attempts with 132. Browning is not efficient. ULM is 79th in the country in passing yards with only 215.7 yards a game.
ULM’s defense has held the last two opponents to under 30 points combined.
Last week, junior defensive end Joey Gautney was named College Sports Madness Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week after posting two sacks and a forced fumble. In its one true test, however, Oklahoma put up 34 points behind 305 rushing yards and three touchdowns from Travis Knight.
Baylor played ULM last season in Monroe in their third game of the season. The Bears won the game 47-42, but the score was much closer than Baylor would have liked. Nick Florence had to lead Baylor to a come from behind victory in the fourth quarter, as Baylor trailed 35-34 early in the fourth quarter. Baylor allowed 262 total rushing yards last season against ULM. Browning had 321 all-purpose yards for the Warhawks and three touchdowns. ULM posted four rushing touchdowns total.
This year, Baylor’s defensive line is a completely different animal than the one that struggled mightily against ULM last season. In the last three games, Baylor has posted 14 total sacks. Baylor also leads the nation in tackles for loss with 13.0 a game, led by sophomore defensive end Shawn Oakman and his 5.5 tackles for loss. Baylor has held opponents to 128.0 yards rushing per game despite playing two teams that run the ball constantly.
ULM caused problems for Baylor last season, but both teams are in a completely different place this year. Baylor’s defense is much improved from last season, and will look to make a statement by containing Browning and the ULM offense. ULM likely will have trouble finding an answer for Baylor’s offense. Bryce Petty and the offense are looking to use tempo to overpower the ULM defense. Barring a meltdown, Baylor’s offense will find a way to produce points against the Warhawks.
After the ULM contest, the Bears will have another bye week before opening Big 12 Conference play against West Virginia on Oct. 5 at Floyd Casey Stadium.