Baylor football takes on ULM at 7 tonight on ESPN

Photo Illustration by Matt Hellman | Lariat Photo Editor

By Krista Pirtle
Sports Editor

What was seen as a cupcake before conference play five years ago could turn into a tough pill to swallow as the Bears play their first road game of the season against a team playing for the first time at home after shocking the nation: the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

“It is their first game coming back from beating Arkansas and taking Auburn into overtime,” Baylor head coach Art Briles said. “Their fans are really excited, as they should be. It’ll be good for us too, because throughout the Big 12 we go to some really tough venues. We’ll have to tighten up our focus a little bit, and it’ll give us a good opportunity to bond prior to some of the road games we have in the Big 12.”

The War Hawks have dubbed the match-up their “white out” game, as tickets are hard to come by. A home crowd close to its 30,427 maximum will provide a tough environment for the visiting Bears.

“We can’t worry about the crowd, and we just have to play the type of game where we make one play at a time,” senior wide receiver Terrance Williams said.

Williams, with 134 reception yards so far this season, is No. 3 in the nation.

Senior quarterback Nick Florence has many more options to throw the ball to, but after last week’s game, it’s apparent that he poses a threat on the ground as well.

“I was thinking if I could get to the three, I’m jumping,” Florence said. “He got me at the five. If I had a yard or two more space on the sideline I might’ve made it too. We got it down, and we scored off of that drive and it was big. I made it 60, Glasco (Martin) got the last five. I’m happy for him. Without Levi (Norwood) and Lanear (Sampson) on the outside, it wouldn’t have happened. It was a great job by them and a great job by the line doing their part.”

Baylor’s spread offense is similar to the style run by ULM, which is led by junior quarterback Kolton Browning.

So far this season, Browning has completed 70 passes for 649 yards, six touchdowns and an interception.

While he may look like strictly a pocket passer, the Baylor defensive line will have its hands full trying to contain him, as he has run for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

“He’s kind of uncanny. He’s on fire. He’s hot right now, and he’s really doing a good job,” Briles said. “He’s been a good athlete, he was a three-sport guy in high school along with baseball and basketball. He’s just got a way of being an extender – he just extends plays. For a lot of people [the play] may be over, but for him, they’re still alive. He’s certainly a catalyst offensively, and they do a good job with him scheme-wise.”

Offensively, the team is No. 28 in the nation recording 480 yards per game.

Browning’s top target, senior wide receiver Brent Leonard, has reeled in 18 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown.

Baylor’s defense has been inconsistent this season, allowing its opponents 507 and 411 total offensive yards.

The one thing the defense has been consistent with, however, is forcing turnovers, three against SMU and four against Sam Houston State.

One person you have not seen much of this season is sophomore punter Justin Manton.

Because the War Hawks seldom punt the ball for the final down, ULM is 9-11 on fourth-down conversions. The War Hawks have the same mentality for the game as a whole, not letting up until the game is over.

Last weekend at Auburn, down 28-14 going into the fourth quarter, ULM scored a pair of touchdowns to force the ball game into overtime.

The War Hawks lost in overtime due to an Auburn field goal, but what ULM proved to the nation was that it is not into moral victories but real ones.

This team believes that it can win games that a majority of the nation believes it cannot.

“Their balance offensively, schemes offensively – they do a great job if they turn the pass and run,” Briles said. “Like I mentioned, Kolton [Browning] certainly keeps everything alive for them from that standpoint. They’re not by-the-book, and I think for a good football team in order to have the chance to be great, you have to have an edge, and you have to be different.”

“I don’t always think they go by-the-book, so [ULM head coach] Todd [Berry]’s done a good job. So, they’ve got a little bit of an edge, and I like the way they play. They play with a little bit of reckless abandon on defense, they really run to the football and they play with a tremendous amount of effort and attitude. They’re fighting hard to really be a good football team.”