The ULM offense struggled to find a rhythm in their 2017 home opener as they were downed by the Southern Miss Golden Eagles 17-28.
The Warhawks had 16 days between games, and the rust showed early. ULM received the opening kickoff and was held to a 3 and out.
The defense didn't fare much better as the Eagles took 9 plays to go 68 yards for a touchdown and take the early lead.
The game looked like it would be a defensive battle during the first quarter as both teams struggled to gain yards. That is, until RB Derrick Gore took over the game. Gore had 59 yards rushing on ULM's game-tying scoring drive. The Eagles had yet to allow a team to rush for 100 yards on the season, but the ULM offensive line looked to assert some dominance early.
Unfortunately for the Warhawks, Southern Miss would answer quickly with a 6 play, 74-yard drive to take a 14-7 lead.
Garrett Smith led the offense down the field in an attempt to answer later in the quarter as the Warhawks had a first and goal on the 1. The Southern Miss defense held firm on 3 straight rushing attempts to hold the Warhawks to a field goal.
Southern Miss again answered the ULM score with another touchdown drive of their own with some big pass plays to take a 21-10 lead into the halftime break.
ULM looked to gain the momentum midway through the third quarter. After both defenses traded stops, Caleb Evans pulled the ball on a read option and took it 67 yards to the house to pull the Warhawks within 4.
Caleb Tucker had a sack on the following drive to give the Eagles 2nd and 20 from their own 28. ULM had the momentum and were flying around the field. However, the Eagles gained 16 yards on 3rd and 17 and converted a 4th and 1 before eventually scoring a 42 yard touchdown as Southern Miss scored for the final time in the game.
That critical 3rd down conversion and score took a lot of energy out of the Malone Stadium faithful.
PROS AND CONS
1) TURNOVER BATTLE: After having 6 fumbles in their week one game at Memphis, ULM only had one turnover on the night when Marcus Green muffed a punt. The Warhawks went even in turnovers as True Freshman Corey Straughter picked off Kwadra Griggs for his first collegiate interception.
2) PENALTIES: ULM was only called for 5 penalties for 54 yards. They didn't make too many mistakes in that facet of the game.
3) DEFENSIVE PRESSURE: Caleb Tucker, Donald Louis, and Kerry Starks were all able to get pressure on the quarterback, especially in the second half.
4) OFFENSIVE IDENTITY: Caleb Evans said in the post-game press conference "We are still trying to find an offensive identity, and we need to find it fast." The Warhawks struggled to pass the ball tonight but found some success in the run game. They have to figure out a way to get the passing game going or teams will load up the box and stop the run.
5) 50/50 BALLS: Coach Viator made reference post-game that the receivers just didn't come up with enough of the 50/50 balls. The Warhawks are going to have to find a way to win some of those small battles to help the quarterbacks build confidence.
6) TACKLING: Southern Miss's Ito Smith is one of the best Running Backs ULM will see all season and will make a lot of guys miss, but many members of the secondary got beat where they should have made the tackle tonight.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: DERRICK GORE had 96 yards rushing on 18 attempts and added a 7 yard reception. He looked dominant at parts of the game.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: CALEB TUCKER was a menace in the backfield. He had two tackles for loss and added a sack.
ULM returns to action next Saturday, September 23rd as they open Sun Belt Conference play by travelling to in-state rival Ragin' Cajuns.