The ULM Warhawks will be making their first appearance in the postseason since moving up to the FBS ranks in 1994, as they take on the Ohio University Bobcats in the 2012 Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Frank Solich's Bobcats looked like they may be the BCS buster from the MAC this season after a 7-0 start that put them into the Top-25. However, the momentum disappeared as injuries started sidelining key players, which led to just one win in the team's final five games. The Bobcats did manage to go undefeated in their non-conference slate, but their 4-4 league ledger left them an 8-4 record at the conclusion of the regular season. This will be the fourth-straight bowl appearance for the school, which is seeking to win back- to-back bowl games for the first time in program history.
Not only is this ULM's first bowl game, it is also the first winning season for the team as an FBS program. Head coach Todd Berry was named the Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year after guiding the squad to an 8-4 record that included an overtime win over Arkansas, and a pair of close losses to Auburn and Baylor.
"I'm very excited to win eight games. You learn in this profession that they are not always going to be pretty. They are very resilient," said Berry after the team's overtime win over FIU. "I wasn't happy with some of the plays, but happy with who they are as a whole. They just refuse to lose."
The Warhawks appeared to be the frontrunner to win the SBC before falling in back-to-back games versus Louisiana and Arkansas State. But they have since bounced back with two straight victories.
Despite the poor finish, Ohio was productive overall on offense this season by averaging 435.5 yards and 30.6 points per contest. However, it had a disappointing performance in its finale versus Kent State, as the Golden Flashes limited the Bobcats to 339 total yards and six points, while forcing a pair of turnovers.
Bowling Green head coach Dave Clawson was impressed with the Bobcats' offensive unit after their conference clash.
"They are a very good offense. It is not an accident that they are scoring 35 or 40 points per game. So we knew they were going to make plays."
Tyler Tettleton has been a steady leader under center for Ohio since being named the starter. Tettleton became the school's all-time leading passer against Bowling Green, as he has thrown for 2,513 yards and 16 TDs with only 3 interceptions in 11 games this season. He has shown accuracy by completing 62 percent of his attempts (214-of-345), and has 4 rushing scores as well.
The junior quarterback keeps the opposition guessing by spreading the ball around, as 10 different Bobcats have at least 100 receiving yards, with Donte Foster pacing the group with 629 yards and 7 TDs on 56 receptions.
The Bobcats have relied heavily on Beau Blankenship to move the chains this season. The junior tailback ranks ninth in the FBS and second in the MAC in rushing with 1,500 yards on 293 carries. Blankenship gained some steam near the conclusion of the regular season with 306 yards and 3 TDs on 50 carries over a two-game span against Ball State and Kent State, both of which are playing in bowl games as well.
The Bobcats defense was decent its last time out as it held Kent State to 377 yards and forced a pair of turnovers. The Golden Flashes were still able to win the game, 28-6, but the OU defense was not the reason for the wide margin on the scoreboard.
Junior linebacker Keith Moore has been the heart and soul of the defense, and he has recorded a team-best 89 total tackles, which is 29 more than anyone else on the roster. Neal Huynh is an aggressive lineman and has compiled 8 TFL. Jelani Woseley is the top playmaker with three of the team's 10 interceptions to his credit.
A big reason ULM suffered two setbacks in a row was the fact that starting QB Kolton Browning was unable to play due to injury. The junior signal caller had a remarkable season as he amassed 2,830 yards and 27 TDs to just 7 interceptions. Browning also rushed for a team-best 441 yards and 7 scores on 122 carries.
With the offense relying heavily on the production of Browning, it ranked 27th in the FBS in passing yards per game (296.7), but just 80th in rushing offense (146). The Warhawks managed to produce 35.5 ppg, as they set a new school record with 59 touchdowns this season. Of ULM's scores, 31 came via the pass, 24 on the ground, and the defense added 4 more.
Senior wideout Brent Leonard had a terrific campaign as he finished second in the Sun Belt with 1,042 yards and 10 touchdowns on 97 receptions. The former walk-on needs just two more catches to become the school's all-time leading receiver.
Je'Ron Hamm (862 yards, 6 TDs, 58 receptions) and Tavarese Maye (554 yards, 3 TDs, 52 receptions) are both big factors in the passing game for ULM.
The Warhawks have gone with a running back-by-committee approach since Jyruss Edwards (438 yards, 6 TDs) was lost for the season. Monterrell Washington (352 yards, 6 TDs) gets the majority of the work, although DaVontae McNeal (198 yards, 2 TDs) and Mitchell Bailey (125 yards, 2 TDs) are both involved.
The ULM defense (27.8 ppg, 407.3 ypg) has not played up to par with its offensive counterparts this season, but it ended the regular season with a terrific performance against FIU. The Warhawks totaled 17 tackles for loss, including 6 sacks, and they also recovered a pair of fumbles, one of which was returned 36 yards for a score by R.J. Young.
Young knows the team has a tough challenge in slowing down Blankenship.
"When the offense is one-dimensional, you can hone in on what they are trying to do," said Young. "Everything about our defense is about stopping the run, and then you can kind of tighten up the passing game."
Isaiah Newsome has 4 interceptions to go along with 8 passes defended and 55 total tackles. Young has 90 stops, an interception, and 3 fumble recoveries, while Ray Stovall (59 tackles) has made 13.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage.