Having used the last two weeks to prepare, the nation's top offensive team will be on display this Saturday afternoon, as the 20th-ranked Baylor Bears play host to the Warhawks of ULM.
This is the final non-conference game for Baylor, which will open Big 12 play on Oct. 5 at home versus West Virginia, but ULM still has to face Tulane at home next week before embarking on its Sun Belt Conference schedule against visiting Western Kentucky on Oct. 3.
ULM brings a 2-1 ledger into this contest, the team dropping a 34-0 decision at Oklahoma, another Big 12 school, in the season opener before winning its last two over FCS foe Grambling State (48-10), and Wake Forest (21-19).
While pleased with the fact that his team won a tough road game against an opponent from the ACC last week, ULM head coach Todd Berry spoke afterward about some concerns he had with what transpired.
"I've been through 31 years of coaching football and there's two things that I've learned. One is that we're going to make it interesting here. The other is that when we get out of our comfort level, we don't handle it very well. That's disappointing because we should be passed that. So obviously we're excited about the win, but there were so many mistakes and that's not like us. It's not what we do. So part of me is happy, but part of me is disappointed because we can be so much better than what we are."
Baylor has won its first two games in blowout fashion, whipping up on overmatched foes Wofford (69-3) and Buffalo (70-13). The win over the Terriers, a FCS squad, in the opener set a Floyd Casey Stadium record for most points in a game, and that was bested a week later in the 70-point effort against the Bulls, which marked the most a Baylor team has put up since 1929.
Baylor head coach Art Briles believes his team has performed up to expectations to this point.
"We're 2-0 and that's right where we wanted to be after two weeks. I was proud of the way our guys responded after an early drive by Buffalo. I think that's smart to do. Our job as a team was to try to destroy this team early. I thought when it was all said and done, they didn't even get on our side of the field for two or three possessions. I thought our guys responded extremely well, executed defensively about as well as we have in awhile."
ULM and Baylor are meeting for only the second time in history, with the Bears winning last year in Monroe, 47-42. The two teams combined for more than 1,100 yards in that contest.
Kolton Browning completed 43-of-68 passes (both career highs) for 315 yards and three TDs to lead the Warhawks to their narrow at Wake Forest last week. ULM ran a school-record 104 offensive plays in the win, and benefiting from Browning's exploits were Tavarese Maye and Rashon Ceaser, the tandem combining for 21 receptions, 162 yards and TD. Je'Ron Hamm added seven grabs for 72 yards. The ULM run game tallied 109 yards on the day, with Jyruss Edwards fighting his way to a team-high 61 yards on 17 carries.
The ULM defense shut down the Wake rushing attack to the tune of 15 net yards, so the Demon Deacons turned to the air where they amassed 325 yards and accounted for a pair of TDs. The Warhawks only came up with one turnover, but logged four sacks while allowing the home team just a 5-of-15 success rate on third-down conversion attempts. Isaiah Newsome was high man on the ULM defense with seven tackles, and Joel Gautney had two sacks and forced a fumble.
For the season, ULM is averaging 23 ppg while giving up 21 ppg, and it has been about 50 yards per game better than the opposition on average. Browning has hit the mark on 57.6 percent of his passes for 614 yards with six TDs and four interceptions, and Ceaser, while failing to find the end zone yet, heads the receiving corps with 21 grabs for 218 yards. As for the run game, it features a pair of guys who average better than six yards per carry in Edwards (28 carries, 193 yards, one TD) and DeVontae McNeal (16 carries, 103 yards, one TD), and the team as a whole churns out an average of 5.4 yards each time it decides to keep it on the ground, but has just two rushing scores to its credit.
Defensively, the Warhawks have been effective for the most part in limiting the opposition to 138 ypg and only one TD on the ground, and 192.3 ypg with six scores through the air. Stopping foes in the red zone has been an issue, with all eight trips there so far resulting in points, and while the unit has come up with eight sacks, only three turnovers have been recorded. Cameron Blakes heads the defense with 25 tackles, 10 more than his closest teammate, and he and Gautney have five sacks and six TFL between them.
Baylor sports the nation's top offense, scoring 69.5 ppg while churning out 736.5 ypg. In the rout of Buffalo, the Bears gained a school-record 781 yards and they improved to 14-1 at home since 2011. Bryce Petty leads the team from under center, and he is coming off a game in which he completed an ultra- efficient 13-of-16 passes for 338 yards and two TDs, adding a rushing score as well, helping the Bears amass an eye-popping 576 total yards in only 11 minutes with the starters in there. In addition to Petty's performance, Lache Seastrunk ran for 150 yards and three scores, and the Bears had a pair of 100- yard receivers in Tevin Reese (four rec., 130 yards, one TD) and Antwan Goodley (four rec., career-high 124 yards, one TD).
Buffalo had very little luck running the ball last week, tallying just 83 net yards on 49 attempts, instead relying on the pass (280 yards) to do what it could to hang around. Sam Holl led the Baylor defense with nine tackles, while Eddie lackey was close behind with eight. Bryce Hager scored on a 91-yard fumble return in the second quarter, and about the only negative from the Bears' perspective was that they committed 10 penalties for a loss of 125 yards.
Baylor is ranked second nationally in scoring defense (8.0 ppg) and 20th in total defense (298.0 ypg), and Lackey spearheads the unit with 17 tackles. As a collective unit, the Bears have logged 26 TFL with eight sacks, and they have come up with five takeaways.