Texas is about to kickoff its 2009 campaign amid extremely high expectations among fans and perhaps more importantly, the team itself. In anticipation of the season opener with Lousiana-Monroe, Burnt Orange Beat spoke with Matt Wilson of Warhawk Nation to get his thoughts on the upcoming game and to provide some insight into the team he covers on a daily basis.
Q: The Sun Belt had some great moments in the 2007 and 2008 season with wins over BCS teams including Alabama, Missouri, Texas A&M, and Maryland. Do you think those victories helped earn the conference some respect? The Sun Belt Conference continues to make huge strides each season. Most college football fans don't realize that the conference is only about 8 years old now. To go along with those victories, the SBC has had some really close calls along the way. Texas fans remember Arkansas State from the 2007 season. The Warhawks blew a 26-7 lead over Arkansas last year giving up the go-ahead score with less than a minute remaining. Two point losses at Kansas and Kentucky in 2007 still haunt ULM fans. That said, I would answer "no" to your question. The reason is simple, the average football fan only follows their school or are familiar with the big conference schools.
Q: Specifically, with ULM and the win over Nick Saban and Alabama in 2007, how has that changed the outlook of the Warhawks? Does it still have a carryover effect today? The hype over Alabama has worn off for the die hard ULM fans, but it still gets mentioned by most media outlets as a reminder. To this date, it’s one of the biggest wins in the school’s history. Recruiting wise, I have noticed several prospects mention the victory over the Tide, which is a plus.
Q: The ULM team has 17 returning starters but are breaking in a new quarterback. Can this team be bowl eligible? Yes, this team can be bowl eligible. It starts by winning every home game. We have a new starting quarterback but he has plenty of live game reps so it's not like he will be taking his first college snap. Trey Revell has everything you look for in a QB - 6'5 210 with 4.6 speed. The biggest concern is can he handle the pressure? Quarterback play will determine if ULM goes bowling.
Q: Last year's team went 4-8 overall and 3-4 in conference. What are your expectations this season? ULM lost 3 big starters from last year’s team but other than that, everyone is back and that includes everyone on defense. If ULM can grasp this new 3-3-5 defense and make it work, 7-8 wins is a possibility. Of course, as mentioned before, quarterback play is crucial.
Q: It seems like the strength of the ULM team is on defense with DT Aaron Williams, DE Aaron Morgan, LB Cardia Jackson, and safeties James Truxillo, and Greg James. Is that true? Keep your eye on #51, MLB Cardia Jackson. He registered over 120 tackles as a junior and is always around the ball. At 6'2 and 240 pounds he brings a big punch. Many ULM fans would say Truxillo is the heart and soul of the defense. He is a fundamentally sound football player who missed almost all of 2008 with an ACL tear. With 11 career interceptions Greg James is known for baiting quarterbacks into bad decisions. It will be interesting to see how he does against the nation’s best in Colt McCoy.
Q: What do you consider the strength of the team? Why? Wide Receiver and Defensive Backs. ULM has three senior wide outs and two of them have basically started since they were true freshman. Sophomore Anthony McCall caught six touchdowns last season and gives ULM another big weapon.
Q: What do you consider the weakness of the team? Why? Defensive Line. Our starting three down lineman are some of the best but after that there is a depth issue. It's one big reason we switched to a 3-3-5 alignment.
Q: What native Texans are on the roster that Texas fans should keep an eye on? Former Garland WR J.J. McCoy (#1) had a big game against Arkansas last season and would like to show out in his home state. Stating junior TE Alvin Jordan hails from Mesquite, TX and sophomore WR Julian Griffin from Gladewater will look to contribute. Watch for #56, red shirt freshman Jonathan Gill from South Grand Prarie, is likely to start for the Warhawks on the offensive line.
Q: Are there any newcomers (transfers, JUCOs, or freshman) to watch out for? #25 running back Isaiah Newsome. He has really impressed the coaching staff and looks to be a freshman that will see playing time this season.
Q: Coach Weatherbie turned over both coordinator spots in the offseason. Tell us about the new co-OCs and the new DC and what we should expect to see from each? Defensively, Coach Weatherbie brought in Troy Reffett from New Mexico and his aggressive 3-3-5 defense. The defense looks to bring some kind of pressure on every play and shows a variety of different looks. Offensively, Coach Weatherbie calls most of the plays and will continue to do so. New O-line coach Vance Vice will assist in the run game play calling while quarterbacks coach Jonas Weatherbie (HC’s son) with the passing game.
Q: Are there any players who are out with injury? The Warhawks are entering this game injury free!
Q: What is the one area of the ULM team that you think might surprise Texas? I expect Texas to be ready and focused for ULM, especially after last year’s snuff in the NC game. If I had to pick one, I would say how physical our wide receivers will be. They can make some plays.
Players to watch on offense #22 Luther Ambrose - beat (USC’s) Joe McKnight in the 100 (10.1) yard dash when they were in high school and runs a 4.29/40. As a true freshman, he returned a kickoff for a touchdown and turned a simple dump pass into a 65-yard touchdown. He has jets. #3 Darrell McNeal - Swiss Army Knife for ULM. You will see him line up in the slot, in the backfield, returning kicks, and a surprise or two. #18 LaGregory Sapp - 6'3 205 5th year senior at wide out. Big physical WR with great hands. He can be a matchup problem for defensive backs.
Players to watch on defense #51 Cardia Jackson - He's just mean and will be everywhere #34 James Truxillo - Our swiss army knife on defense. He will line up all over the place. #2 Greg James - Looking to follow in the footsteps of current Carolina FS Chris Harris and Chicago Bear FS Kevin Payne as the next Warhawk to play in the NFL at the safety position.
Final Score Prediction Texas 45 ULM 21 The new 3-3-5 defense will confuse Texas early but the Longhorns will figure it out quickly and run away with this one, literally. Texas knows they can throw the football and will try and establish their run game. Depth will become an issue for ULM and the Longhorns know it.
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