Inside every man is two wolves, one good, one bad. Inside those two wolves are two more wolves. Inside those wolves there are even more wolves. Infinity wolves! Too many wolves!
Last year when ULM and Arkansas State met, it was a bit of a coming out party for two Red Wolves receivers, Jeff Foreman and Corey Rucker. With star wide receiver Jay Adams sidelined for the rest of the year, Rucker collected 310 yards and four touchdowns. Foreman tallied 144 yards on two touchdown. Logan Bonner and Layne Hatcher were both locked into the QB rotation, but it was Hatcher with the big numbers – and 326 yards five touchdown passes against a wobbly Warhawks defense. The future looked incredible that afternoon.
A year later, everything has radically changed. For example, Sun Belt football has grown from ten members to 14, built on the strength of SBC’s growing emergence as a premier Group of Five conference. More personally, neither head coach who presided over last year’s ULM/Arkansas State game is back for the next round. The Warhawks unceremoniously fired Matt Viator after a dispiriting winless season. Blake Anderson elected to move on from the Red Wolves for the head coach position at Utah State.
Both programs elected to fill their vacancies with practiced hands. The Warhawks went with Terry Bowden. The Red Wolves handed the reins to Butch Jones. Both teams had roster messes to fix. At the Sun Belt Media Day, Bowden conceded that the year would dedicated to rebuilding. Meanwhile, Jones spoke often of creating a culture.
The immediate dividends favor the Warhawks, who have balanced blowout losses to Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State with upset victories over Liberty and Troy. Meanwhile, the Red Wolves have regressed as deeply as a program can, winning only its season opener with FCS Central Arkansas.
When these two Sun Belt football founders meet in Monroe this Saturday, the opening spread will favor the Warhawks by 2 points.
A Tale of Two Quarterbacks
ULM is led by freshman QB Chandler Rogers, a multi-tool athlete who has struggled a bit since throwing 4 touchdowns in a win over South Alabama. The Red Wolves will likely start Hatcher, who’s thrown six interceptions the last two games.
Rogers jumped in behind center after Rhett Rodriquez was left injured with bruised internal organs sustained in a victory over Troy. After leading the Warhawks past Liberty and South Bama, Rogers was injured early in the game against Appalachian State. In his return against Texas State, Rogers was held to 262 yards and no passing scores (he did sneak one himself over the goal line). The Bobcats would win that game, a stigma that is difficult to endure physically, mentally and spiritually.
On the other side of the field, Hatcher is clearly working through some issues and demons (or maybe his demons’ issues). Two of his three picks against Appalachian State were run back for touchdowns. Many of his passes of late have been, well, off. The offensive line isn’t giving Hatcher much time to work, but the chemistry the sophomore QB once had with Rucker seems to have all but vanished.
Since battling with the Cajuns, Hatcher has put up a pair of stinkers, leading an offense that has had trouble scoring more than 20 points of late.
Does this mean we’ll see more of the fleet-footed Wyatt Begeal behind center? During his weekly press address, Coach Jones hinted that the freshman’s role will be increasing. “We’ll be increasing the packages that Wyatt Begeal is in. You’ll be seeing more of him.”
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Who’s the Big Bad Warhawk?
Andrew Henry joined the Warhawks as a Top 50 Junior College running back, and so far, the freshman had delivered a workman’s performance, dishing out 479 yards from 122 attempts. He’s usually good for about 80 yards. Double that against the Red Wolves on Saturday.
Also, look for senior defensive end Ty Shelby to provide the QB pressure. Shelby is among the conference’s leaders with 5.5 sacks, and Hatcher will likely see him in his grill the entire afternoon.
Who Must Summon His Good Wolf?
Obviously, Hatcher needs to treat the offensive line to an Olive Garden dinner, then hold a Come to Jesus meeting during the desserts. Without fleet feet of his own, and with no run game to keep the defense in check, Hatcher needs the time and space to create opportunities.
The offensive line may be the reason why we see more Begeal in the games ahead. The freshman is fast – he has a little Johnny Manziel in him. He can give opposing defenses something to worry about other than a smattering of passes.
Going Deep on the Two Deep
|QB||Layne Hatcher||Wyatt Begeal|
|RB||Alan Lamar||Lincoln Pare|
|TE||Reed Tyler||Emmanuel Stevenson|
|WR||Jeff Foreman||Adam Jones|
|WR||Corey Rucker||Reagan Ealy|
|WR||Te’Vailance Hunt||Dahu Green|
|LT||Andre Harris||Noah Smith|
|LG||Ethan Miner||Ernesto Ramirez|
|C||Jacob Still||Makilan Thomas|
|RG||Ivory Scott||Christian Hoz|
|RT||Wyatt Luebke||Avery Demmons|
|DE||Joe Ozougwu||Thurman Geathers|
|DE||Kivon Bennet||TW Ayers|
|DT||Sosaia Tuitavake||Quay Mays|
|DT||Vidal Scott||John Mincey|
|LB||Anthony Switzer||Cam Jeffery||or Melique Straker|
|LB||Caleb Bonner||Derrick Bean|
|LB||Jaden Harris||Jeffmario Brown||or Dane Motley|
|S||Elery Aldexander||Antonio Fletcher|
|S||Taylon Doss||Trevian Thomas|
|CB||Jarius Reimonenq||Denzel Blackwell|
|CB||Leon Jones||Samy Johnson|
|K||Blake Grupe||Aidan Ellison|
|KR||Marcel Murray||Lincoln Pare|
|PR||Johnnie Lang||Lincoln Pare|
Just Gimme The Prediction, You Half Wit
This isn’t a must win game for the Red Wolves – games are more an evaluation tool at this point. But the Warhawks have much on the line. With three games remaining, ULM still needs two victories to become Bowl eligible. That might be all the incentive the Warhawks need.