ULM (6-3) at Arkansas State (6-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, Nov. 8, 7 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Liberty Bank Stadium (30,406) -- Jonesboro, Arkansas. Television: ESPN U. Home Record: ULM 2-2, ASU 3-1. Away Record: ULM 4-1, ASU 3-2. Neutral Record: ULM 0-0, ASU 0-0. Conference Record: ULM 4-1, ASU 4-1. Series Record: Arkansas State leads, 19-14.
GAME NOTES: With first place in the Sun Belt Conference on the line, the ULM Warhawks and the Arkansas State Red Wolves square off on Thursday night in Jonesboro.
ULM had won five straight games heading into last week's matchup with rival Louisiana as it held sole possession of first place in the standings, but following a 40-24 loss it promptly fell into a three-way tie with Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee for the top spot. Despite the setback, the Warhawks are bowl eligible for the third time in their FBS history, although it has never actually earned a bowl bid.
Arkansas State got off to a sluggish 2-3 start to the season, but it has caught fire in recent weeks, winning four in a row over conference opponents to shoot up the standings. With a 37-19 win at North Texas last week, the reigning Sun Belt champion Red Wolves became bowl eligible for the fifth time in the last eight season.
In 33 all-time meetings between these two schools, Arkansas State holds a 19-14 advantage and it has won 11 of the 16 matchups in Jonesboro.
ULM is the highest-scoring team in the Sun Belt (37.6 ppg), but it suffered a huge blow last week when Kolton Browning needed to leave the game in the first half with a lower body injury.
Browning had been the league's best quarterback prior to the injury, racking up 2,228 passing yards, 426 rushing yards, and 28 total touchdowns. Browning's status for the rest of the season remains uncertain, but it seems highly unlikely he'll be able to return to the lineup on a short week. Cody Wells (18-of-31, 209 yards, two TDs, two INTs) showed some promise last week in relief, but he simply does not bring the same dynamic playmaking ability to the table as Browning.
Brent Leonard (717 yards) hopes he can be a reliable safety valve for Wells as he leads the conference in both receptions (62) and touchdowns (eight). With Tavarese Maye (439 yards, three TDs) and Je'Ron Hamm (563 yards, four TDs) rounding out the receiving corps, at least the Warhawks know they have strong playmakers on the outside to help bail out their inexperienced quarterback.
With Jyruss Edwards (438 yards, six TDs) out for the season with an injury, Monterrell Washington (263 yards, five TDs) has become the primary back, although he put up just 41 yards on 12 carries a week ago.
The explosive offense has been able to help shield a lackluster defense (28.4 ppg, 391.7 ypg) in most games this season, but the unit will need to step up down the stretch as the offense is expected to take a step backwards. The unit had no answer for the Cajuns last week, giving up more than 600 yards.
Henry Mitchell made a career-high 16 tackles and forced a fumble against Louisiana. Linebacker R.J. Young has made plays all over the field this season with 59 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, and an interception. Despite its rather average production, the ULM defense is the conference's best at forcing turnovers with 12 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries.
Arkansas State is one of the few offenses in the Sun Belt that can keep up with ULM, as it ranks in the top three in the conference in both scoring (34 ppg) and yardage (460.1 ypg). After an outstanding performance last week against North Texas, the unit is averaging 39.3 ppg during its four-game win streak.
Ryan Aplin was nearly flawless in last week's win, completing 25-of-32 passes for 328 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions for his 16th career 300-yard game. One of the most decorated quarterbacks in conference history is having another outstanding campaign with 2,188 yards on 65.2 percent completions, tossing 14 touchdowns to just two interceptions. He's also added 250 yards and four scores rushing.
Freshman receiver J.D. McKissic is coming off a career-high 10 receptions, which adds on to an already outstanding season (60 receptions, 609 yards, three TDs). Josh Jarboe has also been productive on the outside with 40 catches for 481 yards and three scores.
David Oku had excelled as the Red Wolves' primary back, gaining 698 yards and nine touchdowns while adding 15 receptions for 100 yards to his stat line. Rocky Hayes has seen a limited number of carries in his freshman year (31), but he's made the most of them with 375 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The Arkansas State defense has not been noticeably strong (27.6 ppg, 387.1 ypg), but it held an FBS opponent to under 20 points for the first time this season in last week's win.
Nathan Herrold has been one of the best linebackers in the conference with 83 tackles, six tackles for loss, an interception, and a fumble recovery. The defense has difficulty getting after the quarterback with just 13 sacks, but it makes up for it in the turnover battle with nine interceptions and eight fumble recoveries.
It will be interesting to see how ULM responds without its leader for an entire game, but if the second half of last week's loss was any indication, the results will not be what it is hoping for. The Warhawks have been strong on the road with a 4-1 record, but without Browning leading the charge, they will be hard-pressed to take down an experienced and balanced team like Arkansas State.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arkansas State 34, ULM 24
11/07 10:36:40 ET