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2022 Alabama Football Early Opponent Preview: No. 11 Louisiana Monroe

BamaCentral takes a long first look at each of the Crimson Tide's upcoming opponents this season, in order from the bottom to the top.

Louisiana Monroe provided one of the rare dark moments for Alabama in the Nick Saban era when it upset the Crimson Tide, 21-14, inside Bryant-Denny Stadium during the 2007 season. While Alabama delivered its payback with a 34-0 victory eight years later, the shocking upset will still be a topic when the two teams meet this fall.

Just don’t expect a repeat performance from the Warhawks when Week 3 rolls around.

After inheriting a winless ULM team last year, Terry Bowden led the Warhawks to a 4-8 record in his first season as head coach. Surprise victories over Liberty and South Alabama even saw ULM pull to 4-3 before dropping its final five games of the season.

Bowden has the pieces to build on his turnaround as the Warhawks return the majority of last season’s playmakers on offense as well as some key veterans on defense. While that mixture could be enough to compete for bowl eligibility, ULM’s trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala., likely won’t result in one of the six wins it needs to reach that goal.

Offense

On a positive note, ULM returns its starting quarterback in Chandler Rogers as well as its top two receivers, Boogie Knight and Will Derrick, and its top two rushers, Andrew Henry and Malik Jackson. However, that group helped make up an offense that ranked No. 113 in the nation in yards per game (324.5).

Rogers completed 62.6% of his passes for 1,311 yards and nine touchdowns with three interceptions while starting seven games over 12 appearances. He figures to take over as the sole starter behind center heading into his sophomore season.

Knight should once again be ULM’s top target after recording 45 receptions for 588 yards and three touchdowns last year. Henry, who ran for a team-high 482 yards and four touchdowns last year, should once again be the Warkhawks’ top option out of the backfield. Meanwhile, Jackson, who ran for 451 yards and three touchdowns last season, will return to his natural position in the slot.

A big part of ULM’s offensive struggles last season came from offensive line play as it surrendered 3.17 sacks per game. That inevitably led to an equally bad third-down offense that converted first downs just 34.39% of the time.

If the Warhawks are going to improve their protection this season, they’ll have to do it without left tackle Willie Tyler, who transferred to Rutgers. ULM does return three starting linemen in Victor Cutler (seven starts last season), Peyton Dunn (10 starts) and Keydrell Lewis (11 starts). It also brought in JUCO transfer Zarian McGill from Jones College to man the center position.

Defense

ULM’s defense also didn’t do itself many favors last season. The Warhawks were tied for No. 110 in the nation in scoring defense (33.5 points allowed per game) and ranked No. 114 in total defense (451.6 yards allowed per game). Things were especially rough in the secondary as ULM tied for the nation’s fifth-worst pass defense, allowing 289.2 yards per game through the air.

The Warhawks lose their top tackler in Travieon Webster but return former Jacksonville State transfer Zach Woodard who recorded 89 tackles, including nine for a loss and 3.5 sacks last season. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound graduate should lead ULM’s defense from the Mike linebacker position while junior Quae Drake, 6-foot-1, 234 pounds, provides a veteran presence on the outside.

While ULM loses its sacks leader in defensive end Ty Shelby, its biggest strength on defense might still come up front as graduate student Caleb Thomas (6-0, 311) and safety Quincy Ledet Jr. (6-2, 297) offer a solid pairing at defensive tackle.

The secondary could remain a weakness as the Warhawks saw cornerback Josh Newton transfer to TCU and safety Nick Roberts leave for SMU. Junior safety Jabari Johnson is back after finishing third on the team with 56 tackles last season. However, there isn’t much certainty among the other defensive backs on the roster.

Schedule

ULM will have already had a taste of Power Five competition by the time it faces Alabama. The Warhawks open their season with a trip to Texas in a game that should preview how much of a fight they’ll put up against the Crimson Tide two weeks later.

A home opener against Nicholls State sandwiches the matchups against college football bluebloods. However, ULM certainly didn’t make life easy on itself early in the year.

Alabama will be fresh off its own trip to Texas when it faces ULM in Week 3. While the Warhawks are going to need a lot of help to pull off any kind of an upset, they might be able to take advantage of a Crimson Tide team that still has its mind on the week before.

Outlook

Barring a massive lack of focus from Alabama, this game should get out of hand fairly quickly. Despite their returning playmakers on offense, the Warhawks simply don’t have the firepower to do much damage against what could be the best Crimson Tide defense in the Saban era. Meanwhile, reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young and Alabama’s reloaded receiving corps should have a field day against what figures to be a weak secondary. 

Louisiana-Monroe (ULM) graphic

The Game

Date: Sept. 17

Time: 3 p.m. CT

TV: SEC Network

Location: Bryant-Denny Stadium

Series: 1-1

Last meeting: 2015, Alabama won 34-0

The Team 

The Coach: Terry Bowden (second season, 4-8; overall 26th season, 179-122-2)

Offensive Coordinator: Matt Kubik

Defensive Coordinator: Vic Koenning

2021 Record: 4-8

2021 Rankings: Total offense No. 115; Total defense No. 112

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Returning Starters: 12, including eight on offense.

Players to Watch: LB Zach Woodard, T Victor Cutler, WR Boogie Knight (and yes, we would have listed him regardless because of his name, but he could end being an all-conference player in the Sun Belt this season). Knight played for Terry Bowden at Akron and followed him. He led the Warhawks with 588 receiving yards on 45 catches in 2021. The Warhawks' strongest position this season may be wide receiver.

Top Newcomer: Senior Tyrone Howell transferred in from Kansas State, where he had seven catches for 98 yards last season after arriving from Hutchinson Community College. The 6-3 wide receiver is a tough matchup for any team.

Biggest Questions: Let's just say it's usually not a good sign when the best player on the team may be the kicker, Calum Sutherland. Coming off an 0-10 season, Bowden added 62 new players last year and won four games. Nevertheless, it's going to take a while to turn things around. ULM will be picked by most to finish last in the Sun Belt, but almost certainly won't finish there. 

The School

Location: Monroe, Louisiana

Founded: 1931

Enrollment: 8,489

Nickname: Warhawks

Colors: Maroon and gold

Mascot: Ace the Warhawk 

The Program

Coaching Changes During Saban Era: Three.

Last Time Beat Alabama: 2007. Pulled off the stunning upset at Bryant-Denny Stadium against a depleted Crimson Tide during Nick Saban's first season in Tuscaloosa.

Last Time Won Division: Never, although division have only been around since 2018.

Last Time Won Sun Belt Championship: 2005

National Championships: None, but did win the 1987 National Championship Game in Division I-AA, with a 43-42 victory against Marshall.

Playoff Appearances: None

Bowl Appearances: One, in 2012. Lost in Independence Bowl.

Last Time Didn’t Play in a Bowl: 2021

Heisman Trophies: None

Consensus All-Americans During Saban Era: None

First-Round NFL Picks During Saban Era: None

2022 NFL Draft: None selected.

Last Four Recruiting Class Rankings: No. 134 in 2002. Previously No. 99 in 2021, No. 121 in 2020, and No. 122 in 2019.

Schedule 

Sept 3: at Texas
Sept 10: vs. Nicholls
Sept 17: at Alabama
Sept 24: vs. Louisiana
Oct. 1: at Arkansas State
Oct. 8: vs. Coastal Carolina
Oct. 15: at South Alabama
Oct. 22: at Army
Nov. 5: vs. Texas State
Nov. 12: at Georgia State
Nov. 19: at Troy
Nov. 26. vs. Southern Miss

Did You Know?

Alabama will pay ULM a $1.915 million guarantee to play this season, and $1.925 million for a return trip in 2025.

That's more than $500,000 more than the Warhawks' last visit to Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2015, when they were on the road for 13 games. The distance from JPS Field at Malone Stadium to all eight road venues were 17,224 miles round trip.

They went 2-11. 

This is the second story in series previewing Alabama's opponents: 

No. 12 Austin Peay