AUBURN, Ala. — A lot has changed for Louisiana-Monroe football since Auburn last squared off with the Warhawks in 2012.
At that time, Todd Berry was making his big breakthrough with ULM. It knocked off Arkansas in Week 1 of the 2012 campaign and came close to making it 2 for 2 with SEC West foes when it visited Jordan-Hare Stadium. (Auburn escaped with a 31-28 overtime win.) The Warhawks went 8-5 that season and made it to their first bowl game in program history.
In the three seasons after that historic season for ULM, the program went backwards. Berry went 6-6 in 2013 before back-to-back losing seasons in 2014 and 2015. He was fired before the schedule was finished, going 1-9 in his last campaign in Monroe.
Now the Warhawks are in the start of a new era. Matt Viator is the new ULM head coach after leading in-state FCS program McNeese State to a 78-33 record and five playoff appearances in 10 seasons. After beating Southern in Week 1, ULM took a tough loss at Oklahoma before playing Sun Belt favorite Georgia Southern down to the wire.
For a better perspective on this year’s Warhawks, this week’s edition of An Opposing View turned to John Stevens, the sports editor at ULM student newspaper The Hawkeye. Stevens took the time to answer a few quick questions about Viator and ULM football for SEC Country.
Justin Ferguson: So what went wrong for ULM in the last few years of Todd Berry’s tenure? Why weren’t they able to keep up the success from 2012 and 2013?
John Stevens: “ULM had a lot of good players that have graduated since those 2012 and 2013 teams. For example, quarterback Kolton Browning and linebacker Hunter Kissinger were key pieces to those teams, and I suppose our recruiting hasn’t been able to find talent high enough to replace these special players.”
JF: What are the main differences you see between a Todd Berry ULM team and a Matt Viator ULM team?
JS: “The Todd Berry ULM was more about taking chances. The new Matt Viator ULM seems to be more laid-back and conservative, which could possibly be because Viator is trying to feel things out at his new job.”
JF: ULM quarterback Garrett Smith is leading the team in both passing and rushing. What kind of improvement have you seen in him three games into his sophomore season with the Warhawks?
JS: “He seems much more calm and collected this season. Last year, he seemed like he was rushing his throws and really antsy in the pocket.”
JF: How would you grade ULM’s young defense through the first three games of the season?
JS: “I’d grade ULM’s defense with a C+. While they seem like they haven’t been performing well, they’ve faced a lot of high-powered offenses.”
JF: What are some things that ULM showed in its road losses to Oklahoma and Georgia Southern that it could build on heading into this road game at Auburn?
JS: “In both of those losses, the team seemed like they couldn’t quite finish the game, especially at Georgia Southern. The Warhawks had a chance to close things out, but they couldn’t find the means for a field goal late in the game.”
Stevens’ score prediction: Auburn 38, Louisiana-Monroe 14