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Previewing Texas vs. Louisiana-Monroe: Can the Longhorns blow out the Warhawks?

Terry Bowden brings ULM to Austin in the midst of a difficult rebuild.

NCAA Football: UL Monroe at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The second season of the Steve Sarkisian era kicks off in Austin on Saturday at 7 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network as the Texas Longhorns take on head coach Terry Bowden and the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks.

Louisiana-Monroe hired Matt Viator from McNeese State after a 10-1 season in 2015 and Viator managed to secure three 4-4 conference seasons after a 3-5 debut, but everything fell apart in 2020 when ULM went 0-10, leading to Viator’s dismissal.

Enter Bowden, best known for his successful tenure at Auburn in the 1990s that ended unceremoniously in 1998 when the Tigers started 1-5. Bowden then spent a decade in broadcasting before taking jobs at North Alabama and Akron, where he spent seven years before he was fired in 2018.

Given the abysmal final season under Viator, a 4-8 debut under Bowden certainly counted as something of a success even with a four-game losing streak to end the season as Louisiana-Monroe had the biggest turnaround in the Sun Belt Conference. Unfortunately for Bowden, he had to replace both coordinators during the offseason when Rich Rodriguez — yes, that Rich Rod — accepted the head coaching job at Jacksonville State and took defensive coordinator Zac Alley with him.

So Bowden hired Matt Kubik as offensive coordinator, who had served in the same role from 2016-19 under Viator, producing balanced and productive offenses for the Warhawks.

“Matt Kubik is one of the top offensive minds in college football,” Bowden said. “Matt has knowledge about the Sun Belt Conference as well as the ULM football program. During his first stint as offensive coordinator at ULM, his offenses produced some incredible numbers. Matt also has a proven track record in developing quarterbacks.”

Defensively, Bowden brought in Vic Koenning, who had been out of football since “coming to a mutual decision to separate” with West Virginia in 2019 following allegations of player mistreatment.

The turnover of both coordinators will present some challenges to the Texas coaching staff as they prepare for Louisiana-Monroe.

“Got a really veteran staff of new coordinators, which is obviously challenging when you’re trying to prepare your team,” Sarkisian said on Monday. “I think our ability to adjust Saturday night is going to be critical from coach’s standpoint and then a player standpoint because you try to prepare for as much as you can, but you want to make sure that you put your players in position to play fast, play physical, play tough, and do those things.”

Quarterback Chandler Rogers is a 6’0, 194-pounder from Mansfield Timberview who signed with Southern Miss out of high school before transferring to Blinn College. Rogers had a solid 9-to-3 touchdown to interception ratio as four quarterbacks received playing time last season before earning the starting job in preseason camp.

“Quarterback is electric guy who can do it on the ground and in the air, two good runners, receivers that can create explosive plays,” Sarkisian said.

The running backs are junior Andrew Henry, who rushed for 482 yards last season but only averaged 3.68 yards per carry, and versatile junior Malik Jackson, who can also line up as a wide receiver after gaining 451 rushing yards on 5.64 yards per carry in 2021.

At wide receiver, senior Boogie Knight returns after leading the Warhawks with 45 catches for 588 yards and three touchdowns.

Altogether, Louisiana-Monroe returns eight starters on offense, but did lose former Texas offensive lineman Willie Tyler to Rutgers after he had a successful season playing left tackle. Bowden called Tyler his best offensive lineman on the Horns247 Flagship podcast this week and expressed concern about protecting Rogers and being able to run Kubik’s offense effectively against a deep and talented Texas defensive line.

Louisiana-Monroe allowed 39 sacks and 104 tackles for loss last season even with Tyler.

“Then defensively the challenge is a lot of new faces — there’s a couple of veteran guys back with a lot of new faces,” Sarkisian said.

Only four starters are back to play in Koenning’s defense, often structured as a 3-3-5 stack, led by middle linebacker Zach Woodard, who had 89 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three pass breakups, and an interception last season. Bowden said the Jacksonville State transfer is the team’s best player with a knack for getting around the football.

“We brought in some more important transfers on defense and when you’ve got a guy that’s in his 60s, has been a coordinator all his life, I’ve kind of watched him bring in guys that you’re not quite sure how they fit in, but he’s sure how they fit in. He knows the kind of players he needs,” Bowden said.

Louisiana-Monroe had to bring in transfers to fill needs, including needs created by losing cornerback Josh Newton to TCU and safety Nick Roberts to SMU. The secondary could be a particular problem for the Warhawks after allowing 289 passing yards per game and 30 passing touchdowns last season.

Bowden, the coaching veteran, understands what he’s facing on Saturday.

“It’s an exciting game for us to be playing at a venue like the Texas stadium in a town like Austin, in front of 100,000 people plus and that’s an exciting part,” Bowden said. “The negative is that you’re getting paid a lot of money to play a team that’s a lot better and you’ve got to have a lot of things go your way.”

So the emphasis for Texas will be winning the turnover margin and trying to avoid allowing explosive plays defensively while improving on the team’s poor Havoc rate from last season.

“I think this week has got to be about us and playing our game at a really high level and seeing, quite frankly, who’s ready for the moment. And that’s what we’ve gotta find out with a lot of new faces,” Sarkisian said.

Texas is a 37.5-point favorite against Louisiana-Monroe, according to DraftKings.

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