The ULM defense rallied from a rocky start on Saturday and ended up helping the Warhawks claim their 45-27 road win over Texas State.
After surrendering 20 points and 246 yards in the first quarter, the Warhawks gave up just one more touchdown and 140 yards over the final three quarters.
"We had about eight-straight stops after we bungled it up early," ULM assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Mike Collins said. "The more we go and the more we keep playing, we're going to have an opportunity to get better. We just have to lock it in from the get-go and do a great job of having eye control. Do your job. Don't do somebody else's."
ULM trailed 20-19 after the first quarter in what looked like a last-man-standing shootout. But then the defense started to halt Bobcat drives.
"Coach just said to max out on every series," ULM defensive end Kerry Starks said. "Everybody stepped up and did their job. First quarter, they scored some points. But we stepped up the next three quarters."
ULM had a six-point lead when safety Wesley Thompson recovered a fumble at the Texas State 13 in the third quarter. The turnover led to a touchdown that gave the Warhawks breathing room at 32-20.
"We got a big third-down stop on third-and-1 and Kerry Starks stripped the ball," Collins said. "Wesley picked the fumble up. It was a really good job of executing on defense, with great penetration up front. That's why Kerry was able to get his hands on the quarterback on the sneak. It's something we had worked on, that particular play. It worked in our favor. We needed to get one."
With an offense capable of lighting up the scoreboard, ULM's defense doesn't need to pitch a shutout every week. Timely stops and takeaways could go a long way toward making this a special season.
"The offense is going to do its job," Starks said. "We knew if we can get a turnover, we can score."
Now 3-0 in the Sun Belt, the Warhawks are enjoying their best league start since 2012 when they opened 4-0. Georgia State visits ULM for Homecoming on Saturday at Malone Stadium.
"It's what the people have been begging for," Collins said of ULM's early team success. "Hopefully, we'll have a tremendous crowd there for Homecoming, and because we are 3-0 in the conference. Right now, we're one of the frontrunners in the conference. It's what they've been begging for and they've got an opportunity to come see it. We look forward to coming home and playing in front of them."
Deep thoughts: ULM quarterback Caleb Evans was in sync with his receiving corps on the way to a career-best 433 passing yards. Evans threw three touchdown passes, connected with 10 different receivers and connected on 10 passing plays that covered 15 yards or more.
"You're confident in the pocket throwing to those guys," Evans said. "It's 50-50, but it's more than likely ending up in their hands. It feels great to be throwing to guys like that."
The Bobcats were focused on stopping the run, so ULM came out throwing from the opening series. Evans passed for 69 yards on the first drive and receiver Brian Williams made an outstanding catch on a 20-yard touchdown.
"We were just clicking," Evans said. "Our offense is dynamic now. They just have to pick their poison. If they want to stop the run, they'll stop the run, and we'll pass it. If they want to stop the pass, we'll run it."
Viator lamented ULM's lack of success on contested balls earlier this season but was pleased with the way his pass-catchers made plays against Texas State.
"It really started with B-Will on that 50-50 ball on the first drive," Viator said. "It really set the tone for what we were doing. We've got to get these guys going. Jonathan Hodoh had a catch today and I thought D-Gillespie made a great catch on a 50-50 ball. We've got to continue to spread it around."
Marcus Green caught a short pass and turned it into a 67-yard touchdown with a tackle-breaking run. Green finished with five receptions for 118 yards. R.J. Turner had four catches for 81 yards and a touchdown, and Williams made eight catches for 96 yards and the touchdown. Xavier Brown also hauled in a 64-yard reception.
"With receivers like I have now, I throw a 5-yard hitch and they take it 70 yards," Evans said. "That's great for me, great for my stats and great for the team."
Worth quoting: "We have to continue to practice and continue to prepare. That's the main thing we're trying to sell to these guys. They haven't been in this position. When you're sitting atop the conference, all of a sudden you start getting some better shots from your opponents and that's what we need to be prepared for." – ULM coach Matt Viator on residing in first place in the Sun Belt standings.
Know the foe: Georgia State (2-2, 1-0) successfully opened its Sun Belt schedule with a 27-20 win over Coastal Carolina on Saturday night.
Quarterback Conner Manning passed for 273 yards and Penny Hart caught eight passes for 132 yards and a touchdown.
Georgia State will play its fourth-straight road game at ULM. Kickoff is 4 p.m.