By Paul Letlow, ULMWarhawks.com Online Columnist
MOBILE, Ala. – ULM lacked a finishing touch on Saturday night.
The Warhawks came up empty too many times in the red zone and surrendered too many pivotal plays in a 38-14 loss to South Alabama at Hancock Whitney Stadium.
The Warhawks fell to 0-6, 0-3 in the Sun Belt Conference while the Jaguars improved to 3-2, 2-0.
ULM quarterback Colby Suits completed 22-of-33 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown but also had an interception returned for a touchdown. With 92 rushing yards, ULM was unable to top 100 yards for the sixth time this season.
“We certainly moved the ball a little bit better, but we just couldn’t make the plays when we needed to,” ULM coach Matt Viator said.
Defensively, the Warhawks registered four sacks and seven tackles for losses but saw South Alabama receiver Kawaan Baker catch six balls for 154 yards and three touchdowns. The Jaguars were 8-of-14 on third down and 3-for-3 on fourth-down conversions.
“Defensively, we hung in there, but it seemed like to me we missed too many tackles,” Viator said. “It seems we missed some critical tackles at critical times. It was hard getting them off the field at times.”
Coming off an open date, ULM’s early results looked good before South Alabama flipped the script.
Following a three-and-out by the defense, ULM’s promising opening drive ended abruptly with a pick six that put South Alabama ahead 7-0. On second-and-10 from the USA 14, Suits’ pass to Jevin Frett deflected to Devin Rockette, who returned the interception 95 yards for a touchdown.
“That kind of set the tone for the game,” Viator said. “The drive down there and throw a pick six.”
The Jaguars led 10-0 after Diego Guajardo’s 50-yard field goal capped a 10-play, 50-yard drive, with 3:01 left in the first quarter.
South Alabama struck again with 51 seconds left in the first quarter as Trotter connected with Baker on an 80-yard touchdown pass to go up 17-0.
South Alabama’s two-quarterback system misfired when ULM linebacker Hunter Smith intercepted Chance Lovertich at the Warhawks 10 with 7:29 remaining before halftime.
ULM parlayed the turnover into points with an eight-play, 85-yard drive, finished as Josh Johnson bulled into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown run. ULM trailed 17-6 after Davis Hughes missed the PAT, a score that stood until halftime.
With the first series of the second half, ULM delivered an impressive drive that ended in more frustration. The Warhawks covered 64 yards in 10 plays, stayed alive by converting on fourth-and-1 with a sliding catch by Jonathan Hodoh at the USA 7, yet ultimately came up empty when Hughes pushed a 29-yard field-goal attempt wide right.
“We didn’t kick nearly as good as I was hoping we would,” Viator said.
South Alabama retaliated with another scoring march, covering 80 yards on 10 plays to extend the lead to 24-6. Baker contributed a 32-yard catch and Trotter scored on a 5-yard run for the Jaguars with 4:25 to play in the third.
After ULM turned the ball over on downs at midfield, the Jaguars constructed a five-play, 49-yard drive. Trotter found Baker for a 16-yard touchdown pass and South Alabama led 31-6 with 13 seconds remaining in the third.
Jordan Carroll caught his first career touchdown pass with 12:26 remaining in the fourth quarter and Frett added the two-point conversion catch from Suits as ULM cut the deficit to 31-14. Suits was 5-for-5 for 72 yards on the drive, including the TD toss to his former North Forney (Texas) High School teammate.
South Alabama played keep-away down the stretch with a 16-play, 71 yard drive that chewed 10:47 off the clock. Trotter fired his third touchdown pass to Baker on fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line with 1:30 left in the game. Trotter was 8-of-12 passing for 184 yards.
“They made some plays against our defense against man coverage,” Viator said. “The quarterback for South Alabama played a really good game.”
Up next: ULM returns to Malone Stadium to play host to Appalachian State on Oct. 31. The Mountaineers are 3-1, 1-0 after beating Arkansas State 45-17 on Thursday, Oct. 22.
Tail feathers: Red-shirt sophomore Kevric Wiggins made his first career start at cornerback. … Game captains were DL Mason Husmann, RB Josh Johnson and DE Ty Shelby. … Husmann was back in the starting lineup after a two-game injury absence. … Traveion Webster led the ULM defense with 10 tackles and a sack. … ULM, which won the last two meetings with USA, still leads the series 4-3.