Texas A&M football coach Jimbo Fisher, who calls plays on offense, will match wits Saturday with Louisiana-Monroe defensive coordinator Mike Collins, a former colleague at LSU.
Collins' defense has helped the Warhawks start 2-0 for the first time since 2014. ULM had three sacks, a turnover and blocked a 37-yard field goal on the final play for a 34-31 victory over Southeastern Louisiana in the opener. Last week against Southern Mississippi, the Warhawks had four turnovers and five sacks in a 21-20 victory.
"For the second straight week, we found a way to win, and that's good moving forward," ULM coach Mike Viator said.
ULM stopped Southern Miss on its last five possessions, recovering a fumble, forcing a punt, getting a fourth-down stop, forcing a missed field goal and finally junior linebacker Cortez Sisco Jr. intercepted a pass at the ULM 35-yard line with 7 seconds left.
"We couldn't put it away on offense," Viator said. "Their field-goal kicker was phenomenal. For us to intercept the ball and finish the game like that was really good. We just kept playing hard, being able to overcome adversity."
ULM is allowing 436.5 yards per game, which ranks 101st in the country, and the 371.5 yards passing per game is the third most allowed in FBS. The Warhawks, though, have won in part by forcing five turnovers and coming up with nine sacks.
"We're doing a better job at least in the first two weeks of putting pressure on the passer," Viator said. "And it's showing up in the form of sacks, but it's also showed up in just affecting quarterbacks so to speak. Hopefully, we can continue to do that."
ULM forced Southeastern Louisiana and Southern Miss into throwing the ball by allowing only 65 yards rushing per game, which ranks 10th nationally.
"It really helps having success against the run, and it starts with our front," Viator said. "I'm excited how we're playing there, and I hope we can continue."
Southern Miss averaged 184.5 yards rushing per game last season and returned three linemen and rushed for 202 yards in a 55-7 opening victory over Jackson State. But last week against ULM the Golden Eagles mustered only 58 yards rushing on 34 carries.
"The bottom line is that they stuffed our run game," Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson said.
ULM's pressure led to Southern Miss losing a pair of fumbles and throwing two interceptions.
"They were bringing blitzes and kind of in odd situations," Southern Miss quarterback Jack Abraham said. "[We] got caught off-guard sometimes, but they played a good game."
Fisher expects ULM will try to keep it up, because Collins "will blitz the heck out of you and bring packages."
A&M has allowed three sacks in each game, but the offensive line held up last week against one of the nation's top defensive lines and allowed sophomore quarterback Kellen Mond to throw for a career-high 430 yards and three touchdowns in the 28-26 loss to second-ranked Clemson.
"I thought our offensive line did an outstanding job," Fisher said. "Did they get beat? Yeah. Did they give up some plays? Yes. Did they miss some blocks? Yes. You play great people -- that's part of the game."
Fisher said the unit competed well and stood eyeball-to-eyeball with four Clemson defensive linemen ESPN NFL analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said could be first-round NFL picks.
ULM's dynamic duo
ULM's offensive playmakers are junior quarterback Caleb Evans, a preseason second-team All-Sun Belt Conference pick, and senior Marcus Green, a first-team pick at receiver and kick returner. Evans has thrown for 541 yards and four touchdowns. Green has 11 catches for 195 yards and all four TDs and has kickoff returns of 22 and 26 yards.
"I think the process is to continue to be creative enough to give [Green] the ball in different spots," Viator said.
Hines III out for year
A&M sophomore linebacker Anthony Hines III will miss the rest of the season after re-injuring a lower body extremity against Clemson, Fisher said on Wednesday's Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference.
Hines missed the season opener against Northwestern State with a minor sprain but returned against second-ranked Clemson.
He had 33 tackles in 13 games last season, including six tackles for loss.
Warhawk DE Louis Jr. honored
Junior ULM defensive end Donald Louis Jr. is the Sun Belt Conference's defensive player of the week. He had six tackles, including five solos and three for 19 yards in losses, including a pair of sacks in last week's win over Southern Miss. One of his sacks caused a fumble that teammate Sam Miller recovered for a touchdown to tie the game at 7.
ULM picked second in division
ULM was picked by the coaches to finish second to Arkansas State in the Sun Belt's West Division.
ULM, which went 4-8 last season, returns nine on offense, seven on defense and both its kicker and punter.
Viator is 10-16 in his third season with ULM after 10 seasons at McNeese State (78-33). Collins, who was Sam Houston State's defensive coordinator from 2013-15, interned at LSU in 2003 under Nick Saban, becoming linebackers coach for the 2004 season. Fisher was LSU's offensive coordinator at quarterbacks coach at the time.
Segler returning home
ULM's tight ends and special teams coach is Kyle Segler, who is in his first season with the Warhawks after eight seasons at his alma mater Sam Houston State. Segler graduated from A&M Consolidated. His father, Rusty Segler, was Consol's boys basketball coach for 13 seasons before leaving for Little Elm in 2010.
Rusty Segler has been battling cancer and tweeted earlier this month that chemotherapy and a stem cell procedure didn't kill the cancer, so he would start IV chemo.
"We will get through this as a family and enjoy many more football/basketball seasons together!" Kyle Segler tweeted at the time. "News like this makes you never take any day/moment/second for granted because each one is precious! Love you pops!"