How Matt Viator believes winless ULM football can improve during an open week

Adam Hunsucker
Monroe News-Star
Wide receiver Jonathan Hodoh (18) attempts to elude a Liberty tackler after making a reception in ULM's 41-7 loss to the Flames last Saturday.

Louisiana-Monroe coach Matt Viator had one less headache entering an open week. After two months in a hotel, ULM moved into the new on-campus Warhawk Village residence hall on Sunday.

Scratch lodging off the list. Though the struggles on the field persist.

No team in America needed an open date more than these Warhawks, who can now worry about themselves without an opponent lingering. Viator himself is in uncharted territory as ULM sits at 0-5 and 0-2 in the Sun Belt Conference.

“I’ve never been 0-5 before, but I told the players there are a lot of problems in life that I’ve never seen get fixed with less energy and less effort,” Viator said. “Nothing gets fixed that way and all we can do is have a positive attitude about it and put in the work to get it turned around.”  

Viator met with the team on Monday following lift and film sessions. ULM will practice Tuesday through Thursday, take Friday and Saturday off, then return Sunday to begin preparations for South Alabama.

“They’re disappointed just like the rest of us,” Viator said. “Nothing has gone the way they thought it would or the way I thought it would, but we’re still practicing good. We’re just not performing the way I think we can and that’s the disappointing and frustrating part about it.

“We’ll spend time as a staff this week looking back at what we’re doing and scratch where it itches so to speak. It just so happens we’ve got a pretty good itch right now. “

At the top of Viator’s agenda is the Sun Belt’s least productive offense and a punt team unable to master the basics of blocking.

Life without dual-threat quarterback Caleb Evans has been harder than anyone inside Malone Stadium imagined. Sophomore Colby Suits has shown flashes of brilliance this year. While one of the most productive passers in FBS, Suits isn’t the same run threat Evans was on read-option and RPO plays.

ULM ranks dead last in the Sun Belt in five offensive categories — scoring (13.4), total yards (292.4), rushing (56.2), pass efficiency (115.8), and third-down conversions (20.3%).

“I still think that’s a problem finding the right stuff without a running quarterback and I put that on me,” Viator said. “The second thing is as the games have gone on, we’re behind in every game and behind quick. The run doesn’t work to start the game, then you look up and we’re down 14.”

Suits was ineffective in last Saturday’s 41-7 loss at Liberty and pulled in the second half. Backup Jeremy Hunt threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to running back Kaydn Roach for ULM’s only score. Suits finished 13-of-29 for 78 yards and two interceptions.

Stuck in an offensive rut, Viator will use the bye to experiment with the up-tempo approach Suits ran successfully against Georgia Southern.

“We’re going to look at it some and try to increase that,” Viator said.

Punt protection was a nightmare against Liberty. ULM’s punt team allowed three touchdowns. Punter Daniel Sparks dropped a snap in the end zone, the Warhawks gave up a block for a score and allowed a 73-yard return touchdown.

A true freshman, Sparks was pressed into duty while Jared Porter recovers from a leg injury that required offseason surgery. Porter was among the Sun Belt’s best punters last season with a 43.8 yard average.

We have to get better at our base protection, but we have to mix in some different ones too,” Viator said.  “Some of it depends on what punter is in there and we have to have some better answers.”

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