Coach Terry Bowden's secrecy did nothing to help ULM football at Kentucky | Hunsucker

Adam Hunsucker
Monroe News-Star

Terry Bowden embarked on an offseason of flesh-pressing and narrative rehabilitation unseen from any previous Louisiana-Monroe football coach.

It typified the stark contrast between the dueling facets surrounding another attempted program refresh.

Over the past eight months, Bowden has played the aw-shucks program builder from college football’s first family with gusto. He’s also showed an autocratic streak, closing preseason practices and guarding the roster with a cloak and dagger zeal.

The unknown was on Bowden’s side prior to Saturday's season opener at Kentucky. Even the most strident true believer wouldn’t say ULM will be good this season. But without a roster, or any significant glimpse at the team, they couldn’t say the Warhawks will be bad either.

Not anymore.

Terry Bowden walks the sidelines during his debut as ULM head coach, a 45-10 loss to Kentucky on Saturday at Kroger Field.

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What we have here is a football team with no discernable identity — at least not yet. That was inevitable once Bowden stripped ULM’s roster and patched it with parts from the transfer portal. It’s a time-consuming process far too complex for summer workouts and August practice.

Bowden shouldn’t be judged on the unrealistic expectations of locals. The Wildcats were supposed to overwhelm the Warhawks at every position. Anyone who thought otherwise was lying to themselves.

Until further notice, excuse the mess while Bowden plugs leaks on the good ship Warhawk.   

Let’s not ignore the positives from ULM’s 45-10 loss in Lexington, Kentucky. Jabari Johnson’s interception, the first of three takeaways, helped the Warhawks take their first lead in a game since 2019. That was encouraging. The fact ULM won the turnover battle and still lost by five touchdowns was not.

Starting quarterback and transfer Rhett Rodriguez was held to 56 yards passing. Offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez’s vaunted up-tempo spread ran 63 plays and managed just 87 total yards. ULM tried three different quarterbacks to no avail. An offensive line with four freshmen in the lineup surrendered six sacks.

Defensive coordinator Zac Alley had little choice but to stack the box with extra defenders against one of the SEC’s best running attacks. Kentucky quarterback Will Levis took advantage, passing for 367 yards and four touchdowns, but Alley’s unit sacked him four times.

Bowden’s secrecy only enabled a false sense of reality. Kentucky is three seasons removed from 10 wins, while ULM is a season removed from 10 losses. Any covert cover providing a competitive advantage defied common sense. 

The truth is out there now. But that doesn’t mean the Warhawks can’t improve.

Kentucky wasn’t a fair test of ULM’s potential — Jackson State and Troy will be. And while an open week  should help continuity for players and coaches alike, the tradeoff is a ruthless 11-week run that includes Coastal Carolina, Liberty, Appalachian State, LSU and Louisiana.

Bowden was right about the Kentucky game being his only clean slate. It all counts now.

And no amount of “Louisiana By God Monroe” T-shirts, ducks pulling trucks or Berry-Bowden Road Shows will change that. 

Follow Adam Hunsucker on Twitter @adam_hunsucker or email him at ahunsucker@gannett.com.