Before Louisiana-Monroe (formerly known as Northeast Louisiana) moved up from D-1AA (now known as the FCS) in 1994, they had won three of the last seven Southland Conference championships, including a national title in 1987.
But despite being located in the middle of some of the deepest recruiting pools in the country, they've been completely unable to replicate that success in D-1A (now known as the FBS).
They haven't had a winning record once in the last 18 years, with an FBS winning percentage of 34% before the start of the 2012 season. UL-Monroe has become a graveyard for coaches, the final spot on the end of a long journey for those who couldn't get a better shot at a brass ring.
Ed Zaunbrecher's only chance as a head coach came in a five-year stretch from 1994-1998. Bobby Keasler, who lasted only four years, never got another shot after he was let go in 2002. Charlie Weatherbie took over in 2003, two years after posting an 0-7 record in his final season at Navy.
Todd Berry is their fourth head coach at the FBS level, and despite being only 51 years old, he's already a bruised survivor of the coaching carousel. This is his second stint as a head coach; he had to spend six seasons as a coordinator after a four-year stay at Army where he compiled a 5-35 record.
If ever a coach was going to challenge the conventional wisdom and try something daring, this would be the place to do it. Baylor found that out the hard way on Friday night, as they barely survived a feisty WarHawks team in a 47-42 nail-biter that felt more like NFL Blitz than a conventional football game.
The game lasted well over four hours, with Baylor running 88 plays and UL-Monroe getting off 85. There were over 1,000 total yards of offense and only three punts. The WarHawks were 1-3 on fourth down plays; the Bears were 4-4.
UL-Monroe forced as many turnovers (2) as they did punts (2).
Baylor opened the game with a punt and two consecutive INT's from Nick Florence. Here's their drive chart for the rest of the game: TD, TD, TD, Half (where the Bears bungled the final few seconds and could easily have attempted a FG), Punt, TD, FG, TD, TD, Game.
Baylor, who regularly sends offensive linemen to the NFL and has a first-round prospect in 6'5 335 OT Cyril Richardson, was just too big for UL-Monroe up front. They are just as talented on the perimeter, where a WR crew headlined by the 6'2 205 Terrance Williams (4 catches for 84 yards and 2 TD's) and the 5'10 165 Tevin Reese (8 catches for 145 yards and 2 TD's) shredded the WarHawks secondary.
Florence is no RG3, but personnel like that will make a lot of QB's look pretty good.
Yet with all that being said, UL-Monroe was still this close to pulling off the upset. If Kolton Browning hadn't fumbled a hand-off down 40-35 in the fourth quarter, there's no telling how the game would have ended. Art Briles has slowly made his program relevant in the Big 12 by playing a fast-paced spread offense that negates some of the weaknesses on his roster; Todd Berry has taken that philosophy to its logical conclusion at Monroe.
The most eyebrow raising portion of the game came in the first half, when Berry unveiled a two-QB offense where Browning ran a zone read with backup QB Cody Wells. Here's where it gets good: both Browning and Wells have the option to run the ball and they both have the option to pull up for the throw.
Wells finished the game with a passing line of 3-3 for 26 yards, but it was a performance that left the national TV audience asking for more. Is this the next Wildcat? Is this an easily defensible gimmick or could it be something that consistently works in this new age of college football?
It's easy to spit ball some scenarios where it might work. Take for example, Tim Tebow and Vince Young. Neither is what you would consider a traditional drop-back passer; how would it look if both could make easy reads in one half of the field? It certainly couldn't be any less entertaining than running out Blaine Gabbert or John Skelton for 16 games a season.
However, if such a radical experiment were to be tried, it wouldn't happen in the NFL. In a league where competitive balance is mandated, franchises can always pin their hopes on losing a bunch of games, finding an elite QB in the top 5 and winning in a more traditional fashion.
The true laboratory of the sport is at the high school level, where the spread of 7-on-7 football has dramatically raised the overall skill level of the QB's and the WR's in the state of Texas. I do some freelance coverage of high school football for the Dallas Morning News and there are things going on down here that defy description. On Thursday, a QB at Marble Falls (near San Antonio) threw for 724 yards in one game!
Seemingly every other high school has a high-octane passing game with four or five WR's that requires rapid decision-making from the QB. The position is becoming more democratic than ever before, and as the proliferation of the passing game continues, who is to say what is or is not feasible.
UL-Monroe may be a Sun Belt team with a 1-2 record, but they're worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses. One thing is for sure: you will never see Baylor schedule another game with this team, not after what almost happened on Friday night.
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