Non-conference blowouts are part of the economics of college football. Every year, blue-collar programs pay smaller schools to come to town with the expectation not of a close game, but of exposure and a lofty payday. Louisiana-Monroe head coach Terry Bowden knew as much heading into Alabama.
The ensuing 63-7 blowout panned out for both sides. The Crimson Tide (3-0) got an easier matchup following a one-point win at Texas. And, well, the Warhawks got $1.95 million, per USA Today’s Steve Berkowitz.
“Team morale is the most important thing you deal with, not losing your confidence when you go to some of these games,” Bowden said. “They don’t know this, but Alabama just built us a weight room today by playing us. So there’s some good that came out of this game.”
Leading up to Saturday, ULM was a seven-touchdown underdog. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban spoke about not treating any opponent lightly, as evidenced by upsets last weekend, but Bowden took a different approach to motivate his team.
“You can’t lie to these guys,” he said. “They know who we’re playing. I’ve talked to them about having the audacity to believe that anything can happen any given Saturday, but have the tenacity to play as hard as you can every snap and never give up. The truth lies somewhere in between.”
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The route started quickly in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama jumped out to a 28-0 lead with its first turnover of the season, its first blocked punt, and an improved offense. The Crimson Tide’s special teams unit outscored the Warhawks by two touchdowns.
“I think what you don’t always see is the kicking game,” Bowden said. “How much more talented they were on the field in their specialists. With four punt returns that was large, a kickoff return that was large, a blocked punt for a touchdown, you can probably take the amount of time left in the game from driving short fields, you could see that score jumps and jumps.”
Still, in the second quarter, Bowden was able to look around and say, “You know what guys, you’re playing with them.” Each side scored seven points before halftime and Alabama’s offense went into a midgame lull.
“I was really proud. There was a quarter there that was kind of fun,” Bowden said. “… If we get that and we’re kind of down there and we get the first score of the second half and it gives us a little better start. But they just piled it on. Couldn’t stop them. They’re an outstanding team just as Texas was.”
ULM lost to the Longhorns, 52-10, on Sept. 3 for another big payday. Texas blocked a punt similar to Alabama’s Ja’Corey Brooks and Bowden called it the “exact same” missed runner that Texas benefited from.
Still, Louisiana-Monroe’s Tristian Driggers intercepted Alabama’s Bryce Young, Young’s first of two turnovers on the day. Driggers now has three interceptions in three games, placing him among the top of the NCAA leaderboards.
“He’s an interesting fella. He’s reckless,” Bowden said of Driggers. “Sometimes we don’t know where he’s going to be because he’s reckless but he has a nose for the football. He gets around the football and he’s instinctive.”
The end result seemed decided for most of the second half as teams rotated in players and crossed their fingers for no injuries. The Tide were driving in the final minutes, though, with 63 points and Bowden weighted as he looked up at the scoreboard.
“When it gets to 70 you start really thinking, I’ve been 27 years as a head coach and I was actually on the sidelines, ‘Had I ever been to ’70?’ I don’t know. I don’t think I ever had 70 put on me,” Bowden said.
Alabama eventually kneeled, turning the ball over on downs and ULM followed suit, wiping the last two minutes off the game clock.
“They were just too good for us in every phase of the game. You could watch the video and see that’s what you were stepping into. But you still prepare for them not to play well or something to go right.”
Nick Alvarez is a reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @nick_a_alvarez or email him at NALvarez@al.com