Tide facing Monroe's versatile back
Dawson averages 125 yards on ground for visiting Warhawks
By Josh Cooper
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TUSCALOOSA — At first glance, Louisiana-Monroe looks like your normal Sun Belt Conference football team.
The Warhawks have double-digit losses against BCS conference teams, Texas A&M and Clemson while also pulling out the occasional conference win against Florida Atlantic and Arkansas State.
But Louisiana-Monroe has something in its offensive repertoire that may give the Warhawks (4-6, 3-3 Sun Belt) a fighting chance for an upset when they face Alabama (6-4, 4-3 SEC) on Saturday: a running back in Calvin Dawson, who is a virtual lock for 100 yards a game.
"He has very good quickness and vision as a runner," said Tide coach Nick Saban. "It's going to be a real challenge for us. We're going to have to play well on the line of scrimmage and be sound in our gap fits."
When you look at the Louisiana-Monroe game notes, the page dedicated to Dawson looks like it must be full of mistakes. At one point, Dawson had 10 straight 100-yard rushing games, good for 15th all-time and tied with former San Diego State and St. Louis Rams great, Marshall Faulk.
If Dawson hadn't been held to 65 yards against North Texas in the Warhawks' sixth game of the season, he would have 15 straight 100-yard games, good for fifth all-time along with former TCU running back Ladanian Tomlinson, the 2006 NFL MVP with the San Diego Chargers.
"For me, it really wasn't a big thing for me," Dawson said with a laugh. "I didn't really know about it until people started telling me about it. The offensive line kept up with it more than I did. It shows them how much work they put into it."
Dawson added: “It was a good thing having that, but I feel like it’s more of an honor for
my offensive linemen than myself.”
Dawson ranks 10th in the nation in running with 125.7 yards a game — higher than top
SEC backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis from Ole Miss and Georgia freshman Knowshon Moreno.
So how does Dawson do it? What kind of runner is he?
“I think he has a pretty much a free-for-all of it, be power game or zone run or whatever it is,” said Louisiana-Monroe coach Charlie Weatherbie. “He has good hands, catches the ball well and is a guy who is pretty much a complete back.”
Dawson’s success hasn’t been limited to the Sun Belt. Against Clemson and Texas A&M, he gained 121 and 126 yards respectively.
According to the Tide, Louisiana-Monroe plays a style similar to what it encountered with Houston earlier this year. Meaning a lot of skill with a lot of different play-sets.
Said Alabama linebacker Prince Hall, “It’s like playing the same team, just a different name.”
Playing in games against major opponents helps Dawson elevate his game. As a senior, he wants as much exposure as possible heading into the upcoming draft.
And playing against Alabama, a team that has had its difficulties against better-than-average running backs all season, Dawson feels he can use this as an opportunity to both showcase his talent and help the Warhawks win in the process.
“Playing against teams like this, it really kind of motivates me more because they are higher school than us,” Dawson said.
“I feel like I need to come out and do better against them than other teams so I can make a statement and make a point.”
Five things you may not know about Louisiana-Monroe
Warhawks coach Charlie Weatherbie was the head coach at Navy from 1995-2001. In his second season with the Midshipmen, Weatherbie guided Navy to a 9-3 record and Aloha Bowl appearance. It was Navy’s highest win total in 18 years.
Louisiana-Monroe’s offensive linemen have combined for 177 starts in their college careers. Senior center Adam Hill and senior left tackle Kyle Cunningham have accounted for 88 of those.
Louisiana-Monroe has the third best record in the Sun Belt since 2004. At 15-12, the Warhawks trail Middle Tennessee State (17-11) and Troy (19-7).
The Warhawks are 2-29-1 against members of the Southeastern Conference. Their last win against an SEC school came in 1994 when they defeated Kentucky 21-14.
Running back Irving Spikes lettered at Alabama in 1991 before transferring to Louisiana-Monroe, where he set several school records that still stand. He holds the ULM records for most rushing yards in a game (254 in 1993), most 100-yard games in a season (seven in 1993) and most 200-yard games in a season (three in 1993). He finished with 1,563 yards in 1993.
Josh Cooper, Daily Sports Writer
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