The University of Central Arkansas’ kicking game against Murray State got a real jumpstart.
And it wasn’t just with Jesse Grandy’s 72-yard punt return for a touchdown or Kevin Buford punting for a 40-plus average in the 42-20 win over the Racers in Murray, Ky., Saturday night.
Jace Denker, was an impromptu and surprise, hero.
Don’t feel too badly.
Denker is a non-scholarship walk-on kicker from Bryant pressed into emergency both Buford and place-kicker Kevin Buford received minor injuries in practice.
“I walk up to him on the practice field and say, ‘Hey dude, want to go to Murray this weekend?’ ‘Sure.’ Want to be our kicker?’ ‘Sure,’” said UCA coach Clint Conque. “That’s pretty much how it went.
“Now, after he gets on the bus, 75 percent of our team: A. didn’t know who he was and B. didn’t know he was on the roster. We used him on kickoffs to not put so much stress on Eddie Carmaro (place-kicker) or Buford. He did exceptionally well. I liked the way he handled the situation.”
Conque noted the entire kicking game is much improved, including punting, coverage and net yards. He noted that teams have attempted four field goals in the two opening games and “we’ve blocked one and influenced others,” he said. “And we’ve played two pretty good teams ... On Grandy’s punt return (which gave UCA a 35-20 lead in the third quarter), they (the Racers) had a little momentum and the door was open, then it was closed shut. The energy was sucked out of the stadium.”
He continued to praise quarterback Wynrick Smothers, who completed 31 of 41 passes for 358 yards and five touchdowns to five different receivers.
“The young man continues to do everything we ask,” Conque said of the junior who has been a backuup for two years. “Wow ... People rise up. He’s completing 76 percent of his passes against good competition (Murray State and Ole Miss). Nationally, he’s fifth in pass efficiency, sixth in yardage, seventh in touchdowns and second in points responsible for.”
The coach said Dominque Croom’s 184 receiving yards on 10 catches represented the most yardage for a receiver in his 13 years as a head coach at UCA. He described the offensive line play as solid.
Even though the Racers stacked the box, Conque was disappointed with 30 net yards rushing.
“The run game was anemic and that’s a concern,” he said. “Some of it is personnel, some attitude. But to be what we want to be, we’ve got to present an efficient running game ... Our running backs are too talented not to present a good running game.”
Even though the Bears yielded only 20 points againsgt a high-powered offense that ran 103 plays (the norm for an NFL game is 56-58), Conque said there is work to do on defense.
“We’ve got to tackle better, play better in space,” he said. “We’re playing great red zone defense but unfornately, we’re playing in the red zone too much.”
Conque noted that in two games, the Bears have incurred no offensive penalties. “It’s been a long time since that happened,” he said. “It’s almost unheard of since we use a lot of different formations and put people in motion.”
He’s not happy with the number or the type of defensive penalties.
“The penalties we are getting on defense don’t take a whole lot of talent,” he said. “It doesn’t take talent to see the ball snap.”
The Bears begin a two-game homestand Saturday night against Bacone College, an NAIA team.