Several unknowns lingered at the Bears’ skill positions heading into the season, but after a strong outing from multiple running backs and receivers Thursday night, those unknowns seem a bit more clear.
With the loss of standout players such as receivers Dominique Croom and Jesse Grandy, and running backs Terence Bobo and Jackie Hinton, a new group of players are being called upon to lead the attack at those positions.
Those new players shined in UCA’s season opening, 58-7 win against Incarnate Word on Thursday night at First Security Field at Estes Stadium, and began to silence the questions that surrounded a team with high expectations for its season.
Coach Clint Conque admitted there was nothing special to UCA’s attack in its first game, but said it was important to see the productivity from the new athletes.
“We needed to see if the guys could just go out and execute,” he said. “We know what Wynrick can do, we knew what (Dezmin) Lewis could do, our tight ends were okay, and our offensive line we felt comfortable with.
“But we had all those new skill kids,” Conque said. “We just had to see if they could execute the nuts and bolts of our offense.”
Sophomore tailback Blake Veasley was the first to show his potential, making the most of several carries on the first drive and into the first quarter.
Veasley finished the quarter with two touchdowns and 52 yards on nine rushes. The Memphis transfer also had 38 yards on two receptions, including one 32-yard catch.
“Last year, I spent a lot of time behind some great seniors, and learned a lot,” Veasley said. “But it felt good to get in there, and get my feet wet, and see how it was going to feel.”
The 6-foot, 205 pound tailback went on to lead the Bears in rushing, ending the night with 85 yards on 17 carries.
Conque mentioned the running game as one of the many positives he witnessed in Thursday’s game.
“There were a lot of unknowns there with (Willie Matthews’) suspension,” he said. “I was very pleased with the way the offensive line blocked, and the way we ran the football.”
Sophomore Danzel Williams, an Oklahoma transfer, was also a key part of the rushing attack against the Cardinals, rushing for 50 yards on nine attempts. Williams had one of the better runs of the night, spinning, leaping and bulldozing his way on a 30-yard scamper, but unfortunately for UCA, it ended in a fumble recovered by the defense.
“That’s not acceptable, but he’ll learn from that,” Conque said. “It was pretty awesome. Those guys caught balls, ran balls and scored touchdowns. That will give them a lot of confidence moving forward.”
Matthews’ return next week against Colorado will give the Bears three options in the backfield, and Conque says all three will have a significant role throughout the season.
“They all bring different skill sets to the position,” he said. “We’re going to need all three of them to be able to do the things we want to do, and have the success we want to have.”
UCA’s receivers also enjoyed an impressive night, combining for 332 yards and two touchdowns on 29 catches.
Freshman Jatavious Wilson garnered most of the attention, in his first collegiate game, with two touchdowns and 105 yards on four catches, but UCA also received strong performances from redshirt freshman Desmond Smith, four catches and 77 yards, and sophomore Blake Gardner, 10 catches and 61 yards.
UCA’s most-experienced receiver, Dezmin Lewis, was quiet the majority of the night, but Conque said he would remain the team’s main threat at receiver moving forward.
Conque said the offense is continuing to develop its identity, but being able to both run and pass will be important as the season continues. In the meantime, it was important for coaches to get many players some experience in the first game of the season, he said.
“It was good to get those guys on video, under pressure, making plays,” Conque said. “Certainly, we’ll go back to the film and evaluate.
“We’re still a work in progress; we’ve got a long way to go,” Conque said of his entire team. “We’ve got a lot of areas we need to clean up. Certainly, you could see some potential with this football team out there.”
(Staff writer Lee Hogan can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1246. Follow Lee Hogan on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LCD_LeeHogan. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)