The timing is perfect for the Bears’ open date, says University of Central Arkansas football coach Clint Conque.
For the past few years on the Southland Conference schedule, UCA’s open date has occurred at the end of the regular season. On the recycled SLC schedule, open date is Saturday, giving the Bears a break before their conference opener at home Oct. 5 against McNeese State.
“We won’t be fishing or playing golf,” UCA coach Clint Conque said Monday at the weekly Bearbacker luncheon. “There will be lots of self-analysis: What we are doing well, what we are doing not so well, what we should be doing differently and who we do it with.
“Having an open week late in the season is not always a great time. This (open date) comes at a great time. We have time for reflection, to get healed and for player development — to work with our young players and redshirts to keep them engaged. And we’ll take the time to get a jump on recruiting, in Texas, Mississippi and some commnunity colleges plus Friday night games in the state. It’s not an off week, just different things to do.”
The Bears (2-2) go into the open week after breaking a two-game losing streak with a 17-13 victory Saturday over Missouri State.
UCA held Missouri State to 70 yards of offense the second half, including holding the Bears three-and-out six straight times. In those series, the Missouri State Bears had net yardage of 3 yards, minus-7, 5 yards, 1 yard, 7 yards and 4 yards. Conque said the UCA defenders went from 25 missed tackles in a loss the week before to UT Martin to 13 last week.
“The defense was dominant; the offense was just good enough to win,” said Conque who won his 100th game at UCA. “Our body of work, for the entire season has been good on defense, whether it was bigger opposition, like opposition, similar opposition or small opposition. Our gap integrity is good, we are communicating and running to the football and we tackled better.”
He has also seen good things on offense, particularly quarterback Wynrick Smothers, wide receiver Dezmin Lewis and tight end Chase Dixon. Smothers tied a record held by Nathan Brown and Brian Stallworth by completing 14 straight passes against Missouri State plus 19 of his first 20, Lewis had eight receptions for 128 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown and a third-down catch that helped the Bears run out the clock.
“I don’t know if we could ask a quarterback to do any more man (Smothers) with the youth at our skill positions,” Conque said. “We are putting a lot on his back. He’s an elite player at this level and we feel we have an elite receiver in Dezmin Lewis. And Dixon has turned into an elite pass-catching tight end. We’ve seen significant growth and personal development in him as a football player.”
Conque also noted that Courtney Whitehead had two key third-down catches and receiver Desmond Smith also had a strong game, including a big play in causing a fumble on special teams.
“The elephant in the room is our running game,” Conque said after the Bears netted 67 yards on 11 attempts against Missouri State.
“There has been a lot of self-analysis there and we’re moving forward with a cleaner plan,” Conque said. “For us to be as good as we can be, we’ve got to run the football.”
The open date allows the Bears, who are banged up after four games, some healing time.
UCA lost fifth-year defensive back Karl Brady to a season-ending ACL injury against Missouri State. Starting offensive tackle Kyle Stouffer injured a knee against Missouri State and is out indefinitely. His backup, Jordan Kersh, had an ankle injury as did starting center Alec Willis. Conque said there is a chance that Willis and Kersh could be back for the conference opener.
Conque starting middle linebacker Justin Heard has been suspended indefinitely for disciplinary reasons.
After three straight road games to three states, the Bears will play five of the remaining games at home.
“It’s been a long grind on the road; we knew it would be,” Conque said. “We’ll be happy to play at home again. It is not basketball season yet.”