With the Southland Conference opener approaching for his team, University of Central Arkansas football coach Clint Conque said an open week went well.
The main part of that for the 2-2 Bears was having practice time exclusively devoted to developing young players.
“Roles for some of our second- and third-team guys are fixing to expand,” Conque said at Monday’s weekly Bearbacker luncheon, noting he has already lost four players for the season. “Some players who have been playing 12 to 14 snaps per game and playing on special teams will have those doubled. We spent a lot of time in the weight room, refocusing. Treatment was a large part of that because we still have a lot of players limping and on crutches ... ”
The Bears (2-2) play McNeese State in their Southland Conference opener Saturday afternoon in the Red Beans and Rice Bowl.
It will be UCA’s first home game since Aug. 29.
“Our players are really excited about finally playing at home; they seemed to have a different mindset, a different energy and they seemed recharged,” Conque said. “We had the best college football practice of the year under the lights Sunday night. There is a lot to play for. A trophy, defense of a title, we’ve won 13 straight at home and a 31-13 overall record since 2006.”
The Bears have won four of the last five games against McNeese in which the Red Beans and Rice trophy was in play. They are 4-2 against McNeese since UCA has joined the conference.
For the last four years, the games have been decided by four points or fewer.
“Every play is magnified; every play is crucial,” Conque said.
Conque said the week of the McNeese game is his favorite.
“No. 1, it was a pleasure to work there (as an assistant coach) for three years,” he said. “It is traditionally a quality college football program, the standard of our conference and I have great respect for their coaches and what they do. I wouldn’t be shocked if they brought 1,000 fans here. They are always a well-coached, physical, talented football team and that always gets me excited.”
McNeese (3-1), after a 41-7 loss at fourth-ranked Northern Iowa, is ranked 11th in one FCS poll while UCA is 14th.
“The conference championship will not be decided Saturday,” Conque said. “But one team will take a huge step because they will be 1-0.”
INJURIES AND QUESTION MARKS: Conque said the Bears should get center Alec Willis and defensive back Haywood Jeffries back for Saturday’s games. “Some other players are a work in progress and a game-time decision,” he said.
He said linebacker Justin Heard remains on indefinite suspension. “He is suspended right now for a violation of team rules and I will not comment further,” he said. “ .,. It’s unfortunate some players cannot get on the field but injuries are part of the game and rules are rules.”