The University of Central Arkansas entered Saturday’s game clean on The Stripes.
They left their home field black and blue.
McNeese State, who had lost four of five games in the Red Beans and Rice Bowl, administered the worst and most thorough licking Clint Conque’s Bears have had in 14 years.
The Bears played in all-gray uniforms and saw cajun sauce figuratively poured all over them in a 59-28 defeat.
Things turned bleak for UCA just as the skies turned gray. At one point, it was pouring down rain in one end zone at First Security Field at Estes Stadium and sunny in another. McNeese headed toward the sun and turned the game in their favor with a 21-point outburst in 5:22 of the second quarter.
They did in by ripping apart a proud UCA defense like a band of hungry wolves.
The Bears ran 106 plays and accumulated 644 yards of offense and lost by 31. Three of the touchdowns came as the result of interceptions. UCA broke down mightily in every phase.
And coach Clint Conque and quarterback Wynrick Smothers shared the blame.
“It’s all on me,” said Smothers, who completed 35 of 65 passes for 484 yards. “We’ve got to play better and it starts with myself. They got three touchdowns off turnovers and that’s on me. We can’t make those kind of turnovers and expect to win.”
“It starts with me,” said Conque. “I’ve got to get the people and leadership in place. I’ve put our team and staff on notice that the best players will start and play. We’re going to have competition.”
It was the SLC opener but it put UCA on an uphill climb to defend its share of the conference championship.
The Bears haven’t played that well since the last quarter of the loss to Colorado.
Now, after a non-conference game in which the Bears seem to have NCAA Division II’s Nebraska-Kearney outmanned, UCA will have almost no margin for error when it resumes SLC play the next week.
It’s a tough and more balanced league. Postseason for one of the SLC favorites is hanging by a thread, particularly after the safety net of a defense was riddled to shreds by the Cowboys.
“It’s a true gut check — for our team, our coaching staff and our program,” said Conque.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @dmaclcd)