The University of Central Arkansas football team completed its first spring under new coach Steve Campbell efficiently and effectively on a bright afternoon Saturday at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.
In one hour and 14 minutes in the Purple-Gray intrasquad scrimmages, the Bears ran 94 plays, had a minimum of penalties and no turnovers.
UCA used four running backs and four quarterbacks.
“The biggest plays in a football game are usually explosive plays and turnovers; the team that wins the battle of explosive plays and turnovers usually wins the game,” said Campbell. “That’s why I’m really pleased with no turnovers.”
The plays came rapidly in Campbell’s no-huddle system.
“By my count, we had run 60 plays in the first half,” he said. “We want to run a play about every 25 seconds. In the second half, I was slowing things down a little because I didn’t want us to run too many plays.”
Format was four 15-minute quarters with the clock only stopping during the final two minutes of each half.
The Purple (which consisted of the first offense and first defense) dominated the Gray (the second units and below), 48-6.
“The first team took the ball and scored every time, which is what you would expect with experienced players going against younger players,” Campbell said. “The first-team defense didn’t give up a touchdown and I know coach (offensive coordinator Nathan) was trying to score. I liked the enthusiasm and the tempo. With the time stoppage (a 10-minute half and a minute between quarters), it was 94 plays in probably 60 minutes of real football time.”
Running back Willie Matthews rushed for about 110 yards and scored on runs of 2, 1 and 3 yards. Taylor Reed passed 39 yards to Dezmin Lewis for another Purple touchdown. Reed scored on a 9-yard keeper, Danzel Williams scored from a yard out and wide receiver Jetavious Wilson scored on a 27-yard run. Eddie Camara converted on six extra points and the seventh was thwarted by a bad snap.
Jace Denker connected on field goals of 30 and 25 yards for the Gray.
“What I liked about the defense was when the Gray got in the red zone, the defense stiffened and made some plays,” Campbell said.
Ryan Howard, Reed and Hayden Hildebrand all ran the offense efficiently. Trey Shucker quarterbacked a series. In addition to Matthews, Williams, Blake Veasley and Jeff Anderson of Conway also had some strong runs in one of the best efforts by a group of running backs in a recent spring game at UCA.
“Willie (Matthews) had a great offseason and spring,” said Campbell. “He’s a bigtime back and I think he’s poised to have great year. We got him the ball and the more we get it to him, the more he seems to like it.
“All our backs ran well. Williams had some strong runs, Veasley is smart and tough and Anderson has size and strength. I’ve always believed you’ve got to run the football to be successful. That comes from watching Bear Bryant’s Alabama teams play and coaching under Pat Dye at Auburn and Jackie Sherrill at Mississippi State.”
“We need a strong, precision run game,” said Matthews. “I’ve heard some people say we have the worst running backs in the Southland Conference. I think we have something to prove this year.”
Kelton Warren, another running back who was coming on strong before being injured last year, missed the spring.
“I think we have depth at running back,” said offensive coordinator Nathan Brown. “It has been the best spring for our running backs in a long time. Our quarterbacks have done a great job of learning the system, but it has been the whole team, offense, defense and special teams.”
“I’m pleased how the players have adapted to what we have installed and how we have picked up on things and our leadership,” Campbell said. “These players are hungry. We’ve got a long ways to go but we are getting better every day and are headed in the right direction.”