University of Central Arkansas senior cornerback Tre Smith remains calm, cool and collected ahead of Saturday’s matchup with Sam Houston State University at Estes Stadium.
The Bears are the 11th- and 12th-ranked team in the FCS Coaches and STATS FCS Poll, respectively, while the Bearkats are ranked No. 3.
The implications of this game are quite large despite being five weeks into the season as the winner takes over the driver’s seat in the Southland Conference race.
"This game reminds me of the game from last year against Sam," he said. "This is likely for the conference championship. We know what is at stake; we know the road is paved for us. We just have to win this game, and take all the other games one game at a time."
While the Bearkats are coming off a 66-17 dismantling of Nicholls, who was ranked No. 23 at the time, the Bears are coming off a bye week.
Smith said the week off was beneficial.
"It helps us a lot," he said. "We all have time to get better, but at the same time, we’re still practicing hard. We’re putting in their formations, and basically getting an early start on Sam. I really like that we had a bye week right before Sam."
A likely key focus for the UCA defense is reigning Walter Payton Award winner (top player in FCS) quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe.
In last year’s matchup, Briscoe threw for 431 yards and seven touchdowns, competing 27 of 42 passes.
However, Smith knows the defense can stop him.
"It starts with the secondary," he said. "We just have to make sure we stay glued on their receivers. Make him throw the hard balls. If he completes a pass, we realize he is an NFL type of quarterback, and we’re not going to lie down, but play the next play."
Smith said the defensive backs also watched a lot of film during the bye week on how to stop the dynamic Bearkats receivers.
"We’re very confident going into this week," he said. "We watched a few films, on their receivers getting locked up, so it is doable and beatable. I feel like we can really pull this off."
Prior to this year, the two teams matched up during the last game of the season since 2013.
Smith said the team will gladly play the Bearkats earlier in the season.
"Sam is not clicking on all cylinders as good, yet," he said. "To get them early in the season where we already have our loss, so we’re all ready to give them theirs."
Last year’s game was played on the road, but this year’s game will be played at UCA, which Smith hopes will bring fans to Estes Stadium.
"Atmosphere will be a key," he said. "I credit Sam Houston and their fans last year. Their fans did a good job of being loud and keeping us distracted on the sideline. I’m hoping our fans do the same and bring the same energy."
UCA and SHSU meet at 6 p.m. Saturday at Estes Stadium as part of Band and Family Day.