Even coming off a defeat, the University of Central Arkansas Bears are in a rhythm. Coming off a win, Sam Houston State is well-rested.
The two teams, who have taken different routes the opening week of the season, will play Saturday night at Huntsville, Texas, in the earliest Southland Conference opener since 1999. The game was moved up on the conference schedule to accommodate Lamar playing a full SLC schedule this season.
The Bears (1-1) went overtime in losing to Lousiana Tech last week, 48-46. The Bearkats have not played in 17 days after downing Western Illinois in their opener.
"We’re looking on it as a glass half full," UCA coach Clint Conque said. "We played last week and we’re gonna try to use that to our advantage. We’ve got some rhythm and chemistry. They may be a healthier than we are. We know more about our football team by playing last week than by not playing."
"The 17-day layoff gave us an opportunity to heal and work on some things that we didn’t have time to work on in preseason camp," Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz. "It as a tough camp in which we didn’t take many breaks. I’ve been doing this a long time and sometimes it works best when you have an off week and sometimes it’s best to play. It really all depends on the attitude.
"But we are chompin’ at the bit to get back on the field and play."
The Bearkats have won two in a row after UCA defeated them three straight times as it began play in NCAA Division Football Championship Subdivision. They return 20 starters from last year’s 7-5 team, including Tim Flanders, a Kansas State transfer who is one of the top backs in the conference.
"They have a big, physical offensive line, probably the biggest in the conference and everything runs through the tailback," Conque said.
The biggest problem for the Bear the last couple of years has been the gambling, blitzing defense engineered by former Northwestern State coach Scott Stoker. It’s a high-risk, high-reward defense that will test the improvement in UCA’s vertical passing game.
"They are not gonna change their approach," Conque said. "They will blitz and play man defense in the secondary. They will stack the box. They will mix it up and disguise coverages. But when the game’s on the line, they are going to come at you. SFA throws as well as anybody in the league, but last year, they played SFA man all over the field."
UCA quarterback Nathan Dick has thrown passes to 11 different receivers in two games, the most to Ole Miss transfer Jesse Grandy, who leads the SLC in receiving yards per game at 112.
"I’m sure Grandy will get some special types of coverages, which could open opportunities for people like Dominique Croom and Al Lasker." Conque said.
UCA running back Jackie Hinton, who has been held out of the first two games with a hamstring injury, is expected to return to the lineup along with offensive lineman Joe Lehocky and defensive backs Desmond Wilcox and Dominque Brown.
"We should have a few more weapons in our arsenal," Conque said.
The game is the second of three straight September road games for the Bears.
"This game is not gonna make or break our season," Conque said. "But the winner gets the first blow in the conference race. We’re going into the lion’s den. But we’ve got to win a game or two on the road to win the conference championship."