In the wake of a loss in the Bears’ Southland Conference opponent and with much-anticipated game against Arkansas State just ahead, University of Central Arkansas coach Clint Conque is faced with rallying his troops without a major weapon.
Senior quarterback Nathan Dick, who sustained a concussion after a late hit in Saturday’s game at Sam Houston State, will not suit up for Saturday night’s game against the Red Wolves in Jonesboro, Conque said at Monday’s weekly Bearbacker luncheon.
"We’ll get the next man ready (Wynrick Smothers) and move the third-team guy (Ryan Howard) up," Conque said. "But 2s are there for a reason. But we’re moving forward and are excited about the opportunity. They (the Red Wolves will get the best guys ready and we’ll get our best guys who are able ready and we’ll go compete.
"But it’s not like losing a wide receiver. Quarterback is the most important position. Ask the Indianapolis Colts."
Dick took 18 hits and was sacked four times the previous week against Louisiana Tech. Conque said the UCA staff later learned Dick had sustained a concussion in that game and was not cleared to practice by the medical staff until Wednesday and did not practice until Thursday.
Dick left Saturday’s game against Sam Houston State late in the second quarter with a concussion from a late hit that drew a personal foul penalty. Conque said Dick had suffered a concussion the previous week against Louisiana Tech and did not practice last week until Thursday after receiving clearance from the medical staff.
"We are never gonna jeopardize any potential short-term gain at the expense to an injury to an athlete at the potential of long-term damage," Conque said.
Conque said Dick will be receiving an MRI Tuesday and his status beyond the ASU game will be determined by the UCA medical staff.
Smothers, a sophomore who has had spot duty the last two years, will start at quarterback against the Red Wolves, Conque said.
THE ASU GAME
The Centennial Shootout will be televised statewide on KATV (Channel 7, Little Rock). The last time the teams played (in 1997) drew one of the largest crowds in ASU history.
"Both institutions have already won," Conque said. "It’s a win-win for the state of Arkansas. It’s win-win before we ever kick off. It was a win-win when we hosted Henderson State in our opener. I’ve been a proponent of in-state competition. They’re gonna have a huge crowd that will be a financial benefit to them. We are going to be financially compensated."
REFLECTING ON THE SAM
In the SLC opener, Sam Houston State dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage in a 31-10 victory, one of the most decisive defeats the Bears have sustained in conference play.
"I thought our team had a good week of preparation and in all three phases had a sound plan," Conque said. "I felt the kids had bounced back from a very difficult loss, a very physical game against Louisiana Tech. I was concerned how we would transition from an emotional loss on a much-bigger stage to a nine-hour bus trip, but I thought the players handled it really well, but we didn’t play very well and that was disappointing. You’ve got to be able to take that preparation to the actual competition.
"Give Sam Houston credit. They came out and played a very physical football game. They didn’t do anything we didn’t prepare for; they just executed better than we did."
FROM THE START
The Bears fell behind 17-3 early. But a key occurred after the Bearkats scored on their first drive.
"After a long pass to Isaiah Jackson, we get into the tight red area and miss a short throw and had a chip shot 24-yard field goal that we missed," Conque said. "I felt that if we would have at least match a score for score. It was a little bit deflating we didn’t get any points on that drive ... They just played more physical than we did. We got beat up in the Louisiana Tech game, but that’s not an excuse; we’ve got to go out and play for 60 minutes. We dropped some balls that were very critical and we missed a couple of guys who were open."
"For two straight weeks, we missed a lot of tackles," Conque said. "Sometimes, we’d have our hat inside instead of outside or sometimes we didn’t disengage off blocks and we were reaching and grabbing; sometimes we just made the wrong read. That (Sam Houston) was a team that hadn’t played since Sept. 1, so they had a lot of time to prepare for us. At the end of the day, I thought our kids tried really hard but the execution just wasn’t there.
"They rushed for over 300 yards, and I still believe you’ve got to stop the run even against teams that pass the ball. We haven’t done a good job the past two weeks in defending the run and a lot of that has to do with poor tackling. We will spend a lot of time again this week on tackling."
MORE ON DEFENSE
Was the performance residual effects from Louisiana Tech, Sam Houston’s play, underachievement or all of the above?
"All of the above," Conque said. "I think the Louisiana Tech game was a very violent game, a very emotional game. If we had won that game at the end, I would be just as guarded. Jacob Bundrick (middle linebacker) made his first start. Seth Allison had 16 tackles and missed four assignments ... I think we were probably about a half-step slow. I think after three or four possessions of just pounding, pounding, pounding, those joints got a little sore. And Sam Houston executed pretty well."
UCA had only nine possessions in the game, only four the second half.
"When fall behind to an option team, two scores or three scores, you know you are going to have a difficult time playing catchup because you have limited opportunities," Conque said. "In an average college football game there are about 14 or 15 possessions. We ran 56 plays and the week before, we ran 79 or 80 during regulation. When you get your at-bats against an option team, you’ve got to make the most of them. It’s very very difficult to catch up with four possessions the second half. They were running the football and making big plays with our poor tackling ... We didn’t get any turnovers and with poor tackling, we didn’t get many opportunities. With that being said, the offense has to respond to that. You’ve got to understand what type of game you’re in and raise your level of execution and we didn’t do that either."
Frank Newsome, the Bears’ leading tackler last year, was held out of the game because of injury.
"He traveled but couldn’t go," Conque said.
The coach said Newsome’s status for ASU is questionable at best.
"Frank is a really good football player, a very talented young man, very strong, very powerful but he’s got to practice," Conque said. "He’s got to get his reps in."
Running back Jackie Hinton, who is recovering from a hamstring injury, played at 80 percent efficiency last week, Conque said, but could be close to 100 percent.
"If he can go at 100 percent, it will add another dynamic to our offense," Conque said.
A fan bus will leave from the Farris Center at noon. Cost for the bus is $35 per person and $50 per person if a game ticket is included. Reservations can be made by calling the athletic department at 450-3150.
The UCA tailgating area will be near the baseball field on the south side of the stadium. Friday, the UCA alumni headquarters will be at the Hilton Garden Inn in Jonesboro.