Despite some glaring blemishes, most of what University of Central Arkansas football coach Clint Conque saw at the Bears’ first scrimmage of the season was pretty attractive.
"There were a lot of good things from our first group and at several positions on our second group," Conque said Monday after a detailed study of the video. "I liked the attitude and the energy and our players handled a sudden change (delaying the scrimmage an hour because of rain) very well. One thing that struck me as I watched it on the field was how physical it was, probably one of the most physical scrimmages we’ve had in recent years."
Conque didn’t like the 14 penalties, seven on each side of the ball and three fumbles, one each by quarterbacks Wynrick Smothers and Ryan Howard.
"A couple of the penalties on either side were effort penalties and you can live with that," Conque said. "What bothers you are the pre-snap penalties, not being able to line up right. The fumbles were not caused by great hits or major collisions but on basic read plays we’ve got to get cleaned up."
The Bears sustained no major injuries.
Although the numbers weren’t eye-popping, Conque said Willie Matthews, the Bears’ only experienced back, had "a really, really good day."
Matthews rushed for 56 yards on 21 carries and three touchdowns, a third of the time on goal-line action.
"He ran physical, very quick with good vision and good bursts," Conque said. "He reminds you of a combination of Leonard Ceaser, a back we had a few years ago that had great quickness and speed, with the physical nature of Jackie Hinton (UCA’s top back last season)."
Conque said backup back Blake Veasley ran well behind exclusively the No. 2 offensive line.
Smothers completed 19 of 24 passes for 266 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Howard was 12 of 20 for 164 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Jacoby Walker rushed for a touchdown out of the wildcat formation. "We’re pretty solid there," said Conque.
He said the first-team offensive line of Dominique Allen, Cole Carruthers, Alec Willis, Kyle Stouffer and D.J. Appe had a strong scrimmage.
The top wide receivers were Damien Watts (six catches, 125 yards, one touchdown) and Dezmin Lewis (four catches, 118 yards, two touchdowns). He said Blake Gardner (6 for 58) and Justin Burdette (4 for 42) had good days and played physical. He was also impressed with the physical ability of Walker on the perimeter.
"Ten wide receivers caught passes," he said. "The big thing is we caught the football from the first team to the backups."
He praised the efforts of veteran tight ends Chase Dixon and Thomas Hart.
Defensively, he continued to be impresse with the play up front of Matt Hornbuckle (three tackles for loss), Jonathan Woodard (three for loss) and T.J. Randall (four for loss) as well as redshirt freshmen Dawson Hadnot and Bailey McIver. Defensive end Derek Floyd was having a good day before he left because of an injury, Conque said.
Missing from the UCA defense were end Markeith Gaines, lineman Parker Carpenter, linebackers Justin Heard and Blake Chilress and linebacker/defensive end Radarious Winston.
"All of our linebackers who played had not started and every one of them got at least 50 snaps," said Conque of the 116-play scrimmage. "As far as situational football, I was very encouraged with the young players."
Conque said inside linebacker Zach Bush had "by far his best day as a Bear, game or practice." He said younger linebackers Ricky Wyatt, Kamane Thomas and Aum'Arie Wallace, and Jazz Mason also were active and solid.
Conque said senior defensive backs Josh Jones, Jestin Love, Marcus Peters, Karl Brady and Dominique Brown "played like seniors should play" while juniors Marvin Mitchell and redshirt freshman Haywood Jeffres also showed promise.
"I was disappointed with some of the younger players on the back end," Conque said. "A lot of our big plays were against younger players who were either out of position, got beat or missed tackles."
The UCA defense gave up plays of 70, 40, 34, 26 and 21 yards. "Too many big plays," Conque said. "Still, considering how many potential starters who were held out, there were a lot of good things."
Eddie Camara was four of five on field goal attempts with the longest at 41 yards. New punter John Harrison averaged 41 yards on eight punts.
UCA will scrimmage again at 3 p.m. Saturday. It will be about an 80-play scrimmage with a tightened depth chart base on evaluations from Saturday and practice this week.
"Everybody got to play last week," Conque said. "This week, not so much. It’s a big week for us."
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at email@example.com or at 501-505-1235. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send sports news to firstname.lastname@example.org)