University of Central Arkansas football coach Clint Conque began applying salve Monday to an open wound suffered by his football team.
Senor quarterback Wynrick Smothers, whom Conque often described as the face of the program, broke an ankle in the 31-0 victory over Nebraska-Kearney, ending his season and UCA career.
"He was an impact player on and off the field," Conque said at the weekly Bearbacker luncheon. "He was a great ambassador for our university. He is devastated right now because he had poured so much into this team. It has an effect emotionally on our team. His presence in our locker room went beyond his ability and rocket arm."
However, Conque noted that the Bears, who resume Southland Conference play at Lamar on Saturday, are pressing on to their goals.
"In my 30 years of coaching, I’ve never had to replace a starting quarterback during the season who had sustained a season-ending injury," he said. "This is uncharted territory for me. It means we are going to have to play better defense, tackle better get off the field on third down, create turnovers and be improved in the kicking game. We are going to have to block better, run better and catch better. Our offense has to circle the wagons."
He said the quarterback duties will be handled by both redshirt junior Ryan Howard and sophomore Arkansas transfer Taylor Reed plus using wide receiver Jacoby Walker, another Arkansas transfer in spot situations.
"We have to put together things on the fly," said Conque, whose team (3-3, 0-1) leaves Thursday for Beaumont, Texas. "Both young men (Howard and Reed) were brought here for a reason. Ryan has been in our program five years, is extremely knowlegeable about our offense, our run checks and our schematics. We had already put in some special packages for Taylor and his role will be expanded.
"Replacing a senior quarterback at this stage is not the easiest thing to do. We have to come up with a great plan and do what we do," he said. "I’ve talked to the quarterbacks. Wynrick was a great teammate and leader and they hate the circumstances, but they are excited to have an expanded role."
Turning to the positives of the victory over Nebraska-Kearney, Conque noted his defense responded to a challenge in the wake of giving u 59 points to McNeese State the week before. The Bears recorded their first shutout since a 34-0 victory over Northwestern State in 2009.
He noted every defensive player on the roster played. He started three underclassmen players instead of seniors — end Derek Floyd in place of Markeith Gaines, linebacker Zach Bush in place of Radarious Winston and freshman defensive back Tirell Wellmaker in place of safety Jestin Love, who was held out because of an injury. Floyd, however, sustained a knee injury that will likely sideline him for a few weeks.
"I hope we got the attention of some upperclassmen that they have to do it our way and not freelance on the football field," Conque said.
Even though the Lopers were a lower-division opponent, he said the game was not without meaning.
"It was a vitally important game," he said. "One, we got the bitter taste from a defeat out of our mouths with a win. And we got to play so many young players and that experience will go a long way."
UCA had no turnovers and Conque said he was pleaed with how the Bears ran the football against a physical offensive line.
"We got to see Danzel Williams (running back transfer from Oklahoma) on the field for the first time (after an injury) since the first game," he said. "We saw enough from him in the fourth quarter to be encouraging. He can help us."
Conque said he was disappointed in the kicking game. The Bears had given up 4 yards in punt returns in five games, then gave up 40 yards on one put. He noted Eddie Camara missed a chip-shot field goal.
"We’re going to need those points in the kicking game," Conque said. "But the focus now is to get to 4-3 and 1-1 in conference and get this thing going again."