University of Central Arkansas football coach Steve Campbell has a daughter who is into gymnastics.
That’s why he could apply a gymnastic analogy to the Bears’ approach to Saturday’s victory over Arkansas State, one that relied on stopping the run, a strong kicking game and making some key pass plays at the right time.
"Things factor out with a degree of difficulty," Campbell said. "If you are playing tough defense and special teams, you may not be getting a 10.0 but you made not need a 10.0 to win because of degree of difficulty."
In other words, the Bears made some tough plays and had players exhibit toughness in the face of difficulty in a landmark victory over their FBS in-state rival.
It’s the toughness template that Campbell is building his program upon.
He gave some examples to Bearbackers.
Two of his best offensive linemen, Stockton Mallett and Gilbert Garcia, were in a boot with ankle injuries earlier in the week. "They later took off the boots and said, ‘I’ve got to go. My team needs me,’ " Campbell said.
During the game, defensive back Tyler Williams took a hard hit and initially could not close his hand because of a "stinger" injury that affected his shoulder and arms.
As he was helped off the field, Campbell said he heard one of his teammates saying to Williams, "We need you. We need you."
Williams later re-entered the game in the fourth quarter and thwarted a late ASU drive with an interception at the UCA 9, which helped preserve the 28-23 victory.
Trailing 23-16 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, UCA faced fourth-and-goal at the ASU 3. UCA took a timeout to decide whether to go for it or try a field goal.
Campbell said running back Antwon Wells came up to him and said, "Give the ball to me. I’m gonna score or die."
Wells got the ball on a counter and scored to pull UCA within 23-22.
"We have been preaching toughness and I think the players have bought in," Campbell said. "I’m proud to see things start to pay off. The things we have been talking about are coming through for them."
The Bears have become a resilient group that will play with a passion under any circumstance.
That doesn’t guarantee a champion but it certainly creates a foundation.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or email@example.com)