Finishing off a home-and-home series during this season, the Central Arkansas Bears begin another home-and-home series Saturday against Eastern Kentucky.
The Bears make their longest road trip to Richmond, Kentucky, at nine hours, but UCA has made trips that long before.
“A similar road trip going to Incarnate Word in San Antonio,” coach Nathan Brown said. “Friday will be interesting, but it’s one that we’ve talked about and have been prepared for. We have an early afternoon kickoff. We’re changing time zones to the Eastern Time Zone so that will be a little different. Our guys are excited.”
Waiting for the Bears is a 1-4 Eastern Kentucky Colonels team that is a couple of plays away from a 3-2 record.
EKU lost 33-30 to Houston Baptist on Oct. 3 and then fell 31-29 two weeks later to Sun Belt Conference opponent Troy.
In both games, the Colonels were in position to win late, but didn’t get the job done, which leaves Brown with a sense of worry.
“When you’re getting close, at some point you’re going to break through,” he said. “We saw it last year when you look at what Northwestern State did last year with us. They played us to a one-point game. They were a winless team at that point and they went on a stretch there where they won three out of five.
“You look at teams that are continuing to improve and that’s what you see in Eastern Kentucky. The schedule may have something to do with that. Marshall and West Virginia as your first two games. There’s nothing easy about that, especially with the way Marshall is playing now. They continue to improve every week. You can see their confidence go up. I know that for myself as the head coach, you definitely look at that. On the other side of that, you look at the toughness of losing two emotional games back-to-back that were really close, especially that Troy game where they probably feel like they should have won the game.”
Brown compared the Colonels’ back-to-back close losses to the Bears losing a close game against North Dakota State earlier this season, but said his team failed to respond against Arkansas State the following week.
Brown said to combat the Colonels playing with high emotions and chips on their shoulders is to put up points early and “put some doubt in their mind so we can pounce on them.”
For EKU, they boast dynamic players on offense, including running back Alonzo Booth, who’s size reminds Brown of NFL Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis.
“You don’t usually get used to tackling a 250-pound kid at running back,” Brown said. “He has a very similar body build to Jerome Bettis. We’re going to have to do a good job of wrapping him up, rallying to the football and gang tackling him.”
The Colonels also boast a wide receiver that Brown says could be playing on Sunday’s in the future, as well as the guy catching passes opposite him.
“They’ve also got an NFL-type receiver in Keyion Dixon, who wears No. 16,” Brown said.
“He’s leading the FCS right now in receiving yards – he has five touchdowns. He’s a really good football player. They’re not afraid to throw it deep over and over to him, so we’re going to have to be really in tune at corner to play against Keyion. But also their other receiver (Jackson Beerman). He’s 6-foot-5. We’ve gotten used to playing big receivers throughout the year and we’ve seen it over and over again. This is no different this week.”
Brown said the offense the Bears defense will face is more explosive than what they’ve faced, and the EKU defense is nothing to glance over either.
“The defense we will face this week will be a true three-down front,” Brown said. “They’re very big with their front three guys. They have 285-pound guys across the board. They’ve got a lot of transfers on defense. They’ve got a kid from Notre Dame as one of their starting defensive ends and a transfer from Western Kentucky. They’ve got a kid from UConn. They are very talented kids that maybe just transferred because of situation or scenario. Their best player is No. 33. He’s an outside linebacker and a kid that we’ll have to key in on. He’s got a chance to give us some problems with his athletic ability and length. These guys have played some really good offenses.”
The Bears are coming in a little banged up, but are getting All-American corner Robert Rochell and punter Seren Hughes-Ford back this week.
“That’s two big get-backs for us,” Brown said. “We’re still going to be missing guys at tight end. We’re looking at possibly getting Sam back this week and playing on a bum knee, but trying to push through it. That’s still up in the air, but that looks to be improving daily. We’re still without Dwight Blakey and Jarrod Barnes at wide receiver. Dwight is making good progress on his shoulder and I think we’ve maybe gotten to the source of the problem with Jarrod and the sickness he’s been dealing with.
“We’re still good and banged up. Malik Wilson is out this week with his neck. He’s struggling with a stinger. That’s one of those injuries that is hard to get back. Nathan Grant is out for the year, but Logan Jessup has done a good job stepping up in his absence. It’s that time of the year. I’m sure Eastern Kentucky is dealing with the same thing. They’ve played pretty close to a full schedule. We just have to get the next man ready and that’s our approach every week.”
Despite the injuries, Brown said his team is ready to play.
“(We’re) excited to get back in the win column and get that good taste back in our mouths,” he said. “Looking forward to going 1-0 this week. If we can go 1-0 this week, that will put us at 4-1 against FCS this year. If we can continue to trend that way and play good football, I think we have a good chance. Eastern Kentucky is a tradition-rich program. They have a history of being a very good program. You can tell their players believe and play hard. They’ve recruited very well. Other than coach (Chad) Williams, our defensive coordinator, I believe this will be everyone’s first trip to Eastern Kentucky, so this will be a new atmosphere. A new place to play, which also adds a bit of excitement as well.”
The game kicks off at 2 p.m. Central time with the game being broadcasted on 94.1 FM as well as ESPN3.