One of the many challenges facing the University of Central Arkansas Bears on Saturday night is limiting feats of Clay.
Former Little Rock Central all-stater Charles Clay not only is a senior H-back for the University of Tulsa, but one of the best players in school history. He has scored 33 touchdowns in 43 games (23 receiving and 10 running) and is six shy of the all-time school record.
“We recruited him hard, but he’s gone on to have a great career at Tulsa,” said UCA coach Clint Conque, who will take a 3-0 team to Skelly Field at H.A. Chapman Stadium tonight. “They (the Golden Hurricane) use him in a lot of ways. He can run the ball, catch it, block and they use him as a decoy on occasion.
Two years ago, the Bears played a nationally ranked and undefeated Tulsa team (with Auburn assistant Gus Malzahn as offensive coordinator) at Chapman Stadium. They hung strong for a half before Tulsa pulled away to a 62-34 victory.
“The coaches are the same, but it’s two different teams than from 2008,” Conque said. “There are only about six players on either side who played in that game.”
Tulsa is again projected as a bowl team out of Conference USA.
“They are very skilled, fast, have a sophisticated kicking game and one of the best return men in the country,” Conque said. “They’re deeper, bigger and faster and averaging about 40 points a game. But we’ve made it clear to our players that we are preparing to win.”
The Golden Hurricane has three players, Trae Johnson, Clay and Damaris Johnson with over 2,000 receiving yards.
Johnson has moved onto Conference-USA’s career top-10 lists in kickoff return yards and all-purpose yards. He’s the school’s all-time leader in kickoff return yardage.
Tulsa quarterback G.J. Kinne, a transfer from the University of Texas, passed for 334 yards and three touchdowns last season against Houston while rushing for 100 yards and one touchdown. He’s only the 22nd quarterback in NCAA history to pass for 300 yards and rush for 100 yards in a single game.
“He’s very efficient and does an excellent job in managing the game,” Conque said. “He can make the key short throw and the big long throw. The thing that sticks out about Tulsa is they are 59 percent on third-down conversions.”
Tulsa opened the season losing to East Carolina, 51-49, on the last play of the game of a nationally televised game that turned quickly into a shootout. The Golden Hurricane defeated Bowling Green 33-20 before losing to Oklahoma State last week, 65-28.
The Bears opened with a victory over Division II Elizabeth City State, then defeated two Ohio Valley Conference teams (Eastern Illinois and Murray State, the latter with a fourth-quarter rally).
“They mix a lot of converages on you on defense and will be one of the most aggressive defenses we’ve seen,” Conque said. “They’re a blitz team. They’ll blitz at least one or two every down. That means they play a lot man coverage in the secondary. That means we can have the opportunity for some big plays.”
It’s the Bears’ final non-conference game. They’re off next weekend before beginning Southland Conference play at home against Northwestern State.
UCA (3-0) at Tulsa (2-1)
Time: 6:05 p.m.
Place: Skelly Field at H.A. Chapman Stadium, Tulsa
Coaches: Clint Conque, UCA, 11th season, 76-43.Todd Graham, Tulsa, fourth season, 27-16.
The series: Tulsa leads 1-0 after a 62-34 victory last year.
Radio: UCA Network including KUCA (91.3 FM) and KKPT (The Point, 94.1 FM).
Notable: The Bears ranked No. 1 in 15 different team statistical categories in the Southland Conference, including scoring offense, scoring defense, total offense and total defense. UCA has allowed only 40 first downs in three games, an average of 13.3 per game.
Quotable: “They (The Golden Hurricane) make you defend the width and breadth of the field and have great team speed.”