In his 30th year of coaching, the University of Central Arkansas’ Clint Conque says he’s long abandoned the psychic reading tactics.
"I’ve quit trying to gauge a team in pregame," he said at Monday’s weekly Bearbacker luncheon. "Sometimes, I’d think a team was flat and they come out and score on seven straight possessions and shut out the opponent. Other times, I’d think we were ready and we come out flat."
The Bears methodically powered to a 17-0 lead over Lamar in the first half on Saturday, then lolly-gagged through a second half in which the Cardinals severely limited UCA’s possessions with long drives and settled for an uneasy, 24-14 victory.
"Our body of work was good the first half," Conque said. "We looked like were were engaged in the game. Then, we have 11 snaps prior to taking a knee in the second half. We did enough. But it was frustrating, particularly to an offensive-minded coach that we couldn’t get our defense off the field. We were lethargic. There was no energy in the stadium and we certainly didn’t provide that with big plays."
The Cardinals kept a 76-yard TD drive going with a superb execution of a fake punt that went for 23 yards.
"Give Lamar credit," Conque said. "That was a great fake punt. But we didn’t tackle well, our run fits were not good, our gap integrity was not what we needed, although they had a couple of jitterbug backs who could juke outside. But I just didn’t feel our team performed the second half. We still haven’t put together a full game yet.
"... We were coming off a very emotional game against McNeese State the week before. We had a long road trip. We had six regulars out for one reason or another. There are a lot of reasons I could give. Bottom line, we didn’t get it done at the level we want to get it done and I’ll take full responsibility for that. It’s my job to make sure we are prepared every week.
"But some years, you are in close games and can’t seem to get over the hump. By no means are we unappreciative of the win. Our seniors go out as winners, our first goal every year."
One player whom Conque continues to appreciate is quarterback Wynrick Smothers, who completed 20 of 27 passes with two drops.
"Wynrick did an excellent job of calling our protections; we had no sacks," Conque said. "And on his touchdown pass to Dominique Croom (19 yards that gave UCA a 17-0 lead with 38 seconds left in the first half), they (the Cardinals) rushed six and we could only block five, so that sixth defender was coming in and he looked right down the barrel of an onrushing defender and found the receiver and completed the pass in the end zone."
Conque said he was also pleased with the special teams play, especially a 47.5 average by Kevin Buford on four punts.
The Bears play Southeastern Louisiana, the only unbeaten team remaining in Southland Conference play, on the Lions’ homecoming Saturday night at Hammond.
"I told our players this is a must-get game," Conque said. "If we want to at least share the conference title, we have to win this one."