Two games against Missouri State has equated to two wins for Central Arkansas.
Really, we saw a lot of similar things in the two games in the 27-20 win over MSU on Sept. 26 and the 33-24 win Oct. 17.
While special teams weren’t much of a problem this time, Central Arkansas once again struggled to get much going on offense.
UCA generated just 268 yards on offense and at times, the inability to move the ball caused junior kicker Hayden Ray to kick five field goals, making all but one. His four field goals tied a school record.
“I thought in the second half it was a great performance on both sides of the ball,” Central Arkansas coach Nathan Brown said. “We kicked too many field goals on offense. Obviously our red zone offense could have been better. Our defense made some adjustments in the second half on their outside run stuff and made big plays. I thought we pressured their quarterbacks consistently. Neither one of their quarterbacks could get comfortable and that was the difference in the ballgame.”
In the previous meeting, the UCA defense recorded nine sacks, 16 tackles for loss and one turnover.
In this game, the Central Arkansas defense recorded seven sacks, 13 tackles for loss and six turnovers.
“Six turnovers to zero was the difference in the ballgame,” Brown said. “We’ve had our fair share of turnovers this season and it probably kept us from winning some games. I just told our players that I’m so proud of them because it’s not easy to play a team twice, much less playing a team twice that has been preparing for you since the last time you played them. It was a very difficult game.
“They are very well coached by coach (Bobby) Petrino. They’re going to be tough to beat the next few years. You can see they’ve got something good here. You didn’t know what number was going to step up. That’s kind of what we’re dealing with right now with so many guys catching the injury bug. So many guys made big plays and that’s a testament to our group of guys.”
Missouri State’s offensive struggles forced a two-quarterback situation throughout with Petrino having a short leash.
But, on UCA’s side, several key players were out and the team lost junior wide receiver Lujuan Winningham early as he was ejected for striking an official.
Sophomore wide receiver Tyler Hudson also picked up a personal foul penalty, which didn’t help Central Arkansas.
However, guys stepped up such as senior wide receiver Tobias Enlow (five catches for 55 yards) and junior wide receiver Mitchell Perkinson (five catches, 39 yards and one touchdown).
“Addressing the Lujuan deal and the Tyler Hudson deal, we were too chippy in the first half,” Brown said.
“We let get under our skin. That’s not UCA football. I addressed that at halftime very abruptly. That’s not how we play. That’s not smart football. We hurt ourselves with 35-plus yards of penalties in the first half, which didn’t help our cause.
“We played clean football in the second half and you could tell a difference. Tobias stepped up big in Lujuan’s absence. I thought Mitch Perkinson has stepped up huge in Jarrod and Dwight Blakey’s absence the last couple of weeks. Nathan Grant is out and you have Logan Jessup step up on defense. Austin Eldridge played a ton of snaps because we lost our top three tight ends the last couple of weeks.
“You’re seeing a bunch of names and numbers stepping up. We have a long season ahead of us. Four games guaranteed left and going to have to have more of that moving forward.”
Jessup tied the school record with 3.5 sacks, while falling a half tackle short of tying the school record of five.
Not only was the defense efficient, but special teams also pulled off a trick play as regular punt returner Hudson bluffed himself receiving the punt, while sophomore defensive back Cameron Godfrey actually received the punt and nearly scored from 65 yards out.
“What a great design by coach (Ryan) Howard,” Brown said. “We bluffed them with the field return and Tyler did a good job with the sell. Cameron did a good job there. You have to score right there. That was the difference between three points and seven points when it came down to it.”
Godfrey didn’t score because Perkinson was shoved into Godfrey by a Missouri State defender, causing Godfrey to go out of bounds.
While Perkinson scored his touchdown on a 10-yard slant, junior quarterback Breylin Smith threw his best ball of the game on a 42-yard touchdown pass to Hudson, which was the final score either team made in the game.
Central Arkansas plays its penultimate road game of the season Saturday at Richmond, Kentucky, against Eastern Kentucky University.