A rough 1-3 start, Central Arkansas is looking to turn things around Saturday against a hot Abilene Christian team after a long road trip to west Texas.
The Bears are coming off a 45-35 loss to No. 1 Sam Houston at home in a game where UCA got off to a miserable start that caused it to fall behind, came back and then the wheels fell off again.
The attention turns to ACU for the second game of the AQ7 Conference season, as the Wildcats are on a hot streak.
ACU sits at 3-1 on the season, falling 56-9 in Week 1 to Southern Methodist, but bounced back in a big way, holding opponents to nine or fewer points in the last three games, highlighted by a 56-0 win over Lamar.
The Wildcats boast the seventh best passing defense at the FCS level, holding opponents to 140.5 yards per game.
“They are a bend-but-don’t-break defense, which might sound negative but that’s not a negative by any means,” UCA coach Nathan Brown said. “That’s the philosophy they have. They’re not going to blitz you a ton, they’re going to play coverage. They’re going to make you execute down the field, which most teams have a tough time doing. I have a ton of respect for coach (Adam) Dorrel and his defensive staff. They do a great job year in and year out. They are just a clean, sound defense.”
That defense allowed a stifling 38 yards through the air against Lamar, but as history shows as well as from the mouth of the Bears’ head man, the Cardinals are more of a running team.
Either way, it was a big win for the Wildcats as they enter AQ7 play, feeding off momentum of a three-game winning streak as well as welcoming a Bears team that will make its longest road trip of the season to this point.
The length of the trip, however, is not a concerning thing for Brown.
“This is our first real road trip, which I’m going to spin as a positive,” he said. “I’m actually a fan of road games – obviously you don’t want every game to be a road game – but I think it actually brings your team a little closer. You’re taking 70 guys, you’re eating together, you’re staying together, you’re spending 48 hours straight with each other. You just get closer and closer and develop bonds and have some of the best memories you’ll have of football on those road trips, especially those long ones like Abilene.
“And, we haven’t had a chance to do that this year. We’ve had two road games where they’ve both been day trips. We’ll have probably 10-12 guys who this will be the first time they’ve stayed in a hotel with us. So that’s new to them. We’re looking forward to it.”
Obviously, as the two were members of the Southland Conference, there is familiarity between the two institutions.
Since ACU transitioned to Division I from DII, UCA and ACU have played six times, with the Wildcats winning just once.
The first meeting between the two teams came in 2014 when ACU stomped the Bears 52-35 en route to the only win between the two teams.
The Bears have rattled off five straight with the last meeting being a 31-30 win for UCA at home.
A 3-yard rushing touchdown by Carlos Blackman gave the Bears the 31-30 lead with 1:30 left in the game and then the UCA defense sealed it.
When preparing for Saturday’s game, Brown said his team watched that 2019 game tape to see how ACU’s defense operated then.
“We went back and watched our 2019 game with them, and we were inside the 10-yard line four times and came out with nine points,” he said. “We kicked three field goals and turned the ball over the fourth time. We found a way to win the game but that’s hidden points that we just weren’t able to capitalize on. So they make you execute all the way down. I think they do a great job keeping the ball in front of them.”
The two former Southland Schools square off in west Texas at 6 p.m. with the game being broadcast on ESPN+ as well as 91.3 FM and 94.1 FM.