No. 13 UCA at Missouri State
Plaster Stadium, Springfield, Mo., Saturday, 6 p.m.
Media: Provided by Missouri State, Live Video, Live Stats
THE SERIES: The series is tied 3-3, with Missouri State holding a 3-1 edge in games played in Springfield. MSU won the most recent meeting, an exciting 42-38 final, in 2007 at Plaster Field.
LAST YEAR: The Bears went 9-3, winning nine games for the second straight season and for the third time since moving to Division I in 2006. UCA reached the second round of the FCS Playoffs for the second straight season, losing to perennial power Georgia Southern on the road. The Bears have yet to host an FCS playoff game in two seasons.
UCA finished first in the Southland Conference last season for the second time since 2008. The Bears were a league-best 6-1 in 2008 but were ineligible for the league title because of the transition from Division II. UCA (6-1) was co-champion with Sam Houston State last season, a team the Bears beat 24-20 in Conway on Sept. 22 to earn the league’s automatic bid to the playoffs.
UCA won four of the seven individual postseason awards given by the SLC, including Coach of the Year, Freshman of the Year (DE Jonathan Woodard), Offensive Player of the Year (QB Wynrick Smothers) and Offensive Lineman of the Year (Corey Howard).
LAST WEEK: The Bears dug themselves a 14-0 halftime hole before having a chance to win it in the final seconds. UT Martin’s J’Vontez Blackmon blocked a 42-yard field goal attempt by UCA’s Eddie Camara as time expired to give the Skyhawks a 24-23 win in Martin, Tenn.
UCA managed only 137 yards of offense in the first half and trailed 14-0 after UTM got a pair of touchdown passes from Dylan Favre to Dylan Davis (5 yards) and D.J. McNeil (31). The Bears came back with a 1-yard
TD run by Willie Matthews before the Skyhawks added a 22-yard field goal for a 17-7 lead late in the third quarter.
UCA quarterbak Wynrick Smothers (35 of 52, 328 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT) hit TE Chase Dixon with a 12-yard scoring pass to close it to 17-14 with 10:10 to play. After UTM scored on a 24-yard TD pass from Favre to Jeremy Butler, Smothers hit Damien Watts from 42 yards to close the gap to 24-21 with 5:33 left.
UCA forced a punt but Smothers was intercepted at the UTM 8 with 2:33 to play. The Skyhawks elected to run out of the back of the end zone for a safety with 35 seconds left to make it 24-23. UCA drove to the UTM 25, with Smothers going 3 for 5, but Camara’s kick was blocked.
THE CONFERENCES: The Bears have been members of the Southland Conference since they moved to Division I FCS in 2006. UCA’s record in SLC games is officially 30-13. The Bears also beat two SLC teams (Sam Houston & Stephen F. Austin) in their first year in the league when they did not play a full league schedule.
The MSU Bears are members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference and were 3-5 in league play a year ago. MSU has won two MVFC championships, in 1989 and 1990.
VS THE MVFC: The Bears are 2-3 against teams from the Missouri Valley Football Conference since moving to NCAA Division I in 2006. 2006 vs. Missouri State W, 16-14 2006 vs. South Dakota W, 24-10 2006 at South Dakota State L, 20-7 2007 at Missouri State L, 42-38 2007 vs. South Dakota State L, 38-10
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: Freshman wide receiver/kick returner Jatavious Wilson earned the Southland Conference’s first Special Teams Player of the Week three weeks ago after UCA’s win over Incarnate Word. Wilson had a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in UCA’s 58-7 victory. He scored three total touchdowns, including two on receptions of 29 and 36 yards.
UCA had 12 players named SLC Player of the Week during the 2012 season. Four of those players are still on the current roster, including QB Wynrick Smothers (4 times), PK Eddie Camara (2), WR Dezmin Lewis and DE Jonathan Woodard.
CENTURY MARK: UCA coach Clint Conque is one victory away from his 100th career victory as head coach of the Bears. His record, in his 14th season, is 99-56. His teams have won at least eight games eight times, including an
11-3 mark in 2005, which tied the school record for victories.
The Bears have recorded back-to-back nine-win seasons over the past two years, advancing to the second round of the FCS Playoffs both years.
NATIONAL POLLS: The Bears, who closed the 2012 season ranked 10th in the two national FCS polls, were ranked No. 6 and No. 7 in the FCS preseason polls this summer. With the back-to-back losses at Colorado and at UT Martin, UCA dropped to No. 13 in The Sports Network poll and to No. 14 in the FCS Coaches Poll this week.
UCA will play seven teams this season that were either ranked or receiving votes in the preseason polls. That includes two-time national runnerup Sam Houston State in the regular-season finale on Nov. 23. The Bears also faced FBS Colorado on the road in Week 2.
UCA has finished in the Top 25 in four of its seven seasons at the NCAA Division I level.
CONSECUTIVE LOSSES: The last time the Bears lost consecutive games was Weeks 2-4 of the 2011 season, with road losses at Louisiana Tech, Sam Houston State and Arkansas State.
However, the Bears then reeled off eight straight victories to earn their first FCS Playoff bid. UCA finished that year 9-4.
That streak in 2011 was also the last time UCA played three consecutive road games. Ironically, the Bears are wrapping up a three-game road swing this weekend at Missouri State before an open date on Sept 28.
GROUNDED: The Bears are averaging only 91.7 yards per game on the ground in 2013. UCA has rushed for 156 yards (4.6 per rush) against Incarnate Word, 60 (2.3 per rush) against Colorado and 59 (2.8 per rush) against UT Martin.
UCA’s leading rusher is sophomore Blake Veasley with 96 yards on 24 carries. The Bears are last in the SLC in rushing by more than 50 yards per game.
On the flip side, UCA’s defense is allowing only 120.7 yards per game on the ground. UIW had 87 rushing yards, Colorado had 84 and UT Martin had 191.
The Bears are averaging 329.7 yards through the air, second in the SLC. Wynrick Smothers is leading the league in passing at 291.7 yards per game. Five players have already caught double-figure passes, including Dezmin Lewis (18, Blake Gardner (16), Willie Matthews (14), Damien Watts (11) and Jatavious Wilson (10).
TURNOVER BATTLE: The Bears have thrown five interceptions this season to just two for their opponents. However, UCA has forced eight fumbles (recovered four), while fumbling four times and losing three.
Senior quarterback Wynrick Smothers has thrown five interceptions in the past two games. He had only nine interceptions all of last season in 12 games, and it was five games into the season before he threw his fifth INT. Smothers in completing 68.8 percent of his passes (95 of 138) but has as many interceptions as touchdowns. He completed 64.9 percent last season.
INJURY BUG: The Bears have lost two players for the season on the defensive side of the ball. Senior cornerback Dominique Brown will miss the remainder of the season after a knee injury in the Colorado game. Redshirt freshman linebacker Aum’Arie Wallace is also out after breaking his ankle against the Buffaloes.
Junior PK Eddie Camara has battled a groin injury for the past two weeks but did come on to attempt the final field goal against UT Martin. Sophomore RB Danzel Williams did not make the trip to UTM because of injury.
CAREER HIGHS: The Bears had four players record career highs against Colorado. Wynrick Smothers had 55 pass attempts, breaking his old mark of 49 set last season against Eastern Illinois. He also threw a career-high 3 interceptions vs. CU. RB Wille Matthews caught a career-high 7 passes (46 yards), while WR Dezmin Smith caught a career-high 9 passes (89 yards, 1 TD). PK Jace Denker scored his first career points (1 FB, 2 PATs).
Against UT Martin, Damien Watts caught a career-high 9 passes for a career-high 115 yards. Senior LB Radarius Winston had a career-high 11 tackles against the Skyhawks.
ODDS & ENDS: UCA is No. 1 in the Southland in total defense, allowing 331.0 yards per game. The Bears are 16 yards ahead of Sam Houston State… UCA is also No. 1 in red-zone defense (3 of 5, 60%) allowing 1 TD and 2 FGs… Senior DE Markeith Gaines had two sacks and forced fumbles on both of them against Colorado. UCA scored touchdowns off both turnovers. He came back with 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks against UT Martin. He is 2nd in the SLC in sacks with 3.5, 3rd in TFL with 4.5 and tied for 1st in forced fumbles (2)… Senior TE Chase Dixon now has six TDs in 18 career catches after grabbing a 12-yarder against UTM and an 11-yarder against CU… UCA had its second 85+ yard kickoff return of the season against the Buffs when sophomore Dillion Winfrey returned one 88 yards. Jatavious Wilson had a 93-yarder for a TD in the opener. UCA is 2nd in the SLC in KO returns at 31.7 yards… The Bears are 2nd in the SLC in passing offense (329.7) and tied for first in rushing defense (120.7)… UCA has allowed 2 return yards on punts this season… The Bears have a 4-minute advantage in time of possession through two games… The crowd of 35,168 at Colorado was the third largest crowd to ever watch the Bears. Ole Miss drew 50,544 in 2012 and Hawaii had 35,751 in 2009… Safety Bobby Watkins intercepted his first career pass two weeks ago at Colorado. Ironically, he transferred to UCA from nearby Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.