No. 7 UCA at UT-Martin
Hardy M. Graham Stadium, Martin (Tenn.), Saturday, 6 p.m.
Media: PAC-12 Network, www.ucasports.com
THE SERIES: The Bears lead the series with the Skyhawks 8-4. UCA is 4-2 in games played in Conway and 4-2 in games played in Martin. The last meeting was in 2007, when UCA won 48-34 in Conway.
The last meeting in Martin was won by the Skyhawks, 35-34, in 2005. UCA went 11-3 and reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA D-II Playoffs that season.
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 led the FBS Colorado Buffaloes 24-17 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter but then turned the ball over three times and allowed the Buffs to score 21 unanswered points in a 38-24 loss in front of 35,168 at Folsom Field in Boulder.
UCA senior quarterback Wynrick Smothers, who was intercepted three times for the first time in his career, had touchdown passes of 23 yards to WR Dezmin Lewis and 11 yard to TE Chase Dixon as the Bears overcame a 14-0 deficit and went to the locker room tied at 14-14.
Jace Denker’s first career field goal — in place of All-SLC kicker Eddie Camara who was out with a groin injury — from 28 yards gave UCA its first lead at 17-14 with 13:45 left in the third quarter. CU answered with a 31-yard field goal but UCA re-took the lead again on Smothers’ 1-yard sneak at th 14:56 mark of the fourth period.
Jered Bell then returned an interception 79 yards — CU’s second pick six of the game _ and Connor Wood connected on TD pass of 30 yards to Paul Richardson and 39 yards to Nelson Spruce to set the final.
UCA senior DE Markeith Gaines had a pair of sacks and forced fumbles on both of them, with the Bears scoring off both turnovers. Lewis caught a career-high 9 passes for 89 yards, while junior RB Willie Matthews returned to the lineup and caught a career-high 7 passes out of the backfield.
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 Skyhawks are 55-104 in the Ohio Valley Conference. UT Martin moved to Division I FCS in 1992.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: Freshman wide receiver/kick returner Jatavious Wilson earned the Southland Conference’s first Special Teams Player of the Week two 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 99-55. 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 loss at Colorado last weekend, UCA dropped to No. 7 in the FCS Coaches Poll and No. 8 in The Sports Network 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 face 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.
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).
ODDS & ENDS: Senior DE Markeith Gaines had two sacks and forced fumbles on both of them against Colorado. UCA scored touchdowns off both turnovers… Senior TE Chase Dixon caught his fifth TD pass in just his 12th career reception against CU… UCA had its second 85+ yard kickoff return of the season last Saturday 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 39.7 yards… The Bears are 2nd in the SLC in passing offense (330.5) and first in rushing defense (85.5)… UCA has allowed 0 return yards on punts this season… The Bears have nearly a 7-minute advantage in time of possession through two games… The Skyhawks lead the OVC in rushing (218.2), while UCA is tops in the SLC in rushing defense (85.5)… 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 last Saturday at Colorado. Ironically, he transferred to UCA from nearby Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
MISSING IN ACTION: The Bears had five players suspended to begin the 2013 season, including starting running back Willie Matthews for the opening game against UIW.
Matthews missed the season opener, but returned last week at Colorado. Junior offensive lineman C.J. Simon, junior receiver Jacoby Walker, junior offensive lineman Jordan Kersh and redshirt freshman receiver Wyatt Hikins missed the first two games but should return this week against UT Martin.
All are due to violations of team rules, according to head coach Clint Conque.
FIRST TIMERS: Sophomore PK Jace Denker scored his first career points against Colorado, filling in for All-SLC PK Eddie Camara. Denker, from Bryant, Ark., was 3 of 3 on PATs and 1 of 1 on field goal attempts. Denker kicked off in five games last year but did not attempt any placements. Four Bears scored their first career touchdowns in the win over Incarnate Word on Aug. 29, and another threw his first career TD pass in the purple and gray.
Sophomore running back Blake Veasley scored UCA’s first two TDs, from 11 and 18 yards, in the first quarter. Freshman receiver/returner Jatavious Wilson scored three times, on the kickoff return and on TD passes of 29 yards from Smothers and 36 yards from Reed, his first at UCA. Sophomore RB Danzel Williams, a transfer from Oklahoma, had 1- and 3-yard rushing TDs for his first UCA scores. Redshirt freshman WR Desmond Smith fell on a blocked punt in the end zone for his first TD.
TYING GRIMES: Sam Houston State RB Tim Flanders tied former UCA Bear Brent Grimes for the Southland Conference career scoring record with 59 touchdowns. Grimes, from Baton Rouge, scored 59 touchdowns between 2006-09 for the Bears. Flanders is a senior at SHSU.
FBS WINS: UCA is now 1-8 against FBS schools since moving to NCAA Division I in 2006, with a victory over Western Kentucky in 2009 and several near misses since then against Hawaii, Tulsa and Ole Miss.
Seven FCS schools recorded victories over FBS schools on the opening week of the 2013 season, including SLC member McNeese State’s 53-21 road win over South Florida. Nicholls State joined that company with a win over Western Michigan in Week 2.
Three more SLC teams face off with FBS teams this week, including Northwestern State at Cincinnati on ESPN3, Lamar at Oklahoma State on FSN and Nicholls at Louisiana-Lafayette. For the season, SLC teams will play 12 games against FBS opponents.
TENNESSEE PLAYERS: The Bears have seven players on their roster from the state of Tennessee. They are: junior running back Willie Matthews (Bartlett HS), sophomore defensive end Jonathan Woodard (Brentwood, Ravenwood HS), senior safety Karl Brady (Memphis, Raleigh-Egypt), freshman defensive back George Odum (Millington, Central), redshirt freshman linebacker Jazz Mason (Memphis, Arlington), freshman defensive lineman Michael Moore (Memphis, Ridgeway), and freshman defensive lineman Terrence Partee (Memphis, Southwind).
PRESEASON ALL-SLC: UCA had 12 student-athletes selected overall and a league-high nine first-team selections on the preseason All-Southland Conference football team selected by the coaches.
The Bears, co-champions in the SLC last season, were led by reigning SLC Offensive Player of the Year Wynrick Smothers, a senior quarterback from Destrehan, La., and last year’s Freshman of the Year, defensive end Jonathan Woodard of Brentwood, Tenn.
Both were on the first-team squad, along with junior wide receiver Dezmin Lewis, junior offensive lineman Cole Caruthers, junior placekicker Eddie Camara, senior defensive lineman Matt Hornbuckle, senior linebacker Justin Heard and senior defensive back Radarius Winston.
Second-team selections were senior offensive lineman Dominque Allen, sophomore offensive lineman Kyle Stouffer and senior defensive back Marcus Peters.
SIX PACK: The Bears won six conference games last season for the third time since 2006, the only school in the Southland to do that. UCA was 6-1 in 2008, 2011 and 2012. UCA is the only SLC team to have three nine-victory seasons during that time period.
SOMEBODY’S WATCHING ME: Five UCA players were named to preseason Watch Lists at the FCS level. They include: senior quarterback Wynrick Smothers (Walter Payton Award); senior safety Jestin Love (Buck Buchanan Award), and sophomore defensive end Jonathan Woodard, senior tight end Chase Dixon and junior placekicker Eddie Camara (College Football Performance Awards).
2012 NATIONAL RANKINGS: Then-junior quarterback Wynrick Smothers finished last season ranked 12th in total offense (296.0 yards per game) and 15th in passing efficiency (145.6) among FCS schools. UCA was 10th in scoring offense (34.83), 10th in tackles for loss (7.58), 13th in punt returns (13.65) and 17th in passing efficiency (146.28) as a team. The Bears were also 22nd in passing offense (266.58), 25th in turnover margin (.50) and 26th in sacks (2.5).
ON THE STRIPES: Through two+ seasons, the Bears are a perfect 12-0 on “The Stripes”, their unique purple & gray striped turf field. UCA hosts six games at home this season at First Security Field at Estes Stadium, including two Southland Television Network games and one on ESPN3.
Over the past seven seasons, UCA’s home record is 34-6, including 7-0 in 2008, 5-0 in 2011 and 6-0 last season. The turf is GeoSurface, the same that was put down on UCA’s baseball field (Bear Stadium) and softball field (Farris Field) over the past three years. The field features alternating purple and gray panels every five yards, with a large midfield logo and two large logos behind both end zones.
UCA was the last team in the Southland Conference to change from natural grass to artificial turf in 2011.
THE OFFENSE: The Bears’ offense has been consistently prolific during their time in the Southland, averaging 3,139 passing yards and 25 touchdowns per season since joining the league, with a 3,000-yard passer in four of the past six seasons and three different quarterbacks throwing for 30 or more touchdowns in a season during the last five years.