CONWAY -- The University of Central Arkansas will start the 2019 season up one first-string quarterback and down one first-team All-Southland Conference defensive lineman.
Four games into the 2018 schedule -- Nathan Brown's first as UCA's football coach -- a broken right ankle ended the season for starting sophomore quarterback Breylin Smith.
Junior reserve Kirk Baugh replaced Smith in the 34-31 overtime loss to Sam Houston State, but he injured his shoulder on the same drive. He completed the game but was lost for the season thereafter, and third-string freshman Luke Hales started UCA's final seven games.
Smith, Hales and Baugh are all back, and Brown has listed Smith as the starter for UCA's season opener at Western Kentucky in Bowling Green, Ky., today. Kickoff at L.T. Smith Stadium is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
The arrest of senior Chris Terrell on a charge of domestic battery by the Faulkner County sheriff's office March 29, and a subsequent arrest for a violation of an order of protection on July 10, have led to his dismissal and end of a decorated career at UCA.
"That's a bad loss for us," Brown said. "I'm not really sure what his plan is. I'm here to help him any way I can."
Terrell is currently in jail in Faulkner County. His next court appearance is scheduled for today.
Terrell had 43.5 tackles for loss in three seasons at UCA.
"He had a three-year stretch here where he was not only the best defensive lineman in the Southland but maybe the best in FCS," Brown said. "That's going to be a big void to fill."
Starting defensive linemen Cardell Best and Eric Jackson completed their eligibility last season, but Brown sounded confident in his team's current defensive front.
"We've done a great job recruiting defensive linemen over the years, and I think that's continued," Brown said. "The talent level is there."
UCA at Western Kentucky
WHEN 6:35 p.m. Central
WHERE L.T. Smith Stadium, Bowling Green, Ky.
RECORDS UCA 0-0;WKU 0-0
COACHES Nathan Brown (6-5 in second season at UCA and overall); Tyson Helton (0-0 in first season at WKU and overall)
SERIES UCA leads 1-0
LAST MEETING UCA 28, Western Kentucky 7 in 2009
RADIO KUCA-FM, 91.3, in Conway; KKPT-FM, 94.1, in Little Rock
WHEN UCA HAS THE BALL Expect an equal distribution of passing and running from an offense directed by sophomore quarterback Breylin Smith, who passed for 1,009 yards in four games as UCA’s starter last season. UCA returns its two leading rushers from 2018: Senior Carlos Blackman ran for 786 yards and 9 touchdowns, and junior Kierre Crossley ran for 600 yards and 2 TDs. Smith will have to find new targets in the passing game. Four of the five leading receivers have completed their eligibility, and the other is injured. Sophomore wide receiver Lujuan Winningham returns, as does junior tight end Jack Short.
WHEN WESTERN KENTUCKY HAS THE BALL WKU’s top offensive returners include sophomore running back Joshua Samuels, who rushed for a team-leading 639 yards last season. Junior quarterback Steven Duncan passed for 1,071 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2018. Senior receiver Lucky Jackson led WKU with 50 catches for 552 yards and 4 touchdowns
WHAT’S AT STAKE UCA has lost its last seven season openers played on the road. Its last victory in that circumstance came at Eastern New Mexico in 2004, when UCA won 38-31.
Brown's confidence in Smith's ability at quarterback has persisted since he named him the starter prior to last season. Through four games in 2018, Smith completed 68.8% of his passes for 1,009 yards and 6 touchdowns. He was intercepted once.
"When Breylin got hurt last year, he was playing as well as any quarterback in the country at this level," Brown said.
Hales was named the Southland Player of the Week after his first start last season when he passed for 304 yards and 5 touchdowns in UCA's 66-35 victory over Houston Baptist. By the end of the season, he had passed for 1,600 yards and 17 touchdowns with 8 interceptions.
Brown said having a proven starter on the bench will help in multiple ways.
"Breylin's injury kind of forced Luke Hales into the role as the starter, but this year, when we've got two guys who've been the starter, that's obviously a good thing in our quarterback room," Brown said.
Brown said Western Kentucky, an FBS program that finished 3-9 last season in Conference USA, played much better than its record indicates.
"They had some tough losses, but I think there's going to be a lot of excitement and energy about their program," Brown said. "From what we've seen on film, they look like a very talented program."
Either way, Brown said he and his players are ready for a real game.
"To be perfectly frank, we're tired of hitting purple and gray, and we're ready to hit something red," Brown said. "Western Kentucky is going to be a welcome moment for our guys. We're ready to go represent what we're about."
Sports on 08/29/2019
Print Headline: Healthy QBs lead UCA into opener