CONWAY -- A study of Southeastern Louisiana's game films might reveal an appearance similar to a look in the mirror at the University of Central Arkansas' offense.
"They have the capability to run the football," UCA Coach Nathan Brown said. "I'm not sure that's who they are or who they want to be. I think their strength is probably with their quarterback and wide receivers, very similar to what we're sitting with."
UCA hosts SE Louisiana at 3 p.m. today at Estes Stadium with degrees of first place in the Southland Conference on the line.
UCA (7-2, 5-1 Southland), ranked seventh in the Stats NCAA FCS poll and sixth in the FCS Coaches poll, is currently the conference leader. SE Louisiana (5-3, 4-2) is in a three-way tie for second and would move into a tie for first with a victory. A victory for UCA would keep it alone in first with two games left.
The Bears and Lions each rely on passing yards for the bulk of their offensive production with averages of 327.9 and 333.5 yards a game, respectively. SE Louisiana has rushed for an average of 145.2 yards a game and UCA for 71.7. Senior Carlos Blackman leads UCA's rushers with an average of 53.8 yards and senior Devonte Williams leads SE Louisiana with an average of 47.4.
"I think Southeastern has, historically, as good of athletes as there are in this conference," Brown said. "Hammond, Louisiana, is in a recruiting hotbed. You're close to Baton Rouge. You're close to New Orleans. You're close to Mississippi high schools and junior colleges, so you're always going to get a Southeastern team that's very, very talented."
Both teams' defenses are also similar, with UCA surrendering 429.6 yards a game and SE Louisiana 409.1.
"They're going to be a big challenge for our defense," Brown said. "We're going to have to defend the entire field."
Hudson stepping up
Three days before the University of Central Arkansas started its football season with a 35-28 victory at Western Kentucky, Coach Nathan Brown said he expected big seasons from sophomore wide receiver Lujuan Winningham and freshman Tyler Hudson.
The two players had, to that point, combined for a total of 12 receptions at the NCAA FCS level. Winningham had all of them, with 12 for 158 yards and 1 touchdown last season, which Hudson spent as a senior at Klein Oak High in Spring, Texas.
Brown said he wasn't certain of such success, but his stated expectations have been met, if not surpassed.
Winningham caught 8 passes for 222 yards and 3 touchdowns against Western Kentucky and Hudson 4 for 59 yards and 1 touchdown. Winningham broke his left arm and was lost for the season in a 29-25 victory over Sam Houston State on Oct. 26, but he still leads UCA with 50 catches for 814 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Hudson is second among wide receivers with 38 catches for 687 yards and 8 touchdowns.
"We all understood that with Lujuan's injury, we were all going to have to step up," Hudson said.
"I knew early on when he got here in the summer, that [Hudson] was going to be a special player," Brown said. "It took a week or two of practice to realize how good he actually was, and when I say that, he has a chance to be one of, if not the best receiver to have ever played here."
OL steadily improves
Among UCA Coach Nathan Brown's top concerns headed into the 2019 season was with his team's offensive line, which had lost eight players from its 2018 roster.
A constant work in progress, Brown said his five starters and their reserves played their best game of the season in UCA's 45-17 victory at Lamar last Saturday.
"We're gelling," Brown said. "We're starting to understand what we're trying to accomplish a little more."
Led by freshman right tackle Parker Ray, sophomore right guard Jaylin Hendrix, junior center Toby Sanderson, freshman left guard Joshua George, and senior left tackle Hunter Watts, UCA's offensive line helped clear the way for 505 yards of total offense in a 45-7 victory over Lamar.
Brown said Watts and Sanderson have helped lead the way.
"It starts with center and left tackle," Brown said. "You have Toby Sanderson at center, who's playing at as high a level of any center in the league, and then you got Hunter Watts, and he's playing at a high level, too."
SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA AT CENTRAL ARKANSAS
WHEN 3 p.m.
WHERE Estes Stadium, Conway
RECORDS UCA 7-2, 5-1 Southland Conference; SE Louisiana 5-3, 4-2
COACHES Nathan Brown (13-6 in second season at UCA and overall); Frank Scelfo (9-10 in second season at SE Louisiana and overall)
SERIES UCA leads 9-3.
LAST SEASON UCA won 33-25 in Hammond, La.
RADIO KUCA-FM, 91.3, in Conway; KKPT-FM, 94.1, in Little Rock
INTERNET ucasports.com, ESPN Plus
WHEN UCA HAS THE BALL Sophomore quarterback Breylin Smith leads the way for UCA. He has passed for 2,848 yards, or an average of 316.4 a game, and 24 touchdowns, with 8 interceptions. … Since sophomore Lujuan Winningham was lost for the season with a broken arm, Smith’s top wide receiver is freshman Tyler Hudson, who has 38 receptions for 687 yards and 8 touchdowns. … Senior running back Carlos Blackman has 40 receptions for 319 yards and 4 touchdowns. Blackman also leads his team with 484 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns. … Junior receiver Joe Hampton has caught 10 passes for 261 yards and 3 touchdowns in UCA’s last three games.
WHEN SE LOUISIANA HAS THE BALL Its offense is led by senior Chason Virgil, who has passed for an average of 286.5 yards a game and totals of 15 touchdowns and 9 interceptions through 8 games. His situational backup is junior Cole Kelley, a 6-7, 260-pound transfer from the University of Arkansas. Kelley has passed for eight touchdowns and rushed for four. … Five players have caught 26 or more passes for SLU, led by sophomore C.J. Turner, with 44 receptions for 499 yards and 4 touchdowns. WHAT’S AT STAKE A victory would leave UCA in first place in the Southland Conference standings and would extend its Southland Conference and overall winning streak to five games. … SE Louisiana would move into a tie for first place in the Southland with a victory
Sports on 11/09/2019
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