CONWAY -- After four consecutive weeks that included three road games, including two against FBS schools, the University of Central Arkansas used its bye week to rest and get a bit of extra preparation for the first of eight games in an eight-week run through the Southland Conference.
UCA (3-1, 1-0 Southland) will play Nicholls State at Guidry Stadium in Thibodaux, La., today. Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m.
UCA Coach Nathan Brown said there are pros and cons to midseason breaks.
"It's a double-edged sword," Brown said. "The positives ... are you get to steal a couple of days of prep going against Nicholls. That's obviously a good thing, as is the chance to get healthy. The positives are definitely great, but the negatives are that you lose a little bit of your routine. You might lose a little of the momentum you've built."
Nicholls State (2-2, 1-0) is led by senior quarterback Chase Fourcade, the Southland's offensive player of the year last season. Fourcade began the season ranked 10th in the Southland for career total offense, and he needs 220 yards to become the seventh Southland player to reach 10,000 or more yards of offense.
Like his counterpart, UCA sophomore quarterback Breylin Smith, Fourcade has faced two FBS schools through Nicholls State's first four games. He has passed for a total of 671 yards and rushed for 119. His average of 197.5 total yards a game is far below his average of 276.1 yards last season.
Brown said Fourcade's play goes beyond statistics.
"I don't think Chase Fourcade has ever been a real stat guy," Brown said. "His stats have never jumped off the page.
"With him, it's really just the way he manages a game. When you see him do that, you understand why he's the winner he is. He always seems to make the big plays in the big moments."
UCA offensive coordinator Ken Collums said Smith's play is a level above Fourcade's, but it's clear who leads Nicholls State.
"Their quarterback is good," Collums said. "He's supposed to be the best in the league. I think ours is, but he's played a lot of football. They're really smart with what they do with him. He's a very good decision-maker."
Nicholls State's defense has surrendered an average of 453.3 yards a game, including 170.8 yards rushing. Brown said he hopes UCA's rushing attack, led by senior running back Carlos Blackman, can extend the momentum from Blackman's 147 rushing yards in UCA's last game, a 35-16 loss at Hawaii on Sept. 21.
"We needed to have some success running the football," Brown said. "To have a game like that, especially on the road against a really quality opponent, makes it even more exciting for us."
Through four games, UCA's defense ranks second in the 11-school Southland Conference in fewest points allowed with an average of 27.2 points per game.
Brown said he expected outstanding play from his defensive backfield and linebackers before the season began, but he has been especially pleased by a revamped defensive line, with juniors Nathan Grant, J.W. Jones and Austin Norris, and freshman Caden Brown.
"That first unit that we put out there has just been playing really, really solid," Brown said.
UCA lost three multiseason starters from 2018. Cardell Best and Eric Jackson were seniors last season, and All-Southland first-team senior-to-be Chris Terrell was dismissed from the team for off-the-field matters before the season began.
Most people appreciate the days when the room temperature of early fall replaces the oppressive heat of southern summers, but perhaps none more than athletes.
On Wednesday, two days into October, the high temperature in Conway was a record 95 degrees. The first significant cold front of the fall rolled through late Thursday, and at 10 a.m. Friday -- as UCA's football team loaded buses for a trip to play Nicholls State -- the temperature was 66 degrees.
Brown said he and his staff have begun to grow accustomed to prolonged heat and a delay to the relief of lower temperatures and drier air.
"It's the first week of October, and we've had record temperatures this week," Brown said. "We see this cold front coming in, and it just makes us a little bit giddy. To see that on the horizon definitely gets you excited."
Brown said football coaches and players have adjusted to prolonged seasons of extreme heat over the past several years.
"We're having to be a little more strategic and a little more creative in the way we practice," Brown said. "At this point, we're nine weeks into the season, when you count August drills, and the kids are just tired of the heat.
"We have to come up with ways to get our players motivated to do the things it takes to be successful. The way it is in Arkansas now, you can expect September to be a summer month from now on."
Sports on 10/05/2019
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