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On the surface, it may not seem like the ground game for the University of Central Arkansas is producing the way some of the other teams in the Football Championship Subdivision are this season.

Of the 15 FCS programs that are playing fall football, the Bears rank eighth in rushing at 104.8 yards per game according to – and that's without North Alabama, Western Carolina or Tennessee-Chattanooga being included. The Bears are also averaging only 3.5 yards per carry.

But UCA Coach Nathan Brown thinks those numbers may be a bit of a mirage.

"I think, one, the flow of the game affects that a little bit," he said. "Sometimes when you maybe get behind a score or two like we have the last couple of games, you tend to lean on the passing game a little more than you would. And then, two, just us having a physical mentality set. A lot of teams are adding an extra guy to our box count.

"When they do that, Breylin [Smith] is forced to throw the ball in some of our RPO [run-pass option] game, which is why Tyler [Hudson] and Lajuan [Winningham] have had such huge numbers and have been able to take advantage of that. It's almost like a catch-22 when it comes to our balance, in a way."

That dilemma may again surface Saturday if Missouri State implements the same "take away the run" mentality as it did when the two teams met nearly three weeks ago.

That's seemingly been the mindset that the majority of Bears' opponents have adopted. Since rushing for 177 yards in its season opener against Austin Peay, UCA finished with 100 yards on the ground against Alabama-Birmingham, 98 yards against Missouri State, 71 against North Dakota State and 78 against Arkansas State.

Recent history, however, has shown that those totals don't automatically lead to UCA losses.

The Bears averaged just 88.8 yards on the ground last season in 13 games, but they still managed to go 9-4, gain a share of the Southland Conference title and earn a home playoff game.

Brown would like the Bears to have more consistency in its run attack, but at the same time, he understands that his team has to adjust to opposing teams' readjustments.

If that means more passing attempts from Smith, their All-Southland Conference quarterback, so be it.

Either situation suits the Bears just fine, said junior left guard Will Burgess.

"We've been able to adjust," he explained. "It's two different areas when it comes to pass blocking and run blocking. I think our run-blocking, compared to last year, is way up because we're picking up more assignments. In two games this year, we've graded out an 100% execution.

"Defenses are trying to do different things against us, particularly in the run game. But I think we've more than held our own."

UCA has an experienced offensive line as well as a capable stable of running backs, led by senior Kierre Crossley. The Texas native, who is averaging 5.2 yards per carry and leads the team with 325 yards rushing, believes the Bears have done an admirable job churning out tough yards, considering the predicaments they've been put in at times.

"I feel like the run game, in general, has been good," he said. "We started off the season with a big game, and from that point, it's kind of set the tone. I know against Arkansas State, their linebackers did a good job just filling gaps and trying to make it hard for us.

"They really just played disciplined defense, and it did kind of slow us down in the beginning. But we did kind of settle in after that."

Senior center Toby Sanderson said communication has been a big point of emphasis for the Bears' front line this season, particularly because of how teams scheme.

"We have to be a lot more assignment sound," he said. "Last year, defenses would adjust and do some things to us. But Coach [Gunnar] Boykin, our offensive line coach, has done a good job of preparing us for games each week.

"For us as an O-line, we kind of just control what we can control. Defenses will come and stack the box on us, have a safety coming down, things like that. But we just have to continue to do what we've been coached to do."

UCA will likely see those Missouri State's safeties playing closer to the line this weekend, especially since it had some success limiting Smith's production in the passing game in their first meeting on Sept. 26. He was 9-of-24 passing for 79 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception and was sacked 3 times.

To combat that, Brown said his team may have to make a change or two in order to keep Missouri State guessing.

"As a coaching staff, being more creative in our run-game concepts," he noted. "Giving us an opportunity, not just to do the same stuff schematically, but vary that and put out looks that we haven't shown. That's something we're studying, particularly with us playing them a second time because they've studied us.

"But it's one of those things where people want balance, and I get it. I want that as a head coach, but balance to me is taking what the defense gives you, and we plan on doing that."

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WHEN 7 p.m. Central Saturday

WHERE Plaster Stadium, Springfield, Mo.

TV KLRT-TV in Central Arkansas


RADIO KUCA-FM, 91.3 in Conway; KKPT-FM, 94.1 in Central Arkansas

RECORDS Central Arkansas 2-3; Missouri State 0-2

COACHES Nathan Brown (17-12 in third season at Central Arkansas and overall); Bobby Petrino (0-2 in first season at Missouri State and 119-58 in 14 seasons overall)

SERIES UCA leads 5-4

LAST MEETING UCA pulled out a 27-20 victory Sept. 26 in Conway.


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