Neither Nathan Brown nor his University of Central Arkansas Bears have any experience playing the same team twice during a regular season.
They're about to get their first lesson today when UCA (2-3) plays Missouri State (0-2) for the second time in three weeks.
The first meeting was played at Estes Stadium in Conway, where UCA overcame a 13-point, second-half deficit to pull out a 27-20 victory on Sept. 26. The rematch is set for 7 p.m. inside Plaster Stadium at Springfield, Mo., in what will serve as Missouri State's lone home game of the fall.
The situation is one that both programs are embracing despite its rarity.
The teams are among 15 Football Championship Subdivision programs that decided to play games during the fall season. coronavirus issues made it even more difficult for the two to fill out adequate schedules, so both agreed to play a home-and-home series.
Even more distinctive is that the Bears will do it twice this year. UCA will face Eastern Kentucky next week at home and again on Nov. 14 in Richmond, Ky.
It's been 63 years since UCA has played a team two times in a regular season. The last time that happened was in 1957 when the Bears split a pair of games with Ouachita Baptist University when both were members of the old Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference.
About the closest thing UCA has experienced since then was playing North Alabama in both the regular season and postseason in 2005.
That gap is even longer for Missouri State, which hasn't faced the same team twice in a year since picking up a two-game sweep of Missouri S&T over a 13-day period in 1945.
The game will be the third and final one of the fall for Missouri State, which will return in February to play an eight-game spring schedule.
According to Brown, that makes picking up a road victory even more challenging for his Bears, who've lost both of their games since beating Missouri State.
"They haven't played a game since they played us," he said. "Not only are we playing them twice at the college level, but you're playing a team team twice that has been doing nothing but preparing for you. That, in itself, is going to be difficult.
"They've had extra time to get to know our tendencies. They've had extra time to see and study who we think we want to be personality wise as a football team. Whereas the last two weeks, we've been preparing for really good opponents in North Dakota State and Arkansas State. We've had our mind and attention on other programs while they've been focusing on us."
Coach Bobby Petrino, who is in his first season at Missouri State, said his team has had two pretty good "grind weeks" since losing at UCA. He noted that his Bears spent a significant portion of that time on themselves.
"We did practice really hard," Petrino said during a Zoom call. "Four days the first week, four days the second week, and we were working on getting better. Individually, getting better as a group, offense, defense, offensive line, D-line. Got back and did some of the things that you do in a camp situation."
Petrino's team gave UCA all it could handle in the earlier meeting, finishing with edges in several statistical categories, including first downs (20-10), total yards (291-177) and time of possession (34:57-25:03).
Missouri State also was penalized 14 times, nine more than UCA, and allowed nine sacks compared to only three for UCA. Those miscues allowed UCA to hang around and win after Tyler Hudson's go-ahead 57-yard punt return touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
"We've got to limit our negative plays, whether that's a penalty, or a bad snap or a missed assignment," Petrino said. "Those things need to go away, and we need to focus and get better on not hurting ourselves."
UCA has taken some lumps over the past two games, both physically and emotionally. But Brown is hoping the tough stretch has helped prepare the Bears for what they'll encounter today.
"The one thing I can say that maybe we'll have an advantage on them is that [Missouri State] has had to sit," he said. "They haven't been able to get game reps, haven't been able to get game experience. That ought to bode well in our favor, but of course, that also comes with us being physically beaten down a little bit more because of the games we've played."
Brown said a fast start on offense will do wonders for his team. UCA has scored just 13 points in first quarters this season, including none against Missouri State.
"We've wasted scoring opportunities early in games, and we can't continue to do that," he said. "In that first game against them, we had a chance to put it in the end zone and then missed a field goal inside the 20. Of course that's not like Hayden Ray either, because he's usually automatic inside the 40.
"Our defense played solid and kept us in the game actually. Looking back at the film, there was so much that we could've done better. We are a different team now three weeks later, and our guys recognize that. But it's hard to beat a good team twice, let alone twice in a three-week span."
CENTRAL ARKANSAS AT MISSOURI STATE
WHEN 7 p.m. Central
WHERE Plaster Stadium, Springfield, Mo.
TV KLRT-TV, Channel 16
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