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UCA suffers offensive woes in defeat at Tarleton State

by Adam Cole | November 21, 2021 at 2:55 a.m.

The University of Central Arkansas had a chance to finish the year above .500 with Saturday's game against Tarleton State, but with starting quarterback Breylin Smith highlighting multiple injury-related absences, the Bears looked lost against the Texans.

On both sides of the ball, UCA put together some of their worst efforts of the season, losing 24-3 to Tarleton State in Stephenville, Texas.

"There's not much I can say," UCA Coach Nathan Brown said. "I just told the guys if they expected me to say something profound, or make it OK, or make you feel better, I probably wasn't going to do a good job of it."

UCA (5-6) finished with a season-low 161 yards of offense, unable to go over 100 yards on the ground or through the air. While the Bears were without Smith and receiver Lujuan Winningham, both out with ankle injuries, they couldn't seem to find anything in their absence.

UCA brought three young quarterbacks on on the road trip in freshmen Hunter Loyd and Tyler Gee and redshirt freshman Darius Bowers. All three saw the field, but none could muster anything much offensively.

As a unit, they were 8-of-26 passing for 69 yards and an interception. Bowers started but only threw six passes in the first half and didn't complete any of them. Loyd threw the team's first completion in the third quarter.

"Those guys hadn't gotten any reps," Brown said. "It's not like they've gotten a bunch of cleanup duty, and so this was really them guys getting thrown to the wolves."

With the passing attack's collapse, it left what's been a surprisingly good running game vulnerable. UCA's 92 rushing yards marked the first time since its loss to Sam Houston that it didn't eclipse the century mark on the ground.

Darius Hale finished the night with a team-high 76 rush yards. It pushed him over the 1,000-yard mark to 1,021 yards. It's the first time since 2009 that UCA has had a 1,000-yard rusher.

The offense was helpless without Smith, but the defense -- which has been the Bears' weakest link all year -- was almost as ineffective. Tarleton State (6-5) generated 477 yards, marking the fifth time this year that the Bears allowed 400-plus yards of offense.

Steven Duncan had 217 passing yards for the Texans and 2 touchdowns, while Jayy McDonald generated 146 yards of a 260-yard night on the ground for Tarleton State. That rushing total is the largest the Bears gave up all season, and the third time they've given up 200-plus yards.

While UCA began the season with a top-25 ranking, its 5-6 finish marks the first losing season since 2009, when it finished 5-7.

"The cards weren't dealt our way this year, and it sucks," Brown said. "This is going to be a soul-searching offseason."

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