Central Arkansas comes to town Saturday for the second time in history. The first time was for the single game the Herd played in the 2020 Covid fall campaign. The Herd had to score the last 14 4th quarter points to overcome a 28-25 deficit to win 39-28. Were the Bears that good? I think it revolved more around it was their 4th game that fall, while we played only them. That was a distinct advantage for the Bears. Plus, for this game it went from 50% seating to just the parents of the players (200 plus people instead of +15k Bison fans). This won’t be the environment come Saturday.
Many of the local pundits think this is going to be a really tough game. Let’s dive into some substantive analysis before we jump to any conclusions.
Early in the last decade the Bears made the playoffs in 2011, 2012, 2016, 2017 and were seeded for the first time in 2019. In 2011 they beat TN Tech in the 1st round and then lost to Montana 41-14. In 2012 they fell to GA Southern in the 1st round 24-16. They missed the next four years but made the field again in 2016 and beat IL State 31-24 but couldn’t advance any further losing to E Washington 31-14. The next year they fell to New Hampshire in the 1st round 21-15. There only seeded year, 2019, was ended by IL State 24-14 (Red Bird RB James Robinson ran for 210 yards on 37 carries). So, in big games they are 2-5.
The last three years they have gone 5-4 (they played all their 2020 games in the fall), then two straight years of 5-6. They haven’t had a good win (beating a ranked team) in this stretch. They have been very average in this span. Why? Less than stellar defense. I don’t care about fall 2020, but in 2021 they were 84th in total D at 396.6 YPG, 73rd in scoring D at 28.7 PPG and yielded rushing yards at 166.9 YPG to finish at 79th nationally.
In 2022 their defensive numbers regressed to 92nd in total D allowing 421.2 YPG (ugh!), yielding 31.9 PPG (89th) and being poor at stopping the run at 189 YPG (97th). Most of that defense we will see Saturday. You also must factor in that they play in a weaker conference. They also tended to blow out bad teams and suck against good teams. They massacred 1-10 N Alabama 62-29 and Stephen F Austin 34-7 and were blown out by the two playoff teams they played. First was SEMO who scored 35 points, ran up 457 total yards with 205 of them rushing yards. E Kentucky slapped them around worse, scoring 42 points, 483 total yards with 230 of them coming on the ground. The QB, Will McElvain, was pulled after going 7-22 with only 94 yards, 2 INT’s and no TD’s. On the ground he was 4 carries for a net -4 yards.
Now there is a familiar name at QB, Will McElvain. Yes, he was the starter at UNI for two years before falling out of favor with coach Farley. He played the whole 2019 game at the Fargo Dome. How did he do? He led UNI to a 46-14 loss. He was a freshman, but his supporting cast was higher ranked than he has at UCA. Will went 15-29 for 233 yards (129 of those yards were 5 catches by Isaiah Weston, who was an NFL quality WR). He netted 22 yards on the ground in 8 carries and was sacked twice. He also had a high draft choice at LT protecting him. In reviewing this game on film, Will is shifty and a gamer, but is short and Code Green harassed him all day.
Will also started the spring 2021 game in Cedar Falls. His line was very similar going 14-27 for 193 yards and no TD’s. All his scrambling got him was a net 24 yards on 15 carries with 3 sacks. The Bison were very mediocre in the spring season.
Where does all this analysis lead to? The Sagarin betting lines have the Herd at a 17–18 point spread.
How can that be? They really played Oklahoma State tough, losing 27-13 and only trailing 13-7 midway through the 3rd quarter.
Simply put, one game doesn’t make for a full portrait. The body of work as a program does shed significant light on who a team really is. OSU was replacing 17 starters from last year. Gundy, the OSU coach, auditioned live three straight QB’s in this game and played 65 players. The OSU offense piled up 453 yards with 149 on the ground at a 4.8 YPC clip. That type of production should yield 35-38 points. Also, this isn’t world beating D by the UCA Bears.
What’s my take on the game? UCA is a dangerous type of team. They will be coming into the Dome with their hair on fire. We must play clean and smart. Code Green needs to stay in their lanes to stop the run and harass Will for a third game. This team reminds me of Mo. State in 2021 (the Quincy Patterson melt down game). They had a hot QB, a new coach and lots of new and better players through the transfer portal. They caught us sleep walking early in the game. Cam came off the bench to rescue the season and put us on the path to Natty #9.
This is the next step in the 2023 Bison destiny. UCA comes to town to a full Dome, not just a crowd of 200 parents. They don’t have three games played to none advantage like in 2020. If this Herd team is of championship caliber (I think they are), they will dispatch this Bear team closer to the Vegas line than the pundits who think this will be a nail biter. Go Bison, bring home win #3!