Every year, the battle against No. 14/16 McNeese State seems to always hold some kind of weight. The No. 13/14 University of Central Arkansas coach Nathan Brown said as much when speaking of Saturday’s matchup in the Red Beans and Rice Bowl.
“That game seems to historically, at least since I’ve been a part of this program and since we’ve made the Division I jump, there always seems to be some implications on this game It’s two great programs that battle it out every year,” he said. “That’s a game we circled on our calendar. Going to Lake Charles is tough. Even with the loss, they came out 14th in the polls. There is still respect there for those guys. It’s going to take a great effort in all three phases of the game to beat them.”
In a strange turn of events last weekend, McNeese State (5-2, 4-1 Southland Conference) was beaten by Incarnate Word, who is currently in a first-place tie with the Cowboys and Bears.
Sam Houston State also fell last week at the hands of Lamar in a 41-23 defeat.
Now, UCA controls its destiny with games against McNeese and Incarnate Word remaining on the schedule and it starts with a tough road trip against the Cowboys, a place where Brown compares to the atmosphere of Louisiana State University.
It’s not going to be an easy game at all for the Bears as McNeese boasts arguably the top defense in the SLC.
Nicholls has a slight edge in scoring defense, giving up 22.4 points pre game as opposed to the Cowboy’s 23.4 points per game.
However, McNeese holds the edge in total defense, giving up 334.3 yards per game, while Nicholls gives up 335.6 per game.
“Coach Guidry is a defensive coach,” Brown said. “They are very passionate on that side of the ball. They call themselves the DWA, “defense with attitude.” They play that way and play with reckless abandon. It’s going to be a great challenge. We have to run our offense and on defense, we need to not look at the statistics. They have one of the best tight ends in the conference, maybe the nation. We have to be prepared on both sides of the ball.”
UCA’s top scoring offense has its work cut out for it in going up against the Cowboys’ defense, but the Bears also comes in with a strong defense.
UCA is third on both scoring defense and total defense, giving up 25.6 points per game and 389.9 yards per game.
McNeese will have to find some firepower as it enters as one of the bottom offenses in the conference, scoring 21.3 points per game (10th) and 299.4 (11th).
With the two teams battling for the top spot in the SLC and a guaranteed playoff spot, it should be an exciting game.
Bears redshirt freshman quarterback Luke Hales will continue to take snaps under center.
Hales has thrown 11 touchdowns across three games, including a pair of five passing touchdown games at home.
In last year’s matchup, UCA scored on a blocked punt and fumble recovery scoop and score.
Brown said it will likely take an odd play to win the game Saturday.
“It’s a big game and a neat rivalry and something we take very seriously,” he said. “It’s going to take a blocked punt or a score on defense to win games like this. You like to think you’ll score 42 points and Luke will throw six touchdowns and we’re planning on doing that but it’s nice to get something from the other side.”
The two teams enter this game with the series knotted at 6-5 all-time with the Bears leading.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 6 p.m. and will be broadcasted on ESPN3 as well as the UCA Radio Network on 94.1 FM or 91.3 FM.