SDSU’s number one threat: Bears!

Travis Kriens

Travis Kriens

SDSU goes on the road again this week. This time to Conway, Ark. to play the Bears of Central Arkansas (5-3) who are coming off a 49-42 win on homecoming against Nicholls State. The Bears have won 17 straight games at home dating back to 2004.

The Jacks’ only previous meeting with the Bears was last year, a 20-7 win at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium. This will be the third and last Southland Conference team that SDSU will face this season. The Jacks won their two earlier Southland meetings beating Texas State 38-3 and Stephen F. Austin 45-0. The Jacks also have a five-game winning streak against Southland dating back to October 2005.

Central Arkansas has been a surprise this season considering they were picked to tie for last in the preseason coaches poll and sixth out of eight teams in the preseason SID’s (Sports Information Director’s) poll. The defense lost nine of 11 starters while the offense lost four starters from the previous year. The Bears currently place second in the conference (4-1) behind #5 McNeese State (4-0). A season-ending game on the road against McNeese State will likely crown the conference champ.

Clint Conque is in his eighth season as head coach. Conque has achieved a level of consistency for the Central Arkansas program by winning at least eight games in five of the last six seasons. He needs to win the final three games of this season to continue the streak. The high point came in 2005 when the Bears won 11 games and ended the year as quarterfinalists in the NCAA national playoffs, losing in overtime to North Alabama. The Bears exceeded expectations last season, their first at the Division I level. They went 8-3 and finished the season ranked in the Top 25.

This will be another in a long line of high powered offenses that the Jacks have seen this season. The Bears offense passing attack is led by junior quarterback Nathan Brown. Brown has a 19-6 record ever since he was named the starter in the sixth game of his freshman year. The team is sixth in the FCS (formally Division I-AA) in passing yards per game at 308.

Brown has put up incredible numbers the past five games. It all got started on Sept. 22 at Missouri State when Brown put up 439 yards and three touchdowns. Since that game he has averaged 348 ypg, completed 67 percent of his passes and thrown for 19 touchdowns. Against Texas State, Brown threw seven touchdowns on only 20 passes. He is second on the Central Arkansas career passing yards list and is on pace to take over the top spot sometime in 2008. During the game against the Jacks last season, Brown was 26 of 38 for 290 yards with one touchdown and an interception.

The running game is balanced with three backs having 270 yards or more. The leading rusher is Brent Grimes who is only a sophomore. Grimes and the rest of the running backs were held in check last year when the Jackrabbits gave up minus 16 net rushing yards. However, Grimes is coming off the best game of his career last week, gaining 117 yards and reaching the end zone twice against Nicholls State.

Senior Tristan Jackson is the leader of the defense. He leads the team in solo tackles with 33 and is also a dangerous punt returner. Two weeks ago against Southeastern, LA., Jackson went to the house with an 86-yard punt return. He ended last year with five interceptions in the last four games with a touchdown. Jerrod Dale is a sophomore defensive back that leads the team with three interceptions after seeing next to no action his freshman year.

Central Arkansas has been the most successful college football program at any level in the state since 2001 going 54-24 (.720) during that period.

SDSU is on another late season surge. With only three games left in the season, the Jacks need to win two of their last three to ensure a winning season for the sixth straight time.