Missouri Western (0-0) at Central Arkansas (3-4, FCS)
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Estes Stadium — Conway, Arkansas
Broadcast: ESPN3 Radio — KFEQ 680 AM; KMRN 1360 AM
When WESTERN has the ball:
For the fourth-straight year of the Matt Williamson era, the Griffons will begin the season with a different starting quarterback when redshirt sophomore Anthony Vespo makes his second collegiate start. Vespo, a Bolingbrook, Illinois, native played in seven games a season ago, completing 34 passes for 411 yards and three scores, including an 18-of-21 performance for 240 yards and those three touchdowns in his lone start at Lincoln in the regular season finale. He will take the ball behind an offensive line that replaced all five starters from a year ago, though there’s no shortage of playmakers. Sophomore Devon Holmes is expected to start at wide receiver with sophomore Cooper Burton and redshirt freshman Traveon James, a Little Rock, Arkansas, native who will make his collegiate debut. Holmes was the top receiver from last season with 49 catched for 668 yards and four scores. Burton and tight end Cam Grandy, who caught 20 passes for 261 yards and five touchdowns, were also in the top five for receivers who return. The Griffons finished the regular season 12th in the nation in scoring offense (41.3 points per game) and scored 40 or more points in six different games. Senior Shamar Griffith is the leading rusher in a group of three turners, going for 826 yards and four touchdowns at 6.2 yards per carry, while Jared Scott and Travon Harris combined for 60 carries last year. Central Arkansas has allowed 32.3 points per game this fall, forcing eight interceptions and 12 fumbles in seven games. Junior linebacker Dre Matthews leads the team with 43 tackles, including six for a loss. Sophomore defensive lineman Logan Jessup has 23 tackles, seven for a loss and 4.5 sacks.
When UCA has the ball:
Central Arkansas averaged 28.9 points per game, going for 230 yards passing and 102 rushing. UCA has turned the ball over 16 times in seven games, throwing 10 interceptions and fumbling six times. Junior quarterback Breylin Smith has completed 54.7% of his passes for 1,578 yards. Smith has thrown 14 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.The top receivers are sophomore Tyler Hudson and junior Lujuan Winningham. Hudson has 38 receptions for 554 yards with four touchdowns and averages 14.6 per catch. Winningham, a 6-3 threat, has 29 receptions for 384 yards with nine touchdowns and averages 13.2 yards per catch. Kierre Crossley is their top back with 95 carries for 460 yards and three touchdowns while Smith has attempted 51 rushes on the year at QB. The Griffons return four of their top five tackle leaders from last season. Evan Chohon was the leading tackler who recorded 94 a season ago. Kobe Cummings, Devan Burrell and Terrance March were in the top five in tackles. The Griffons had 23 players last season who registered a tackle for loss, including 11 who had seven or more. Missouri Western ended the 2019 season fifth in the MIAA in scoring defense (26.9 points) and ninth in total defense (440.2 yards per game). All-Region cornerback Sam Webb recorded three interceptions, 12 pass breakups, forced a fumble and blocked two kicks. DJ Sturgis also had 13 pass breakups and an interception. Arnold Crayton is the top returning sacker with five last year. UCA will be vary of kicking to All-American Trey Vaval, who led DII with 1,335 combined returned yards and ranked first in the NCAA in that category. His 34.3 yards per kick return broke a 27-year-old MIAA record and was the third best average in DII. He also ranked second in DII and broke the MIAA single season record by averaging 21.1 yards per punt return.
LAST TIME OUT
Missouri Western 35, Henderson State 14 — The Griffons ran for 287 yards and Vaval totaled 225 return yards as the Griffons won the Live United Bowl on Dec. 7, 2019.
Eastern Kentucky 31, Central Arkansas 28 — UCA took the lead with 1:21 left before EKU drove 77 yards to score with six seconds remaining on Oct. 24.
The two programs have never met before.
Missouri Western has played two current FCS Division I schools. The Griffons lost 42-7 to Western Illinois in 1992 and tied Drake 19-19 in 1995.