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Bobby Petrino isn’t used to having an offense that has struggled like the one he has right now. 

The 48-0 loss to Oklahoma in his Missouri State debut wasn’t a surprise to many, but it was still the first time he had been shut out as a head football coach. 

A few weeks later, the Bears put some points on the board in a 27-20 loss at Central Arkansas, but the offense still turned the ball over four times in a game his team feels like it should have won. 

More: Missouri State vs. Central Arkansas football: How to watch, stream, listen

Entering the final week of the shortened 2020 season, Petrino and the Bears will look to create some momentum offensively as they head into a different offseason before playing an eight-game Missouri Valley Football Conference season starting Feb. 20. 

Missouri State will host FCS No. 11 Central Arkansas on Saturday at 7 p.m. for its final game of the fall. In the two teams’ first matchup of the season on Sept. 26, MSU led by 13 late in the third quarter but it allowed 20 points in a span of 133 seconds of game time before ultimately losing. 

“Our guys are excited about it and we’re excited to play at home,” Petrino said Monday. “Our guys are going to have a good week of practice to get ready for the game.”

Here is how Petrino and the Bears are approaching their final game of the fall:

Leading up to another game with Central Arkansas

Petrino admitted the last two weeks have been challenging. There were a couple of days where the concentration faded and there were others where the coaching staff wasn’t getting the enthusiasm they wanted. 

The Bears finished last week strong and the players are eager to get back on the field. 

Among those who will be back are receivers Lorenzo Thomas and Jordan Murray — who both missed the Bears’ first matchup with Central Arkansas with non-COVID-related injuries. 

Petrino said the Bears are as healthy as they’ve been the entire offseason relating to COVID-19. Another test will be taken before game time. 

Tailback Jeremiah Wilson could see his return to the field on Saturday after tearing his ACL in November. Petrino said Wilson has participated in contact drills and a decision will be made on his status for Saturday early in the week. 

Wilson is a player with a lot of potential in the Bears’ backfield, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. He wasn’t listed in the team’s depth chart on Tuesday and there’s a chance the Bears could opt to rest him until the spring season. 

UCA competed tough with No. 1 North Dakota State

Central Arkansas has played two games since the two Bears teams met on the field. Both resulted in losses, with FCS No. 1 North Dakota State beating UCA 39-28 while Arkansas State won 50-27 this past weekend. 

With 10:35 left in the fourth quarter, Central Arkansas took a 28-25 lead over the Bison — but the defending national champs scored two touchdowns in the final 7:35 of the game to put it away. 

For a Missouri State team that hasn’t had much in common with North Dakota State over the last decade, there were spots where the Bears could compare themselves to the Bison and get a boost of confidence going forward. 

Here are some numbers comparing the Bears’ and Bison’s efforts against Central Arkansas in games that were one week apart:

Total yards allowed:

  • MSU — 177
  • NDSU — 297

Rushing yards allowed: 

Passing yards allowed: 

Total yards gained: 

  • MSU — 291
  • NDSU — 226

Rushing yards gained: 

Passing yards gained: 

  • MSU — 249
  • NDSU — 149

Do these numbers mean Missouri State is already on its way to becoming a North Dakota State-powerhouse? Absolutely not. But there are some things to like and signs the Bears can be competitive going forward. 

Petrino said Monday there were some things to take away from comparing the Bears’ efforts to the Bisons’. 

“I think our players should be encouraged based on what they saw in that game,” Petrino said. “We’re trying to emphasize and compare the effort and toughness and how hard their defense played and then throw on and show how hard our defense played. That’s encouraging is the effort and the speed of which our defense is playing.”

Missouri State figured out some ways to move the ball against a good Central Arkansas secondary while a future NFL first-round quarterback in NDSU’s Trey Lance had some struggles. He ultimately beat UCA with his legs behind what’s a far-and-away better offensive line than what MSU has, but that should instill some confidence in a young quarterback in MSU redshirt-freshman Jaden Johnson. 

The Bears’ defense appeared to be legit in the close loss. Two of UCA’s touchdowns against MSU came defensively or on special teams while one of the other touchdowns came when it took over inside the MSU 10. 

There are some things to like about Missouri State and this three-game fall season was all about seeing growth under a new coach. MSU might not be at the North Dakota State level, but there are signs of a bright future. 

Bad plays on early downs have killed MSU

There are a lot of things the Bears can do on early downs to help themselves out and the first step is to not shoot themselves in the foot. 

It’s Missouri State football doing Missouri State football things. The Bears are going to have to change the definition of what “Missouri State football things” are. 

Missouri State is often put in third-and-long situations due to penalties or taking sacks. On average, the Bears have 11 yards to go when faced with a third down. They’ve faced third-and-15-plus on eight occasions. 

Here are all the third downs Missouri State has faced this season and what led up to the play:

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Highlights from Oklahoma’s 48-0 win over Missouri State on Sept. 12, 2020.

Springfield News-Leader

@ Oklahoma

  • Drive 1 – 3rd and 7 – First down Porter rush for loss of two (punt)
  • Drive 2 – 3rd and 4 – Six rushing yards on first-and-second down (punt)
  • Drive 3 – 3rd and 18 – Two false starts before first down (punt)
  • Drive 4 – 3rd and 21 – Johnson sacked on first down after false start (punt)
  • Drive 5 – 3rd and 19 – Johnson sacked on second down (punt)
  • Drive 6 – 3rd and 14 – Porter loss of four on a rush on second down (punt)
  • Drive 7 – 3rd and 5 – Fumble on first down recovered by MSU (punt)
  • Drive 8 – 3rd and 11 – False start before second down. (turnover on downs)
  • Drive 9 – 3rd and 8 – Rush for two and incompletion on the first two downs. (punt)
  • Drive 10 – Interception on first down
  • Drive 11 – 3rd and 11 – False start before second down. (Missed field goal)
  • Drive 12 – 3rd and 24 – Intentional grounding on second down (punt)

@ Central Arkansas

  • Drive 1 – 3rd and 14 – Sack for loss of 10 on first down 
  • Drive 2 – Fumble and recovered by UCA
  • Drive 3- 3rd and 16 – False start after a first-down sack
  • Drive 4 – 3rd and 6 – Loss of one after a delay of game
  • Drive 4 – 3rd and 21 – Rush for loss of four, a sack for a loss of seven (Johnson intercepted)
  • Drive 5 – 3rd and 3 – Pass for seven yards on second down
  • Drive 5 – 3rd and 9 – One-yard rush on first down
  • Drive 5 – 3rd and 7 – Completion for three yards on second down (field goal)
  • Drive 6 – 3rd and 9 – Rush for one on first down (Johnson intercepted)
  • Drive 7 – 3rd and 4 – Johnson six-yard rush (touchdown on the drive)
  • Drive 8 – 3rd and 19 – Johnson sacked on second down (half)
  • Drive 9 – 3rd and 4 – Keshun Parker rush for six yards (punt)
  • Drive 10 – 3rd and 17 – False start before first down. (Field goal)
  • Drive 11 – 3rd and 19 – False start before first down, Johnson rush for loss of eight (punt)
  • Drive 12 – Fumble recovered by UCA and returned for a touchdown on first down
  • Drive 13 – 3rd and 10 – Incomplete passes (punt)
  • Drive 14 – 3rd and 6 – Johnson sacked on 2nd-and-1
  • Drive 14 – 3rd and 10 – Incomplete passes (punt)
  • Drive 15 – 3rd and 4 – Johnson pass for five yards (punt)
  • Drive 16 – 3rd and 3 – Johnson pass complete to Latulas for six yards
  • Drive 16 – 3rd and 4 – Parker rush for four yards (turnover on downs)
  • Drive 17 – 3rd and 14 – Johnson sacked on second down (turnover on downs) 

“Negative plays were an issue,” Petrino said. “We need to do a better job of not hurting ourselves. The first thing you have to do to win a game is to not beat yourselves and there were things in (the Central Arkansas game) where we beat ourselves.

“We’ve got to get to third-and-short and third-and-medium. That will make third down way easier.”

What the offseason looks like

Petrino hasn’t spent much time thinking what the offseason is going to look like after the Bears play their final fall game on Saturday. 

Missouri State had to get a waiver to play this fall and will have to take two weeks off from required team activities before an “offseason” program begins. 

It’ll be different with practices starting perhaps in January instead of a typical spring season with a spring football game against themselves. Instead, there will be eight games that count. 

But heading into a few months off on a one-game winning streak could do a lot for the Missouri State football program.

“A win makes the offseason a lot sweeter,” Petrino said. “It would be great to play well and do things right and play the type of football you need to play to win games.”

Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at wwheeler@news-leader.com or Twitter at @WyattWheeler_NL. You can subscribe to his free “Bears Beat” newsletter on News-Leader.com. He’s also the co-host of Sports Talk on Jock Radio weekdays from 4-6 p.m.