Show Thumbnails

Show Captions

As strange as it might feel, the fall season for Missouri State is over after dropping its first three games under new head coach Bobby Petrino. 

In both games against FCS No. 11 Central Arkansas, Missouri State showed it has the capability of finally turning things around but it just hasn’t been able to get out of its own way. 

The Bears turned the ball over six times Saturday night at Plaster Stadium in a 33-24 loss to Central Arkansas. 

More: Missouri State football falls to No. 11 Central Arkansas after turnover-filled night

Here are some takeaways as we head into a lengthy hiatus before the Bears continue their season in February:

The quarterback competition is back on

The play of starting quarterback Jaden Johnson put Missouri State in an uncomfortable situation heading into a hiatus. 

Johnson never appeared to be comfortable while taking sacks and being careless with the ball in his third start as a redshirt freshman. 

After two interceptions and a fumble, Petrino tried to pull the plug. 

“I think he needed a break,” Petrino said. “I think he just needed to get a break and we really like Jake. We have a lot of confidence in him and he does a lot of things really good in practice.”

Out walked Jake Van Dyne. 

Van Dyne led the Bears on two scoring drives right before the end of the first half. Although never looking 100% comfortable, he used his strong arm to complete difficult passes down the field to put his team in scoring position. 

His first drive ended with a Jeremiah Wilson touchdown run while the second ended with a field goal as the clock expired at halftime and extend MSU’s lead to 24-17.

“I thought he gave us a lot of momentum and he made some really good throws and he allowed us to run the football,” Petrino said. 

So Van Dyne’s the guy, right? Not so fast. 

Van Dyne continued to look uncomfortable as the Central Arkansas defense started to bring more pressure. He took three sacks and two interceptions. His final play of the game came when he tried to force a ball into a crowd and it was intercepted. He was hit on the play and was forced to leave and he never returned. 

“He didn’t have the time and we couldn’t run the ball like we did in the first half and that really hurt his performance,” Petrino said. 

Johnson came back in and didn’t turn the ball over but the Bears never found a groove offensively and were ultimately shut out in the second half. 

Van Dyne finished 5-of-13 with two interceptions for 92 yards. Johnson finished 5-of-16 for 62 yards along with his two interceptions. 

Petrino told the News-Leader — who was the only media to attend the postgame virtual press conference — that there will be an open competition for the team’s starting quarterback when the team returns to the field in February. 

“I think they need to compete for it,” Petrino said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that. They need to compete for it in the spring and they’ll make each other better.”

Van Dyne’s performance won the night while making difficult throws and driving the offense down the field in his first two drives. 

Johnson, however, is Petrino’s guy. He’s the quarterback Petrino’s known since high school when the coach recruited him to play at Louisville and ultimately brought to Missouri State. 

It would have been really interesting to see what would have happened if Van Dyne were able to put together a full game and lead MSU to victory. Johnson has a higher ceiling and has just as strong as an arm while being a better athlete. 

Look for Johnson to get another chance as the Bears’ quarterback come the spring. His leash might not be as long then. 

The offense still has a long, long way to go

Three games in and Missouri State still doesn’t have much going for it on offense. 

The Bears received a bit of a spark on Saturday night with the return of Wilson to its backfield. He gave the Bears a 100-yard performance on the ground that they haven’t had since early in the 2018 season. 

But that rushing performance went away in the second half. 

And Missouri State continues to shoot itself in the foot. 

Not many football teams are going to win games when turning the ball over six times. According to a close video review, there’s a chance the Bears should’ve had seven turnovers. 

Low snaps to the quarterback, seven sacks allowed and the offense consistently looking out of rhythm is a cause for concern. In reality, the Bears have taken a step back offensively from where they were a year ago. 

In the end, Petrino’s happy the Bears were just able to play games and have these struggles happen now instead of discovering them during the conference season in the spring. 

“If we would have just not had the games or practices we’ve had, it would have been really scary going into the spring,” Petrino said. “We should see a lot of improvement. We’ll see improvement in running the ball and we’ll see it in our play-action game. We’ve got to really take care of the football. We’re not going to win games turning the ball over.”

The defense is a lot of fun to watch

You might see 33 points next to Central Arkansas, but in no way were all those points on the defense. 

Missouri State’s offense consistently put the Bears in tough field position and they were lucky to only lose the game by nine. 

None of Central Arkansas’ scoring drives went for more than 50 yards while the Bears from down south were placed in good field position throughout the night.  The only big blunder defensively came when MSU bit on a double-move to allow a 43-yard touchdown pass late in the game. 

Central Arkansas scored a defensive touchdown on a pick-six thrown by Johnson and it also returned a punt to inside the Missouri State five. 

The defense wasn’t as dominant as it was during the two teams’ matchup a few weeks prior but it was still good enough to win a game for a team that had a halfway-decent offense on the other side. 

UCA was held to 268 yards and tied a school record by kicking four field goals when it had an opportunity to make a fifth. 

“We still have a lot of work to do,” defensive end Kevin Ellis said. “We can’t be too proud, because we lost. We just have to keep getting better and that’s all we can do.”

The change in MSU defensively in three games is drastic from a season ago. They have talented players and they’re coming up in big spots time after time. It’s been that way since the second half of MSU’s matchup with Oklahoma.

Opposing offenses averaged 351 yards per game against MSU in these three games. Compare that to the 1-10 season from a year ago in which teams averaged 442.4 yards and that’s a considerable improvement. 

“I really feel like we’re a really good defensive football team,” Petrino said. “I feel like we put them in really bad positions. We get after the quarterback and we’re good against the run most of the time. I think we can be a really good defensive football team and we need to catch up offensively.”

Now that the Bears have put together two-and-a-half-games of solid defensive performances, they will look to maintain that into the spring. 

Ellis thinks they can be even better.

“We have a lot of stuff we can fix,” Ellis said. “It looks good but we have a lot to work on.”

Jeremiah Wilson’s return provided a spark

Missouri State hadn’t had a 100-yard rushing performance since early in the 2018 season and Wilson accomplished that feat in his first game back from an ACL tear. 

It’s a needed component to a struggling offense. Wilson has proven he’s capable of being one of the better backs in the MVFC but he needs to stay on the field. 

After running for 100 yards on just 13 carries while punching in a touchdown, Wilson could only think of the plays he left out on the field. 

“I feel like there’s a lot that I have to improve on,” Wilson said. “I’m not very happy with my performance. I feel like I could have gone crazy but I just need to get back in the lab and keep grinding. You’ll see me in the spring.”

Four of Wilson’s 13 rushes went for 10 or more yards with his longest being a 28-yard gain. He punched in a nine-yard touchdown in the second quarter. 

Wilson wasn’t used as much in the second half while only carrying the ball three times in the final 30 minutes. Instead of just being happy to be back on the field, he wondered what more he could do. 

“I’m going to get right and I’m going to get stronger and faster,” Wilson said. “I’m just hungry. I don’t like losing. I could’ve did a lot more but it’s just my first game back. I have a lot to prove.”

How difficult did COVID-19 make this fall?

As cliche as it is to say, there was nothing normal about this season. 

Players were in and out of quarantine — Petrino revealed Johnson was in and out throughout the preseason. Instead of doing the normal things a college football player would do in their down-time, they tried to avoid the virus just so they could play in the three games. 

“It’s not easy and it’s not for everybody,” Ellis said. “It’s part of the game right now. It’s part of what’s going on in the world and it’s a part of what we have to do right now and we just control what we can control. 

“It’s a part of the game. That’s how I look at it.”

The difficulty of the fall season also played into how Petrino assessed his team’s performance even though it didn’t win a game. 

“They’ve really been through a lot,” Petrino said. “They put in a lot of dedication and hard work into it and there are times when we get a positive test and every single player would go ‘oh my god, how are we going to get through this’ and they stuck together, worked hard and really overcame a lot. I am very, very proud of the football team.

“We just need to learn how to win.”

Missouri State will continue its season on Feb. 20 when it travels to North Dakota to begin the Missouri Valley Football Conference portion of its schedule. 

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