As Missouri State walked out of the locker room after halftime in last week’s loss at North Dakota, head coach Bobby Petrino said he noticed a distinct difference between their offense and defense.
The offense seemed a little more motivated, he said, while the defense looked down.
It was noticeable in the second half. The Bears went from holding a one-point lead at the half to losing 48-31 while allowing more than 500 yards of total offense.
The Bears are now losers of three straight games. With six games remaining, including a challenging game this week, Missouri State now faces an uphill climb if it wants to qualify for its third straight postseason run.
“We have to fix it,” Petrino said. “We’ve got to move and play really well and find a way to win a game. We’ve always talked about how we’re going to be in tough games and we’re going to have to make plays and we’re going to have to have the strength and stamina as you focus. in being able to find a way to win the game.
Plus:Is Missouri State football in danger of missing the playoffs after 3 straight losses?
A critical Missouri Valley Football Conference matchup awaits the No. 20 Bears (2-3, 0-2) when they host No. 17 Southern Illinois (3-2, 2-0) on Saturday at 2 p.m. pm at Plaster Stadium.
Southern Illinois struggled to start the year with lackluster performances at Incarnate Word, followed by a home loss to southeastern Missouri State. Now winners of their last three, the Salukis have beaten FBS Northwestern, North Dakota and Illinois State and look like the top 10 team they were expected to be on the season.
Missouri State hopes to turn it around and look like the top 10 team and championship contender it was once considered.
“I would say we’re all a little down, but we’re hungry to get back,” Bears linebacker Von Young said. “We all want to improve and improve on the mistakes we made last week.”
Petrino believes the biggest improvement from the Salukis’ early-season struggles has been their defensive play with the secondary’s understanding of what they’re doing, plus the entire unit’s ability to fly to the ball and make a tackle. . Against the run, the Salukis rank ninth in the country allowing just 88.4 yards per game. The Salukis have also gone from sacking the quarterback twice in each of the first two losses to having a combined 13 in the last three games.
Protecting starting quarterback Jason Shelley will be a must this week as Petrino felt the offensive line stepped up despite the loss at UND. Building consistency along the offensive line is the next big thing for the Bears.
Plus:Why is there reason to panic after Missouri State football’s big loss to North Dakota?
“The offensive line played pretty well last week and I’m proud of them,” Petrino said. “They competed really hard and it was the hardest they’ve competed all year. Jacardia (Wright) ran the ball hard and it would be nice to keep it where we can run more and then have to shoot.”
Offensively, Southern Illinois has been poised all season with a rushing game that has carried 96 or more yards in each game while throwing for 253 or more in three of five games. The passing attack was limited in the Saluikis’ 19-14 victory at Illinois State last week, but wide receiver D’Ante’ Cox still caught six passes for 102 yards.
Limiting the Salukis the same way Illinois State did last week, to around 19 points and 322 yards of offense, would be a huge step forward for a struggling defense that has allowed 500-plus yards on two of the last three games.
“I think there have been a lot of miscommunications,” Young said. “Tackling was a problem, but luckily all of those things can be fixed. We’re really going to focus on that this week and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Southern Illinois @ State of Missouri
When: Saturday, 2:00 p.m.
Where: plaster stadium; Springfield
Listen: KWTO-FM 101.3
Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist for the Springfield News-Leader. He can be reached at 417-371-6987, via email at [email protected], or on Twitter at @WyattWheeler_NL. He also co-hosts Sports Talk on Jock Radio weekdays from 4-6 p.m.