Takeaways from Missouri State football's win over Western Illinois – News-Leader

  • October 30, 2022

You could hear the relief in Bobby Petrino’s voice as he sat down following his team’s 64-14 beatdown of Western Illinois on Saturday evening.
The five-game losing streak that will ultimately define the Bears’ 2022 season was finally over. They were finally back in the win column.
“It was a fun game,” Petrino said. “It was something that we needed.”
Petrino’s Bears scored on 11 of their 13 drives including the first 10. His offense was just three yards shy of the 600-yard plateau that hadn’t been crossed by a Bears football team since a 59-20 win over Indiana State five years ago.
Whatever the Bears wanted to do, they did it. It was the first time the Bears showed any resemblance to the team they once dreamed of since early in the year, if not all season.
“We were just harping on the guys all week that we needed to get the details right and put our best foot forward and just let the outcome where it needs to be,” star quarterback Jason Shelley said. “Today, I think coming away with the dub was good for everyone’s morale.”
Shelley said that the last five games had been very difficult on the team as a whole. There were moments throughout when the team had to look at themselves in the mirror and try to understand what the team could do better as a whole. Week after week, it wasn’t enough until Saturday.
The way the season has gone down has been quite the reality check to a team that once spoke of a national championship but the streak, which included a pair of blowout losses to teams that will likely be fighting for an at-large spot, will be ultimately what keeps the Bears out of the playoffs. Even by winning out against a much weaker portion of the schedule, the postseason appears to be out of reach.
But the Bears still feel like they have something to play for. They’ve preached that they need to play for the man next to each other. On Saturday, it worked while the Bears came away with their most dominant win under Petrino.
“All we wanted to do today was go out there and play with confidence,” Petrino said. “I think we were lacking a little bit of confidence and having a little bit of doubt. When you have doubt, you slow down and don’t play as fast and you hesitate at times. To be able to be confident, go out and execute and play fast and physically, it was a lot of fun and it was fun to watch.”
“We just wanted to get back to playing Bear football — confident Bear football,” Shelley added. “I think after this week, we could go into next week with a full head of steam and with full confidence that we got back to Bear football. We gotta do that with the last month of the season and leapfrog that into next year.”
For the first time since the Bears came up short at Arkansas, the reigning Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year looked like himself.
Shelley was 17-of-22 for 311 yards and three touchdowns to go along with 35 rushing yards and another score. He was relieved after throwing a five-yard touchdown to Lance Mason on the first yard of the third quarter. The Bears scored on all eight of Shelley’s drives with the last seven being touchdowns.
A big part of that was Shelley staying off of his back. The only sack he took was for a loss of zero when he ran out of bounds in the first quarter. Coming into the game, he was the second-most sacked quarterback in the FCS.
“It was great to see that because he hasn’t had the type of success that he had last year,” Petrino said. “He’s gotten hit a lot but I think he’s done a great job at staying positive and practicing hard and keeping everybody else practicing hard. It’s great to see his success.”
Shelley did an excellent job at spreading the ball around and then tucking and running when plays weren’t there. Eleven different receivers caught a pass from him and he had 10 completions that went for 15 yards or more.
“It was just great to get out there and complete my passes and watch my guys work,” Shelley said. “I think that was the most fun part for me was to see that after I throw a five-yard route, it would go for 15 or 20. That just makes my job so much easier and it was fun to watch and see the other guys go out there and play today.”
Despite playing against the worst opponent on the schedule, there is a reason to celebrate an offensive line and a defense that dominated for four quarters for the first time this season.
The offensive line and the defense both ranked near the bottom of the FCS in some statistical categories. On Saturday, you didn’t have to worry about Shelley being thrown to the ground for a sack nor did you ever think the Leathernecks were capable of driving down the field.
The dominant win started up front for both teams.
“I thought they controlled the line of scrimmage and there’s no doubt about that,” Petrino said. “We did a great job of knocking them back and not getting a lot of holes.”
Western Illinois finished with just 14 rushing yards while going 1-of-11 on third-down conversions. The 14 rushing yards allowed were by far the fewest the Bears have allowed dating back to easily accessible data dating back to 2016.
The Bears’ offensive line gave up two sacks with one being Shelley scrambling and running out of bounds for a loss of zero when he couldn’t find anything open down the field.
One of the more intriguing storylines for the remainder of the year will be when Missouri State gets its backup quarterbacks in. The Bears need to evaluate those they have on the roster for when Shelley graduates after this season.
Minnesota transfer Jacob Clark got the first reps in the second half while playing with the first-team offense. He was 9-of-11 through the air for 72 yards and led the Bears to a pair of field goal drives.
“He’s a guy that can make really good decisions; he’s an accurate passer and he can throw the ball deep,” Petrino said. “We didn’t do that much with them out there today because we were trying to get off the field and get out of the game but he can certainly throw the ball down the field and we like him a lot.”
Clark was replaced by Ventura (California) College transfer Jordan Pachot for the final two drives of the fourth quarter. He threw one pass that was ruled incomplete although the deep throw down the sideline appeared to look in-bounds on replay. The play was not reviewed because the Bears were up 57-14 at the time and everyone wanted to go home before it started raining.
“When he first came here, he came in and struggled to throw a spiral and then all of the sudden it’s like ‘woah, woah, woah,’ and he just keeps getting better and better,” Petrino said. “Both of them are really good athletes and both have knowledge of the offense. It’s good to see.”
It will be worth watching late in games to see what these two have to offer heading into 2023. It was the first bit of Division I game action each saw when the roster previously had none heading into its season opener at FBS Kansas next year.
“It’s huge,” Petrino said. “We feel comfortable with both of them and that’s a good thing. We’ll see who wins the job in spring ball and that’s kind of how it goes.”
An argument can be had that the Western Illinois team that Missouri State played on Saturday was the worst FCS opponent that has stepped on the Plaster Stadium turf since the 2015 Missouri State team that went 1-10. The Leathernecks look like a team that will go winless this year unless it earns a home win over Indiana State on Nov. 12.
You can point to the Leathernecks’ depleted roster that came into the game with 52 of its 114-player roster inactive. You would’ve found more players on the benches on each sideline during the Kickapoo and Lee’s Summit West game on Friday night.
That still doesn’t make up for how poorly the Leathernecks played defensively. If the Bears decided to play Shelley the entire game and take their frustrations of this season out on WIU, they would have approached the century mark or cleared it. Jokingly (?), there are a few offenses in southwest Missouri at the high school level that could threaten to move the ball and score against the Leathernecks.
Western Illinois also let a few opportunities slip away with dropped passes and horrible throws. Leathernecks quarterback Clay Bruno finished the game 14-of-34 through the air for 207 yards, a touchdown and a pick. Forty-eight of his yards came on one touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter against the Bears’ backups.
This was a really bad Western Illinois team that was expected to be this bad in the first year under a new head coach. There’s no reason to overreact to this win but the Bears can rightfully celebrate a needed win and a good performance from seemingly everybody.
Next week’s road trip to South Dakota was supposed to be the most challenging team but a 45-24 loss at Youngstown State moved the Coyotes to 2-6 this season — just a week after beating Southern Illinois, too. USD allowed 451 yards of offense while only gaining 254 in its first full game under a new quarterback. It was a mess.
USD is better at home, which could be a problem for the Bears when they’re 1-3 away from Springfield with the lone win coming on opening day at Central Arkansas.
Youngstown State is a surprising 5-3 this season and has won its last three games — but against weak opponents like Indiana State, Western Illinois and USD. The Penguins needed a 42-yard field goal at the horn to beat the pathetic Leathernecks, although they were much healthier at the time.
Indiana State is 1-7 with its lone win coming on opening day against North Alabama in a 17-14 overtime win. Since then, the Sycamores have been within one score in games against Northern Iowa, North Dakota State, Youngstown State and Illinois State. Don’t count them out despite a 49-7 loss to No. 1 South Dakota State on Saturday.
Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at [email protected] or Twitter at @WyattWheeler_NL. He’s also the co-host of Sports Talk on Jock Radio weekdays from 4-6 p.m.

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