Behind Enemy Lines: Missouri State preview with Wyatt Wheeler of News-Leader

·5 min read

Arkansas and Missouri State, after a couple years of anticipation, will finally meet on the football in the return of Bobby Petrino to Fayetteville.

Some fans think the media has talked about it too much. Some think not enough. Thankfully, all of us get to shut up Saturday about what the day will bring. It will actually be here.

Petrino’s Missouri State is a top-six team in the FCS. He has the Bears about to the heights he had the Razorbacks in the early 2010s, just only, you know, in a subdivision lower. Missouri State’s offense is accordingly dynamic, but the defense has been the team’s bell-cow for a bulk of Petrino’s tenure.

We talked with Bears beat writer Wyatt Wheeler of the Springfield News-Leader to get his thoughts on five burning questions we had about Petrino, the game and Bears as a whole.

Does it seem like Petrino legitimately hasn't thought about the return much or were his remarks just usual coachspeak?

Head coach Bobby Petrino talks to the media after the Missouri State football practice at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, March 26, 2022.

Wheeler: “I think Petrino has thought about this game more than he’s let on. It’s been something I’ve been asking him about since before the season. You see other major media outlets like STL and ESPN making sure to get their time with him and ask the questions. Fans have asked him about it for a bit. I’m sure there has to be a little more than he’s letting on but he’s been pretty good about trying to make the story about the players. I think he’s handled it really well. The schedule set it up so he could focus on a season opener and then have a Week 2 game against the team that beat the Bears in the playoffs last year so I do believe his focus has been just fine. I believe it has to be human nature for someone in his position to wonder what the reception will be like or daydream about stepping into that stadium again.”

Is there an FBS offense, right now or the last year or two, Missouri State's compares to, scheme-wise?

Dec 30, 2017; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Louisville Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) throws the ball during the first half against the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the 2017 TaxSlayer Bowl at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Wheeler: “It’s funny because I don’t really get to watch much FBS football while covering my FCS beat. I get to watch the later games when I get done with my coverage or I don’t see much at all. Fans would probably be best off reminiscing about their time watching Lamar Jackson and Petrino coaching him back then at Louisville.”

It's a Petrino offense, so it's going to be good, but how good is the defense?

Michigan wide receiver Cristian Dixon (10) makes a catch against Northern Illinois cornerback Dillon Thomas (15) during the second half at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021.

Wheeler: “The defense has actually been really good. When Petrino didn’t have all the offensive firepower he has now back during his first year, the defense helped carry them to their first FCS postseason appearance since 1990. There’s a handful of guys who can be FCS All-Americans by the end of the year and potential NFL guys with CB Montrae Braswell, S Kyriq McDonald and DE Kevin Ellis. They have some good rotational pieces at the defensive tackle positions. The linebackers have been solid. The secondary is a bunch of FBS/FCS transfers and I think it’s the best unit on the team. Braswell and McDonald are great, they added a starting DB from Florida State and Dillon Thomas is a safety from Northern Illinois who actually had some really good seasons in the MAC before wanting to play closer to home. Defensive coordinator Ryan Beard has worked miracles on that side of the ball and the recruiting has been great as well.”

Not necessarily do you think Missouri State *will* win, but can they? What do they have to do?

Nov 13, 2021; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks defensive back Joe Foucha (7) and defensive back Myles Slusher (2) force a fumble by LSU Tigers tight end Jack Mashburn (82) in the first half at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Wheeler: “Turnovers, of course, are what you’d look at when Arkansas is one of the best in the country at not turning it over. I love watching Rocket Sanders and the Bears can’t let him go off (easier said than done). Forcing KJ Jefferson to beat you with his arm is the route the Bears would have to go when he’s perfectly capable of winning that way — but it’s just not the way the Hogs really want to play. The Bears will also have to take advantage of that banged-up Razorback secondary with a focus on a shaky offensive line trying to hold off a great Arkansas defensive front.”

What's your game prediction?

Arkansas coach Sam Pittman looks for the officials call on a play against South Carolina during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

Wheeler: “I really like where the lines have had this game at with Arkansas as a 23-point favorite. I don’t see the Bears getting embarrassed and I think they’ll show some good things throughout the day that will have MSU fans excited for FCS play and a ginormous conference showdown next week against South Dakota State here in Springfield. I love what Arkansas has going on right now and I see the Hogs taking MSU seriously and not overlooking the Bears to get to Texas A&M and Alabama. The Razorbacks by around that 23-point line with the Bears putting up some points throughout the evening.”

Story originally appeared on Razorbacks Wire