The Bears (0-2) are seeking their first win of the season and first under new head coach Ryan Beard at 2 p.m.
"I think we're ready to take the next step in our home opener," Beard said. "We have a good opponent coming in. They did a nice job last weekend and put up a bunch of points. They're totally capable."
Missouri State will be two weeks removed from its 38-31 loss at UT Martin. The Bears played as bad of a first half as they could play while trailing by 17 at halftime but came back and tied the game in a back-and-forth fourth quarter.
The Bears' play against the run failed them in the end as they gave up 426 rushing yards and couldn't get the stops needed down the stretch. The Skyhawks had scoring runs of 81, 49 and 20 throughout the game.
MSU currently ranks dead last in the FCS in rushing defense while giving up 325 yards on the ground per game.
"We sat down as a defensive staff and went through every single position group in that room and went play for play looking to see if the problems were effort, schematics or execution," Beard said. "We've got some guys that haven't played together a ton and we had a tough, physical week of practice. We're not at a point where a bye week comes and you can take the shoulder pads off and dial it back. We kept the pads on this week and worked on core football fundamentals that we needed to get better at."
On the other side, Beard indicated that starting quarterback Jacob Clark will be good to go for the game after being removed during the Bears' last offensive drive at UT Martin when attempting to tie the game. Clark hurt his shoulder and couldn't finish the game.
Clark has shown promise through his first two starts. The latest saw him complete 23 of 42 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns. He's also the team's leading rusher on an offense that has struggled to run the ball.
"There are things that I could have done better over the last two weeks," Clark said. "I'm just really focused on amping up preparation and trying to get better each week."
Missouri State's offensive line also continues to be under the microscope. Problems with keeping the quarterback clean have been minimal compared to years past but the unit has yet to establish a consistent run game. At 90.5 yards per game, the Bears rank 100th out of 122 FCS teams in running the ball.
Coaches talked all offseason that the team would be able to establish the run behind a revamped offensive line. The Bears' starting running back is currently averaging 2.1 yards per carry.
"The big thing we focused on in the bye week was our run blocking," Beard said. "We need to move the line of scrimmage and actually be able to play with great pad level and open up those spaces."
Utah Tech is a familiar opponent to Missouri State as the two met to conclude the 2021 regular season. Utah Tech was then known as Dixie State where the Bears beat them with ease in a 55-24 rout. The following week, MSU lost 32-31 in its first home postseason game in decades.
The Trailblazers, who made their move from being a Division II program to the FCS in 2020, took a step forward last season to finish 4-7. They are 1-2 with a 50-36 win at Northern Arizona last week. They opened the season with a pair of blowout losses to FCS nationally-ranked Montana State and Montana.
"They're probably going to run tempo after seeing the success that Kansas and UT Martin had," Beard said. "We've worked on that in practice and trying to get better at realigning and getting our eyes ready to go."
Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or X at @WyattWheeler_NL. He's also the host of the weekly "Wyatt's World Podcast" on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and other podcasting platforms.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Missouri State vs. Utah Tech college football preview