When the Missouri State Bears come to Estes Stadium on Saturday, some of the schemes may look familiar to fans of Arkansas football.
That is because Missouri State is coached by former University of Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino.
Petrino was hired Jan. 15 to take over a middling Bears program that plays in arguably the toughest FCS football conference in the nation in the Missouri Valley.
Missouri State finished last season at 1-10 and relieved former coach Dave Steckel of his duties.
Petrino, who last coached in Arkansas on Nov. 19, 2011, said returning to the state will be different, but it’s not about his return.
“It’s going to be different because they have a purple and gray field,” he said. “I’ve never coached on that before. That’s going to be interesting for me. This isn’t really about me. This is about me and our football players. Preparing for a game and going in to play a really good central Arkansas team. My memories of Arkansas are really good. I love the state and love the people there.”
His Missouri State Bears opened a three-game fall schedule in a game against then No. 5 Oklahoma on Sept. 12, which MSU lost 48-0.
Petrino said Missouri State had not had a lot of time to prepare for that game.
“With the canceling of the one scrimmage before the Oklahoma game, we had never really taken the field as a team yet besides walking through it,” he said. “Everything was new in the Oklahoma game, and now we expect to make some improvement. We want to see improvement and to see us execute on offense – to be able to drive the football and get it in the end zone. Defensively, we want to get some three-and-outs and get some turnovers.”
In preparation for this game, Petrino is well aware of UCA getting off to slow starts, but also wants to make sure his team can get ahead and stay ahead.
“It’s kind of like a two-fold situation,” he said. “They have started slow and have a number of times, but they have also come back and won a bunch of games in the fourth quarter. We want to go out and be aggressive offensively. We want to move the ball and get it in the end zone. It’s always more fun to play with a lead.
“Ideally, we want to get a lead and make them throw the ball so we can get our pass rushers. We feel like we have some really good pass rushers. If we can get them tee’d off and get some sacks and hit the quarterback a little bit. It’s always harder to play quarterback when you’re getting hit. But, they are very experienced with what their schemes are and what they want to do. They are never going to panic. They are going to just keep running their offense and defense and keep doing things they are successful in doing.”
Petrino also gave a brief on what he has seen from UCA through its two games and what UCA typically likes to do.
“They got the turnovers from UAB,” he said. “They made some unbelievable plays: a great interception and ran it down close, stripped the ball and ran it in for a touchdown. They’ve got guys with a lot of experience. It’s pretty much a majority of their team back from last year. You see the way they play the game.
“Defensively, they are very sound and their defensive front is physical. They have cornerbacks that can cover and they have safeties that tackle well. Offensively, everything runs through their quarterback. He’s a good player and can distribute the ball well. They’ve got a good receiver and will throw the ball deep down the field on you. They also work really hard on their run game. It’s a situation where we have to go in and play good football.”
Petrino said this game will be a fun matchup for his team.
“We’re looking forward to playing Central Arkansas,” he said. “They’re a really good football team. A team that went to the playoffs last year. They have a really good quarterback and a really good defensive front. I think it will be a fun game and a great challenge for us. We’ll get to learn a lot about ourselves.
“We were a little overmatched in the Oklahoma game, no question about it. This will give us a better understanding of where we’re at. All along, this three-game fall schedule was designed to get us ready for the spring and to get us ready for conference games in the spring. This is a great challenge for us.”
In this unique schedule many football teams around the nation are playing, there have been numerous changes to fall schedules.
Missouri State has played one game thus far and UCA has played two within five days of each other and haven’t played in 23 days.
These teams were not scheduled to play each other, but with the unique opportunities and a close FCS school willing to play, the opportunity to play made sense for both schools.
Not only will fans be treated to this Saturday’s game, but the two teams will meet up Oct. 17 in Springfield, Missouri.
Saturday’s game is scheduled for kickoff at 7 p.m.