Bobby Petrino recalled Arkansas college football from his practice
FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas — Missouri State head coach Bobby Petrino was small when asked after the game what it meant to him to return to Arkansas.
After nearly upsetting the No. 10 FBS team in the country, the coach took a second to look at the stadium he used to call home. Former players hailed him as he battled choking during his post-match press conference.
“It just kind of hit me a little,” Petrino said.
Upon Petrino’s return to Fayetteville, the former Hogs head coach held a masterclass in offensive play calls while reminding everyone of the coach that he was always considered.
He also showed the world a tough-minded Missouri State program that he incorporated into what is rightfully considered among the elite at the FCS level.
A 38-27 final score in favor of the Razorbacks doesn’t tell the story of the guts MSU played with. The Bears led by 10 with 12:04 left in the game and had their chances had it not been for a trio of big plays in the final minutes.
After:Missouri State football not upset after No. 10 Arkansas fourth quarter rally
Petrino’s play calls while intriguing open players, putting his athletes in space and having the courage to make calls at times reminded most of the 74,133 people in attendance what they had more ten years old.
“I was really proud of them,” Petrino said. “We have very good leadership and we wanted to be tough and try to match their speed and physicality. For most of the night we did a great job of that. Nobody blinked. Our guys played extremely hard and we have to try and build on that.”
Petrino’s offense gained 409 yards with Shelley throwing for 357 yards and a touchdown. Passing yards were above what the Razorbacks allowed against Cincinnati and just behind what they allowed last week against Spencer Rattler and South Carolina.
But Petrino beat out Arkansas’ two previous foes by scaring him that the Razorbacks had paid Missouri State $450,000.
“I want to congratulate Missouri State and Coach Petrino for their great game plan,” Arkansas third-year head coach Sam Pittman said. “He had his kids better prepared than me. He did a terrific job. He’s got a really good quarterback and, man, he made a lot of plays. I just think Missouri State outplayed us, to be perfectly honest. with you.”
Petrino’s most notable moment came on a fourth call late in the third quarter after the Razorbacks scored 17 unanswered points to tie the game. With the Hogs fourth and 1 of 47, a play pass saw Shelley fire the ball and throw a deep float to a wide open Ty Scott. The play-action sucked safety as Scott ran openly downfield for a 47-yard touchdown. Petrino asked the Bears to practice the game throughout the week, knowing it would be helpful.
When Arkansas failed to attempt fourth down later in the game, the Fayetteville crowd booed their own coaching staff. Pittman and his offensive players were booed more than Petrino all night.
Petrino’s fourth call turned out to be the Bears’ last touchdown of the night, but there were small moments throughout the game where Petrino shone. Timely throwbacks to a wide-open Lance Mason, quick outings to wide receivers in space, and plays designed to keep pressure on the offensive line and get the quarterback moving.
“We knew they had a few injuries in high school and I think our receivers are some of the best in the country,” Shelley said. “It was something we were looking for and trying to take advantage of their injured backfield. That’s what we tried to do. We didn’t make enough plays there, but that was the goal. “
Arkansas took control of the game over a 2-minute span in the fourth quarter. After Jose Pizano’s second field goal of the game to go up 10, Arkansas star running back Rocket Sanders blasted past the Bears defense 73 yards in midfield. After forcing the Bears to a punt, Bryce Stephens returned an 82-yard punt for a score and lead the Hogs failed to return.
The Razorbacks defensive line put pressure on the Bears’ last three practices, all of which ended in punts and Arkansas escaped by beating the Bears 21-3 in the fourth quarter.
Despite the loss, the Bears still feel like they’ve made a statement that should see them play in the conference.
“I think we shut down all the doubters,” Scott said. “It will give our team a spark so we can play anyone in any college league. It doesn’t matter if it’s FCS or FBS. It’s 11-on-11 and I think our guys have shown the world that we could play with anyone.”
Missouri State will go from playing one of the top FBS teams in the nation to playing a top-tier FCS schedule with No. 2 South Dakota State visiting the Bears at Plaster Stadium next week. Like the Bears, the Jackrabbits were poised to win their FBS game this year with a 7-3 loss at Iowa on Opening Day. The Jacks have won back-to-back wins with wins over UC Davis and FCS Butler without a purse.
“We will have confidence, but we are also facing a very tough opponent who is really good,” Petrino said. “We need to make sure we come out of this better. We need to put that behind us and move on and get ready for South Dakota State.”
Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist for the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at [email protected] or Twitter at @WyattWheeler_NL. He is also a co-host of Sports Talk on Jock Radio weekdays from 4-6 p.m.