The Missouri State football team has definitely taken its lumps this season.
Disappointing losses to unranked Youngstown State and North Dakota State in a three week stretch had the Bears’ Missouri Football Conference championship and Football Championship Subdivision playoff hopes falling out of reach.
With those opportunities on the line, the Bears stepped up. A dominant second half led to an impressive 38-28 win over No. 7 Southern Illinois and has cemented MSU not only as an elite team in the MVFC, but a legitimate FCS playoff contender.
Here are three things that make them a dangerous—and serious—playoff contender.
Senior quarterback Jason Shelley has helped the Bears immensely on the offensive side of the ball.
He set an MSU record with consecutive 200-yard passing games, rattling off nine such games in his first nine starts with the team.
Not only is he a good passer, he has some wheels too. Shelley has tallied 309 rushing yards and seven touchdowns so far this season.
His ability to pass efficiently and break off big runs opens up the offense for other players to explode for big gains and big games.
He facilitates the offense well and gets a lot of different receivers involved. He doesn’t single-handedly carry the offense, but his 312 total yards per game are definitely a difference-maker for the Bear offense.
Deadly Receiving Duo
Head coach Bobby Petrino brought in several transfer receivers this offseason, but the two that have emerged as elite weapons in the MVFC are senior Xavier Lane and junior Tyrone Scott.
For the first few weeks of the season, Lane was grabbing the headlines as the best receiver on the team.
Since then, Scott has broken out and has really separated himself from the pack and solidified himself as a top receiver in the MVFC and FCS.
Scott leads the team in every major receiving category, tallying 811 receiving yards, eight touchdowns and 17 yards per reception this season. Lane trails him with 646 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Both have reliable hands, good speed and the physicality and maneuverability to make plays after the catch, no matter the situation.
The duo is in the top 10 for receiving yards and the top 12 in yards per catch in the MVFC.
Second Level Savages
MSU has a nasty defensive line, but the second level of the defense has been standing on its head the last few weeks.
The team's four leading tacklers are either linebackers or safeties. Junior linebacker Tylar Wiltz led the way with 75 total tackles. Following him are Senior safety Titus Wall (63), junior linebacker Ferrin Manuleleua (55) and junior safety Kyriq McDonald (46).
These fearsome four do a little bit of everything. Each have their fair share of tackles for loss, turnovers created and big stops on big downs.
The second level is fast and physical. Wiltz and McDonald have a combined 15 tackles for loss and are always flying to the ball.
Not only are they fast and physical, they’re versatile as well. Wiltz and Manuleleua are obviously good tacklers, but they are exceptionally smart and are effective blitzers as well.
Wall and McDonald provide solid coverage on the back end, but love to stick their nose in the run game and get physical.
These four players are a big part of the team's defensive success. They run fast, hit hard, create turnovers and make big plays on every level in every game.
The Bears look to continue their quality play in their final MVFC game of the season at home against Northern Iowa on Saturday, Nov 13.
Follow TJ Scott on Twitter, @iamtjs_
Subscribe to The Standard's free weekly newsletter here.