After a lackluster performance in their season opener against Oklahoma University, the Missouri State football team made marked improvements against the University of Central Arkansas.
The team improved as a whole in its second game of the shortened fall season. Here are some key takeaways from their performance on Saturday.
Defense, defense, defense.
Missouri State’s defense got off to a hot start against UCA. The Bears forced a turnover on the first drive of the game, courtesy of an interception by senior cornerback Jeremy Webb.
“I really think that our defense played fast and physical,” head coach Bobby Petrino said in his postgame interview with Art Hains on 101.3 KXTR. “We were able to get pressure on them, and we were able to stop the run for the most part.”
MSU’s defense came out aggressive early in the game. It found great success blitzing, especially in the first half. Both senior cornerback Zack Sanders and freshman safety Mikey Miles record sacks by blitzing from the nickel cornerback spot.
The team also saw the great play from their boundary cornerbacks. In addition to his interception, Webb played lockdown coverage against every UCA wide receiver. Freshman Kaunor Ashley covered well for the majority of the game, too.
Jaden Johnson's dual-threat ability.
In the first game of the season, there was not much to be evaluated from the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Jaden Johnson. However, this week he displayed his prowess as a passer and how effective he can be as a runner.
Johnson passed for 249 yards and made some good throws over the middle and towards the sidelines. Johnson also made some big plays in the running game, both by scrambling and on read options.
If Johnson can continue to be a threat in the air and on the ground, it could bode well for the MSU offense moving forward.
Penalties continue to be an issue.
The team improved in nearly every aspect compared to the OU game, except for minimizing mental mistakes. The Bears committed 14 penalties for 143 yards. They doubled their penalties from their matchup against Oklahoma.
Penalties constantly derailed MSU’s offensive drives, especially in the second half. 2nd and 5 would turn into 2nd and 15. 3rd and 3 would turn into 3rd and 8. Penalties may seem like a minute issue, but if they continue to pile up as they have for MSU so far, it could limit their offensive production and possibly even cost them games.
The offensive line continues to struggle.
There were obvious improvements made on the offensive side of the ball. Johnson improved as a passer, and the run game worked well in tandem with the passing attack. One struggle that carried over from the game against OU is the play of the offensive line.
There were moments when the pass protection was solid. There were also times when there was good blocking in the run game, but those were scarce.
Johnson was regularly scrambling due to pressure forced by the UCA defensive line and was sacked nine times on the night.
Petrino told The Standard in the offseason that the offense will be predicated on what the quarterback is capable of. If Johnson is being pressured on most offensive snaps, it will be hard for the offense to find success.
Kevon Latulas: An unexpected star.
It was expected for MSU to have a better performance against UCA than they did against OU. What was not expected was a breakout game from junior running back Kevon Latulas.
Latulas didn’t see much action against OU with junior Myron Mason starting and getting a majority of the touches at the RB position.
Latulas lead all players with 69 yards rushing and 83 yards receiving. He also blocked a punt then returned it for a touchdown.
“I’m excited about how he's come along,” Petrino said. “He played both receiver and running back in junior college. We decided to make him a running back. He has great receiver skills.”
Second half struggles.
The first half was all Missouri State. Early turnovers, stellar defense and a newly found offensive groove had them up 17-7 at half time, but they were unable to maintain that lead.
The second half was riddled with MSU mistakes. The Bears struggled to move the ball in the second half mainly due to penalties and sub par quarterback protection. The team also made mental mistakes that lead directly to UCA touchdowns.
“We made the errors that hurt us, that cost us the game,” Petrino said. “The turnovers, the punt return for a touchdown, that's a hard one and we gotta learn from it.”
MSU has looked completely different in both of its second halves this season. Only time will tell if they are a good second half team or not.
MSU’s next game is against UCA, this time in Springfield. The game time is set for Oct. 17 at 7 p.m., the night of homecoming. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN 3.