For the first time in a while, Missouri State got to feel what it’s like to be on the side where everything seems to go right.
A turnover that created an easy touchdown for the opposition? No biggie. Misplaying a sure-fire touchdown pass? Not to worry. Missouri State scored 30 unanswered points and rolled to an easy blowout victory against a Top 25 team in Illinois State.
Based on the Terry Allen tenure, it was pretty much the opposite of the MSU football game we've come to expect. Whether or not that game turns the season around in the long run remains to be seen.
But it was a good way to start conference play, and gives the Bears a glimmer of hope that they still have something to play for.
Also, consider the following:
• Missouri State now has a chance to start 2-0 in league for the first time since 1997! A ridiculously long stretch. The Bears even have a winnable game this week at South Dakota, picked to finish last in the league in the preseason poll.
• If you think the Bears had gotten off to really bad starts the last couple of years, you’re right. That win over Illinois State snapped a 14-game September losing streak that dated back to 2010.
• You always have a chance with a good defense, and the Bears certainly have that. It’s been resilient and dependable most of the season.
Perhaps, most importantly, the Bears might be finding an identity on offense. MSU wants to establish the run with Vernon Scott or Mikael Cooper-Falls early, mix in some Cedric Miller and Phoenix Johnson, then let Kierra Harris throw short, accurate passes and run the read-option.
I don’t think the Bears are going to suddenly revert to the days of Cody Kirby and start chucking the ball for 350+ yards each game, but the MSU coaches seem to be opening up the playbook to Harris a bit.
In the last game, they showed trust in Harris and let the quarterback try to “take the top off” the Illinois State defense with a couple of deep bombs. The defense would bite on playaction, leaving receivers like Dorian Buford open down the field. The first deep throw to Buford slipped agonizingly through his fingertips.
But on the next throw to Buford, the receiver made a great catch across the middle and racked up severe YAC stats for a 73-yard touchdown.
The blowout was a pleasant surprise for many, including me. They won't have too many blowouts like that the rest of the season, but maybe the Bears are due for a string of luck and fortune.
Since 2010, MSU is 4-11 in games decided by eight points or less, including 0-3 this year. Wisdom and trends would suggest the MSU is due to win a couple of close games this year.
If the Bears can win at South Dakota this weekend, it’d put them in a nice position to finish in the top half of the league. With a few more wins after that, they could even do the improbable and make a late-season run at the P-word.
(Note: I had typed out a hypothetical scenario that had the Bears' playing for a playoff spot, and perhaps Terry Allen's job, in their final home game of the season against Northern Iowa. Yes, I can talk myself into anything. I'll save that scenario for at least one more week. It's not as crazy as you think...)
Rant time. Time to dig deep down and get to the real, hard-hitting issues.
The turf on MSU’s field, plain and simple, is an eyesore. Here are some photos taken during the Bears’ home game against Illinois State.
It is easily the worst turf field in the area. Near the endzone and sideline on the MSU side of the field, there are more black spots from the pellets than pieces of the green “grass.” It not only gets into you’re shot, but if you’re a player and you’re sweating, those black pellets will stick all over you if you go to the ground.
Whatever you’re supposed to do to maintain the field (Rake it? Re-seed it? Replace it every five years?), hasn’t been done.