Red Hot South Dakota State Jackrabbits Heading to Fargo for FCS Playoff Game with North Dakota State Bison
This time of year, most of us are clamoring to get inside, out of the cold, as soon as possible. But not the South Dakota State football team.
The Jackrabbits are not exactly looking forward to the climate controlled environment of the Fargodome Saturday, after turning winter-like weather into their wonderland the last three weeks.
SDSU started the FCS Playoffs in Bozeman, Montana last weekend, the same way they ended the regular season, with a ton of offense on a cold, winter-like, fall day.
Like they did in frigid games against Western Illinois and South Dakota, the Jacks topped the 500 yard mark in total offense (for the fifth straight game overall), en route to their third straight opening round FCS Playoff win, a 47-40 decision over Montana State.
On a day that saw the temperature drop more than 40 degrees from sunrise to kickoff, SDSU managed to score early and often, and do just enough defensively to keep the Bobcats playing from behind for about 58 of the 60 minutes.
I asked Jackrabbits head coach John Stiegelmeier about whether the dramatic shift in the weather changed SDSU's approach in Bozeman:
While Zach Zenner was racking up 326 all-purpose yards, quarterback Austin Sumner was continuing what has been the best stretch of play in his career.
Sumner was 19-of-28 for 249 yards passing, with two touchdowns and no interceptions, adding to an impressive run of a 60% completion rate with 11 TDs and no picks in the Jacks last three games.
Stiegelmeier says Sumner's early season foot injury, which sidelined him for seven games, is motivating the senior now:
In round two of the playoffs Saturday, South Dakota State will find itself in a very familiar place, the Fargodome, squaring off with the three-time defending National Champions, North Dakota State.
Not only do the Jacks and Bison play each other during the regular season as members of the Missouri Valley Conference, buy the two are meeting in the post season for the second time in three seasons, thanks to the geographically driven pairings of the FCS Playoffs.
The Jacks haven't won in Fargo since 2008, losing regular season games in 2010 (31-24), 2012 (20-17), and this season (37-17), while also dropping that second round playoff game in 2012 (28-3).
SDSU has struggled to protect Sumner in the last four meetings with the Bison, giving up 20 sacks, but the biggest thing that has separated these teams has been the ground game.
In four wins against SDSU, NDSU is averaging 235 yards rushing per game, while holding the Jackrabbits usually potent running attack to just 31 yards per game.
Last month it wasn't just running back John Crockett and his 152 yards rushing that gave the SDSU defense fits, it was also the play of junior quarterback Carson Wentz, who ran 16 times for 100 yards and a touchdown and also threw for 115 yards and a score in NDSU's 37-17 win.
Coach Stiegelmeier says those are the things that need to go SDSU's way if the Jacks are going to win Saturday:
Kickoff Saturday is 2:30pm in Fargo. The winner gets the 7th seed Coastal Carolina - Richmond winner in the quarterfinals next Saturday.
The Missouri Valley Conference has all five of its' playoff teams alive in the second round, with Indiana State at 8th seeded Chattanooga and two head-to-head match-ups: SDSU at NDSU and Northern Iowa at number five seed, Illinois State. That guarantees the MVC at least two teams in the quarterfinals.
The next closest conference is the Colonial Athletic Association, which has three of it's four playoff teams still alive.
The Missouri Valley's post season success hasn't gone unnoticed by the SDSU coach: