South Dakota Falls at #18 Northern Iowa, Returns Home to Host Southern Illinois Saturday
The stretch run of the Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule is here for the South Dakota Coyotes, and the margin of error is slim to say the least.
With just a trio of games left, USD can ill afford a fourth conference loss, if they're going to entertain any notions of making it into the FCS Playoff field in 2015.
MVC loss number three came at Northern Iowa last week, 20-7, to the #18 Panthers.
The Coyotes (4-4/2-3) controlled the first quarter on the field and on the scoreboard, holding the ball for nearly 11 minutes, while scoring the only points of the first 15 minutes - a 23-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Saeger to Brandt Van Roekel.
But the UNI defense took control from there, limiting the USD offense to 81 total yards over the remaining 45 minutes of the game. In nine second, third, and fourth quarter drives, the Coyotes managed only four first downs, while turning the ball over twice and punting seven times.
The Panthers (4-4/2-3) did most of their damage in the second quarter, with quarterback Aaron Bailey leading a pair of long touchdown drives - a 74-yarder capped by a 14-yard touchdown pass to Braden Lehman, and an 83-yarder that finished with Bailey taking it in from a yard out. Despite being sacked five times, Bailey threw for a career-high 231 yards.
Aside from giving up the two touchdown drives, the South Dakota defense had a solid day with 11 tackles for loss and two forced turnovers. Keyen Lage had ten tackles, Andrew Van Ginkel had two sacks, Colin Mertlik added a pair of sacks and two forced fumbles, while Adam Harris had five pass breakups.
The punters were the real stars this game. Both USD's Miles Bergner and UNI's Sam Kuhter got off boots of better than 60 yards. Bergner pinning the Panthers inside the 20 twice, Kuhter doing the same to the Coyotes three times, including a pair of kicks downed inside the USD five yard line, in the fourth quarter.
UNI kicker Michael Schmadeke provided the only points of the second half, with field goals of 48 and 50 yards.
The Coyotes finish the season with two of their remaining three games at home, including this week's match-up with Southern Illinois.
The Salukis (3-5/2-3) come to Vermillion on the heels of a 35-29 loss at home to #7 North Dakota State. SIU kept the game close despite giving up 397 yards of rushing to the Bison. That's nothing new for the Southern Illinois defense, which ranks near the bottom of the Missouri Valley in rushing, passing, and scoring.
The Saluki offense, on the other hand, is one of the best in the league. SIU is at, or near, the top in scoring, rushing, and passing, and already had more plays of 20 yards or more from scrimmage in the first seven games than it did all of last year.
Senior quarterback Mark Iannotti is having an outstanding season, throwing for 517 yards at Indiana and 471 yards at Indiana State earlier this year. He's in the top four in the FCS with 2,351 yards thru the air so far this season.
One of the keys to Iannotti's success in 2015 is the protection from his offensive line. SIU has allowed just five sacks in eight games, tied for fifth best in the nation. That line will be tested by the Coyotes' Van Ginkel. The redshirt freshman is sixth in the FCS with eight sacks this season.
In a 41-10 win over USD in Carbondale last season, Iannotti threw for 264 yards and a touchdown and ran for 55 yards.
Special teams will be a point of emphasis for the Coyotes this week. Southern Illinois is one of just two teams in the FCS (Prairie View) with seven blocked kicks this season. The Salukis have blocked four punts and three field goals in eight games.
Kickoff is 1:00 PM at the DakotaDome Saturday.
I talked with USD head coach Joe Glenn about Northern Iowa loss and the match-up against Southern Illinois this weekend: