South Dakota State Preview: #13 Jackrabbits Host Missouri State
The Jackrabbits (5-3/4-1) enter the week in a three-way tie for first in the MVFC with a pair of teams they've already beaten this year, North Dakota State and Youngstown State.
SDSU begins the final stretch run with a very winnable game, when they host Missouri State, Saturday in Brookings.
The Bears (4-4/2-3) are one of the most improved teams in the league this season, after going 1-10 overall and 0-8 in the conference last year.
They've had trouble scoring points at times, with a touchdown or less in three of their four losses.
But they have play makers on offense, starting with quarterback Brodie Lambert, who is the Missouri Valley Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 339 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Southern Illinois last weekend. Lambert has had a feast or famine year, with 13 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.
His favorite target is wide receiver Mailk Earl, the fourth best receiver in the MVFC in 2016.
The Bears will be throwing against a SDSU defense that's third best against the pass in the league this season.
On the ground, freshman running back Jason Randall is in the top ten in rushing in the conference.
They'll be going up against a Jackrabbit defense that played perhaps its poorest game so far this season in last week's loss at Illinois State, with several key penalties and missed tackles.
The Missouri State defense is transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3 this season, and comes in dead last against the pass in the MVFC and next-to-last in total defense.
Senior linebacker Dylan Cole is the league leader in tackles, averaging 15 per game. Last year, he registered 11 1/2 against SDSU. He is coming off a season-high 19-tackle performance vs. Southern Illinois. Defensive end Colby Isbell is among the FCS leaders in sacks this season.
The Jackrabbit offense is hoping to take advantage of MSU's struggles against the pass, but SDSU will have to play better this weekend after quarterback Taryn Christion threw 30 incompletions (on 63 attempts) against Illinois State.
Tight end Dallas Goedert (937 yards) and wide receiver Jake Wieneke (909 yards) are trying to become the first Jackrabbit receiving tandem to reach 1,000 yards each in the same season.
Missouri State is dangerous on special teams with junior Deion Holliman ranking fifth in the nation in combined kick return yardage (644 yards). He is the only FCS returner with both a punt and kickoff return for a TD in each of the last two seasons.
SDSU tumbled a bit in the STATS Top 25 this week, falling from #7 to #13 in the nation.
Kickoff is 2:00 PM, Saturday, in Brookings.
The Jacks holds a commanding 7-1 all-time advantage in the series with Missouri State, including a 4-0 home record against the Bears.
At Illinois State last weekend, SDSU won the opening toss and decided to play defense, forcing the Redbirds to operate into a fierce wind.
That didn't bother ISU, who scored on their first two possessions and never looked trailed, winning 38-21.
Jackrabbit penalties were a problem in this game, eight in all for 90 yards, including a series of defensive flags that extended Redbird drives.
Penalties also derailed the SDSU offense at times.
Down seven in the third, the Jacks were driving after Cole Langer forced a fumble at the ISU 21. But a Christion third down scramble that came close to picking up a first down was wiped off by a holding call and SDSU ended up with no points on the possession.
Trailing in the fourth, the Jackrabbit offense was forced to take more chances, leading to a pair of Christion interceptions, the second of which was returned for a 92-yard touchdown.
Goedert (11 receptions, 118 yards) and Wieneke (10 receptions, 173 yards, 2 TD) each had big days catching the ball.
I talked with SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier about the loss to the Redbirds and Saturday's game with Missouri State: