South Dakota State Preview: #5 Jackrabbits Host #20 Illinois State
There are so many different scenarios out there for the final two weeks of the Missouri Valley Conference, it's enough to make your head spin.
You've got North Dakota State at 5-1, and then four teams - Illinois State, Northern Iowa, South Dakota, and South Dakota State - all with 4-2 records.
With NDSU hosting USD this week and then finishing the year at Illinois State, and SDSU set to host Illinois State and then play in Vermillion next week, it's hard to tell what's going to happen.
The only seemingly sure thing is Northern Iowa. The Panthers (4-2) are a virtual lock to finish the year 6-2 in Missouri Valley play, 7-4 overall, as they finish with the worst two teams in the conference, Missouri State and Indiana State.
As for South Dakota State, the Jackrabbits (7-2/4-2 MVFC) still have hopes of repeating as conference champs and will find themselves rooting for arch rival South Dakota this week, when the Coyotes go to Fargo to battle first place NDSU.
SDSU's opponent Saturday (November 11), Illinois State, perhaps the most inconsistent team in the Valley this season.
The Redbirds have knocked off (6-3/4-2) South Dakota and Youngstown State this year, but were blown out by Southern Illinois and Western Illinois.
Illinois State's defense has been terrific at times in 2017, allowing 13 or fewer points five times and putting up the second best numbers overall in the MVFC.
Their strength is up front where Dalton Keene is tied for second in the league in quarterback sacks, with Taylor Lambert and Adam Conley both in the top 12.
That same group, along with linebacker Tyree Horton, have made the Redbirds the eighth toughest team in the nation to run the ball against.
Offensively, Illinois State likes to play keep away.
The Redbirds are in the top ten in FCS in time of possession and they are relying on a pair of young running backs to lead the way. Sophomores James Robinson and Markel Smith combine for better than 140 yards a game on the ground.
Junior quarterback Jake Kolbe has been at the center of ISU's inconsistency this season. He's thrown 12 touchdown passes and ten interceptions. Spencer Schnell is his favorite target with 50 catches in nine games.
Redbird opponents are having success with they force ISU to go to the air. In the last five weeks, Illinois State has been forced to throw the ball 34 or more times in three games.
They've lost all three.
Kickoff is 2:00 PM in Brookings, Saturday.
Last Saturday (November 4), South Dakota State extended their regular season win streak against North Dakota State to two, with a 33-21 win in the annual Dakota Marker game.
The Jackrabbits drove the field on their opening possession and scored on a Taryn Christion to Jacob Brown touchdown pass. SDSU would never trail in this game.
Christion completed nearly 70 percent of his passes on the day, throwing for 329 yards and two touchdowns. Dallas Goedert caught 11 passes for 116 yards and a score.
The South Dakota State defense was the big story, forcing five Bison turnovers, slowing down the NDSU running game, and sacking quarterback Easton Stick three times.
For the second straight year, the Jackrabbits beat the Bison at their own game, winning the time of possession battle by more than ten minutes.
I talked with Jackrabbit head coach John Stiegelmeier about the North Dakota State win and the match-up with Illinois State: