It’s something South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier has been preaching to his team all year: get off to a fast start and you’ll improve your chances of winning football games.

That message was received loud and clear by the Jackrabbits last Saturday at Western Illinois, as SDSU jumped on top 17-0 after one quarter, and won 38-14:

It was the defense getting things started with a pair of interceptions on the Leathernecks first two possessions.  In all, the Jacks picked off four passes Saturday, two by Missouri Valley Conference defensive player of the week Winston Wright.  Those picks up the SDSU total to 15 on the year, tops in the nation.  The plus 1.9 in turnover margin is second best in FCS:

While the defense was setting the table, the offense was converting those turnovers into points in the first quarter with a pair of touchdowns and a field goal.  Coach Stiegelmeier told me it was a good start, but he's not completely satisfied::

The kicking game was one of two areas where the Jacks struggled at times against Western Illinois, as Justin Syrovatka, who was nearly automatic earlier in the season, missed two second half field goals from 30 yards or less:

The other area of concern for SDSU Saturday was the five sacks of quarterback Austin Sumner they gave up.  The Jacks were playing without starter Mike Shoff up front because of an injury, but Stiegelmeier says a number of factors led to the sacks:

For the first time this season, South Dakota will play back-to-back road games when they head to Springfield Saturday to play Missouri State.  The Bears only win in seven games this year came against #24 Illinois State three weeks ago.

They are a team that doesn’t give up much on the ground defensively, but has surprisingly been weak on pass defense this season, despite the play of standout safety Caleb Schaffitzel.  Coach Stiegelmeier and his staff believe there are opportunities for the offense this week:

Offensively, the Bears have a dual threat at quarterback in Kierra Harris, who is one of four players who average more than 20 yards a game on the ground.  And while that running game ‘by committee’ approach sounds like it might be difficult to plan against, the game film tells the SDSU coaches a different story:

This weekend marks the midway point of the Missouri Valley Conference schedule and gives the Jacks (1-2) a chance to climb back to .500 with a win.  Coach Stiegelmeier’s midterm report card for his team has some high and low marks:

Kickoff in Springfield is 1:00pm Saturday.