South Dakota State Preview: #3 Jackrabbits at Minnesota
South Dakota State's 2019 football season begins with a border battle that's been rather one-sided over the years.
When the Jackrabbits play at Minnesota Thursday (August 29) night, it will mark the eighth meeting between SDSU and the U of M, with the Gophers taking all seven previous decisions, including a 16-13 victory the last time these two squared off in 2009.
A lot has changed for both programs since.
South Dakota State qualified for the FCS postseason for the first time that year and after missing the playoffs the next two years have now been in the playoffs seven straight seasons.
Minnesota has had six losing records in the past ten seasons and have run through five head coaches.
As he has been for the past 22 seasons, John Stiegelmeier is in charge at South Dakota State.
This season's Jackrabbits are ranked third in the national FCS media preseason poll, despite losing starting quarterback Tayrn Christion to graduation and working in two new coordinators this season, Jason Eck on offense and Brian Bergstrom and Jimmy Rogers on defense.
I asked Stieglemeier about his coaching staff which has a lot of familiar faces in new roles for 2019:
Offensively for SDSU, the biggest question mark comes at quarterback where redshirt J'Bore Gibbs will get the call to step into Christion's shoes.
Stiegelemier says he's impressed by what's he's seen from the Chicago native:
Gibbs will have plenty of weapons at his disposal in 2019.
At running back Missouri Valley's 2018 freshman of the year Pierre Strong Jr. is back for his sophomore season after becoming SDSU's first one thousand-yard rusher (1,116 yards) in four seasons.
He's joined by senior Mikey Daniel, who gained 630 yards, and sophomore CJ Wilson, who added 281 yards on the ground in 2018.
At wide receiver, junior Cade Johnson who is coming off of an All-American season with 67 catches for 1,332 yards and 17 touchdowns (tied for FCS best) in 2018. Joining Johnson at wide receiver are seniors Adam Anderson who caught 47 passes for 718 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018 and Jacob Brown who caught a trio of touchdown passes last season.
Stiegelmeier says the key for the skill positions is staying healthy:
Up front, the Jackrabbits welcome back starter Evan Greenway and part-time starters Eagan Lickiss, Eddie Miller, and Aron Johnson, but will be without injured senior Wes Genant to start the season.
Senior center Matt Clark, a 13-game starter in 2016, will be back for his first snaps in three seasons. Stiegelmeier says Clark's return to the program after leaving previously is a great story:
Defensively, the Jackrabbits boast one of the most talented front sevens in all of FCS.
Two-time All-American linebacker Christian Rozeboom has amassed more than 300 tackles as a three-year starter and is joined by returning starters Logan Backhaus and Seven Wilson. Backhaus' 61 tackles last were third-best on the team while Wilson also made an impact on special teams, blocking three kicks.
Preston Tetzlaff and Levi Brown will also factor into the linebacking rotation.
Preseason All-Missouri Valley Conference selection Ryan Earith anchors a line that recorded 20 quarterback sacks in 2018.
Also back on the defensive line are starters Austin Smenda, Krockett Krolikowski, and Xavier Ward. Also, back with playing time under their belts are Tolu Ogunrinde, Elijah Wilson, Spencer Hildahl, Thomas Slacker, and Caleb Sanders.
Stiegelmeier knows he's got a lot of talent up front on this group:
The defensive backfield has some holes to fill with the departure of three starters to graduation and two other players (Larenzo Williams and Marshon Harris) to injuries.
Juniors Don Gardner and Malik Lofton are in line to start at cornerback while juniors Michael Griffin II and Josh Manchigiah will get the call at safety.
Stiegelmeier says this group has some work to do:
On special teams, senior All-American placekicker Chase Vinatieri has had back-to-back 100 point seasons, while long snapper Bradey Sorenson is also an All-American.
The Jackrabbits will have a new punter in 2019. Sophomore Ben Dinkel takes over for Brady Hale who graduated in May.
Stiegelmeier says having Vinatieri for one more season is a big plus:
The 2019 season opener will be played under the lights at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis
The match-up with the Minnesota Golden Gophers will give SDSU a chance for their first wins over an FBS team since a win at Kansas in 2015.
The 8:00 PM start time and a national TV audience will be a bit out of the ordinary for the Jackrabbits:
Minnesota's offensive attack is built around a potentially potent running game that has seen its share of injuries over the past few years.
Rodney Smith has nearly 3,000 career yards but was banged up in 2018.
Shannon Brooks is coming off of two ACL tears last season. He has 1,800 career yards.
Mo Ibrahim picked up 1,100 yards in 2018.
The wide receivers are equally talented with big-play threats Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman. Redshirt freshman Brevyn Sapnnn-Ford should make an impact this season.
At quarterback, last season's opening game starter Zach Annexstad is still sidelined with the same foot injury that limited him to seven games in 2018.
Backup Tanner Morgan went 4-2 in his place to end the year and will get the start against SDSU.
Stiegelmeier says his defense will have its hands full against the Gophers:
Defensively, the Gophers have a legitimate NFL prospect in linebacker Carter Coughlin who led the team 9.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss in 2018m, while also forcing four fumbles.
He leads a very deep front seven that rotates in a ton of players.
Stiegelmeier says Coughlin is the real deal:
Kickoff at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis is 8:00 PM, Thursday (August 29). The game will be broadcast nationally on FS1.
The Jackrabbits have their home opener Saturday, September 8 when they host Long Island at 6:00 PM.