South Dakota State Preview: #3 Jackrabbits Host Southern Utah
In what's going to be a season full of home cooking for South Dakota State with a whopping seven games in Brookings, the Jackrabbits tee it up for the third of four straight games at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium when they host Southern Utah this weekend.
SDSU is expected to see the return of starting quarterback J'Bore Gibbs for this one. The redshirt freshman missed the last two games with a hand injury.
In that game, SUU wide receiver Lance Lawson was the big star offensively, 13 catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns from quarterback Chris Helbig. Lawson also threw a TD pass to Helbig and carried the ball twice for 17 yards.
Helbig has been effective for Southern Utah, completing 62 percent of his passes so far in 2019.
Defensively, after giving up 42 points and better than 500 yards per game last season, SUU turned to a guy with a famous last name for help. Brandon Fisher, son of longtime NFL head coach Jeff Fisher, is the new defensive coordinator and he has a talented defensive line with Lehi Atatasi, Watson Ali, and Utah State transfer Gaseoto Schuster.
This is a program that made the FCS Playoffs in 2017 but finished just 1-10 last season.
South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier told me he's impressed with the speed of the 2019 Thunderbirds:
Kickoff is 6:00 PM, Saturday (September 21) in Brookings.
The Jackrabbits have a bye week after that before opening Missouri Valley Conference play Saturday, October 5, when they host Southern Illinois.
Last week, the Jackrabbits made it back-to-back victories with a 38-10 win over Drake in Brookings.
With Kanin Nelson subbing for Gibbs at quarterback, SDSU put together first half drives of 70, 80, and 95 yards and got big runs from Pierre Strong Jr. (49 yards) and CJ Wilson (52 yards).
The defense also chipped in with an interception from Logan Backus.
The Jacks also faced some challenges in the first 30 minutes, including a fumbled punt return, roughing the passer call that extended a Drake scoring drive, and a missed field goal.
Overall, Stiegelmeier was pleased with the offense execution in the first half:
For the second straight week, SDSU was a big favorite at home and against both Long Island and Drake scored 38 points. That's led to rumblings from outside the program about the Jacks not being as sharp as they could have been.
Stiegelmeier says he has his own way of assessing his team's performance: