South Dakota State Preview: #4 Jackrabbits Host #11 Illinois State
During the current run of seven straight FCS Playoff appearances, the Jackrabbits (7-2/4-1 MVFC) have owned the month, winning 20-of-22 regular-season games. Their current November regular-season win streak stands at ten.
SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier told me the late-season success has a lot to do with the mentality of his program:
The latest big November test comes against Illinois State, Saturday (November 9) at home.
The eleventh-ranked Redbirds (6-3/3-2 MVFC) had won four straight before turning it over four times in a loss at home against Northern Iowa last week.
Illinois State has been excelling on defense this season. They've allowed the second-fewest points in the conference (18) and the third-fewest yards on the ground (151). They're also tied with North Dakota State with the best turnover rate in the Valley (+4).
Stiegelmeier says they don't do anything special, they just play good fundamental defense:
Offensively, quarterback Brady Davis doesn't throw it a lot this season but did complete 11-of-18 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown against SDSU last season.
He's been well protected by an offensive line that has allowed just eight sacks in five MVFC games.
That offensive line has also been opening holes for running back James Robinson who is the third-leading rusher in the league, although SDSU did keep him in check last season with just 13 yards on 13 carries.
Kickoff is 2:00 PM, Saturday in Brookings.
The Jackrabbits will be without second-leading rusher CJ Wilson who was injured last week. SDSU is hoping to get him back on the field before the end of the season.
The Illinois State match-up is the first of three big games for South Dakota State to end the regular season. Fifth-ranked Northern Iowa comes to Brookings next weekend and the Jacks close out the regular season at in-state rival South Dakota.
Stielgelmeier says it's not an exaggeration to treat these next three as playoff games:
Last Saturday (November 2) the Jackrabbits rebounded from a loss to North Dakota State with a 35-14 win at Missouri State.
True freshman Keaton Heide got the start at quarterback for the injured J'Bore Gibbs, who is done for the season. Heide, the third different SDSU starting quarterback for the Jacks in a season since 1972, finished the day 11-of-19 for 173 yards and a touchdown, earning him high praise from his head coach:
The South Dakota State defense was stingy against the Bears, allowing just 91 yards in the first half and forcing three turnovers and notching seven three-and-outs on the afternoon.
Stiegelmeier says it was an impressive performance:
Offensively in the second half, the Jackrabbits showed off their big-play capabilities as Wilson scored on a 41-yard run and Cade Johnson turned a one-yard completion into an 89-yard touchdown.
Stiegelmeier says that explosiveness is huge: