South Dakota State Preview: #6 Jackrabbits at Southern Illinois
At first glance, the road to a seventh straight FCS Playoff berth for South Dakota State seems to only have a couple of minor bumps in it, but in the Missouri Valley Conference, things are never quite as easy as they seem.
Case in point, the Jacks game this Saturday (November 10) at Southern Illinois.
The Salukis (2-7/1-5 MVC) are a much better team than their record indicates. Five of SIU's seven defeats have come by a touchdown or less.
Most 2-7 teams aren't second in total offense in their conference, but Southern Illinois' 435 per game puts them 60 yards a contest behind South Dakota State for the lead in the Missouri Valley.
The Salukis have a couple of very good players at the talent positions. Receiver Raphael Leonard leads the MVC with six receptions per game, while running back D.J. Davis is third in the league with 96 yards per game and second in all-purpose yards (136 per game).
Southern Illinois' problem in 2018 has been two-fold.
The Salukis are near the bottom of the league with a minus-four turnover margin and their defense has been soft.
SIU has given up the most points of any Valley team (36 per game) and next-to-last in total yards allowed (444 per game) and passing yards allowed (248 per game).
But there are some bright spots on the Saluki defense.
Sophomore ends Anthony Knighton and Jordan Berner have 11 sacks between them, while second-year linebacker Luke Giegling has three.
Another sophomore, linebacker Bryce Notree, leads the team in tackles, has two sacks and a pair of interceptions.
Speaking of picks, junior defensive back Jeremy Chinn has three of them to go along with two forced fumbles.
Kickoff is 1:00 PM, Saturday in Carbondale, Illinois. SDSU has won the last two games in the series and scored 45 points or better each time.
The Jackrabbits (6-2/4-2 MVFC) are rolling offensively coming into this match-up, scoring 97 points the last two weeks in wins over Illinois State and Missouri State.
In last week's (November 3) 59-7 win over the Bears, Pierre Strong Jr. keyed a running attack that amassed 281 yards on the day. The redshirt freshman finished the day with a career-high 136 yards on nine carries. He had scoring runs of 55 and 54 yards in the first half, as SDSU scored the first 31 points of the game and never looked back.
Quarterback Taryn Christion threw for 259 yards and four touchdowns while running for another score. Cade Johnson caught five passes for 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The South Dakota State defense held Missouri State to just 183 yards of total offense, as four different Jackrabbits picked off passes.
The special teams also had a pair of blocked kicks.
The win moved SDSU up one spot in the FCS Top 25 from seventh to sixth in the nation.
I talked with Jackrabbits head coach John Stiegelmeier about the Missouri State win and the match-up with Southern Illinois: