The Jacks get it on this Saturday in the mighty SEC with a game at Missouri to open the season.
Mizzou is ranked #24 in the FBS pre-season poll. The Tigers went 12-2 last year. They beat Georgia. They beat Florida. They beat Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. They beat Auburn 59-42 in the SEC championship game… and then beat Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.
They averaged about 60-thousand fans at home in their non-conference games last year. It is going to be a big hostile, house for the Jacks to contend with… and probably the best team they’ve ever faced.
“I think it is going to be our biggest challenge as a program,” says SDSU Head Coach John Stiegelmeier, “not because of where we are at but because of where they are at. And we will go down there and compete and play our best football and see what happens. I can’t project how good they are, but I know how we are coming along.”
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and a great way to test ourselves against great teams,” adds junior linebacker T.J. Lally. “I remember my first game at Kansas and that was a great trial by fire.”
“You see a lot of difference in the size from FBS to FCS,” says SDSU running back Zach Zenner. “That is what I have noticed. So to go up against guys that are bigger and faster sets you up for the rest of the season.”
South Dakota State is coming off of back-to-back 9-win, FCS playoff seasons. They had to get hot at the end of last year… and did… reeling off wins over Northern Iowa, Indiana State, South Dakota and Youngstown State to end the regular season at 8-4.
A playoff win at Northern Arizona was sweet, but a season-ending loss at Eastern Washington was bitter and the Jacks ended up 9-5.
Eastern Washington is the pre-season #1 team in FCS, by the way. The Eagles thumped Sam Houston State 56-35 in the season opener last week.
Back to the Jacks, though… and forget about LeBron/Love/Irving in Cleveland… the Big Three live in Brookings.
Go back over the last 29 years and these are some of the most productive Jackrabbit combinations of QB, RB and WR.
1985 Mike Busch/Dan Sonnek/Jeff Tiefenthaler 5,118 yds/50 TD (a guess… don’t have the actual #, but the rest are real)
1999 Andy Rennerfeldt/Josh Ranek/Brock Beran 4,817 yds/43 TD
2008 Ryan Berry/Kyle Minett/Jaron Harris 5,361 yds/55 TD
2010 Thomas O’Brien/Kyle Minett/Tyrel Kool 4,252 yds/24 TD
2013 Austin Sumner/Zach Zenner/Jason Schneider 6,102 yds/52 TD
“We’ve never had this amount of accomplished skill coming back with Sumner and Zenner and Schneider and Cam Jones and the other tight ends behind him,” says Stiegelmeier. “It’s a great core. But I remind everybody that both offense and defense start with the fat guys, the lines. Those are the guys who will determine how good the skill guys are.”
All-American offensive lineman, Bryan Witzmann is gone… so are Alex Parker and Taylor Suess. Mike Shoff was going to be a starter, but he is out for the season with an injury.
Stiegelmeier says there are a lot of good players back on the offensive line, just not a lot with experience… and that is something you can’t get in practice, it’s going to take some games.
There are two O-linemen back that started in that last game of the year at Eastern Washington… Trevor Gregor at right tackle… and Nick Purcell at right guard. (Purcell started last three games.)
The depth chart for Missouri shows the first five on the line like this:
Bryce Siverling at LT… Dylan Seiter at LG… redshirt freshman, Jacob Ohnesorge (Oh-nuh-sore-gee) at Center… Nick Purcell at RG… Trevor Gregor at RT.
Andrew Mueller and Nick Carr (6-foot-8, 310 pounds) and Taylor Bloom (Madison, SD) will be the depth on the chart.
And they all get to block for an awesomely unassuming, tremendously low-key, wicked smart and fabulously talented running back.
Of the six 200-yard rushing games in the Missouri Valley Conference last year, Zach Zenner had three of them… three of the top four, in fact. 295 at North Dakota. 202 at Nebraska. 249 at Northern Arizona.
It is amazing how he holds up physically… and he has a very nimble style of running. He is not a slasher… not a get low and break down and explode side to side guy. He looks like he is trying to tip-toe by you… but do it really fast.
“I’m trying to make cuts but trying to make them full speed,” he says. “You don’t want to break down… you want to make the defense break down and then cut and get around them. That is the goal. Pace to the line of scrimmage and then explode through. Pace to and explode through.”
Pace to and explode through.
Zenner ended up with 2,015 yards last year. He had 4 yards against North Dakota State. That kept him from setting a new SDSU single-season record. (Josh Ranek – 2,055 in 1999)
ZZ needs 218 yards this year to set a new Missouri Valley Conference record for career rushing… and 2,116 to set a new SDSU record. (Ranek – 6,744)
One last note on the offense… the Jacks will use a fullback this year and actually list him as a fullback. It will be pretty much the same as using a tight end as a fullback like they did last year… just that now the fullbacks are being coached as fullbacks and not as tight ends. The TE/FBs last year would work some with the receiver group and some with the running back group. This year the FB are working with offensive backfield group. Subtle? Maybe. See if you can tell the difference this year.
Let’s get into the SDSU Defense!
6 of the top 8 tacklers from last year are gone… graduated or hurt.
RC Kilgore, Doug Peete, Chase Douglas, Marshall Peugh and Winston Wright are all done. Linebacker Charles Elmore is out for the season with an injury.
Linebacker T.J. Lally was second on the team in tackles last year to Kilgore. Lally is back and that is a good thing.
“I still feel somewhat young,” says the junior from Chicago, “but going into my fourth year now which is good… especially with a team that is really young this year and guys stepping into new spots. It is nice to really know what is going on and be able to help guys with those transitions.”
Those transition guys include Jesse Bobbit and Tom Peitz and Dallas Brown. They all played last year… but they all really have to play this year.
When talking about his defense, Coach Stig always talks about “fitting” plays… reading a play and being in the right spot to make the play. He has a very good analogy for this.
“I’m an old math teacher and football is a flash card. When you see something you need to know the right answer and that is appropriate on defense. When you see something flash you have to fit the play… and we’ve got a ways to go there. You can see the heads on a swivel and slow movement sometimes, but that is the maturity part of playing defense.”
So you have to have guys that not only know the answer to the flash card BUT CAN ALSO physically make the stop or defend the pass once they read the play.
JeRyan Butler is one of those guys that can read and react and he goes into his junior season this year… and the coaches all think the Jacks secondary is going to be really good.
“I kind of feel right now that our strength is the secondary,” says defensive coordinator Clint Brown. “I know we lost Winston (Wright), but I think we have more depth there now as opposed to Winston and JeRyan and Jimmie (Forsythe) and then who is going to go in next. Jake (Gentile) and Melvin (Tavares) and Nick Mears and Nick Farina… but I feel like we have four safeties that we can run in there and play. So I feel really good about that. We just need to continue to get better up front and at the linebacker spot.”
Up front, on the defensive line, Cole Langer is back. This big (285) teddy bear is a badass ballplayer. He was on the Missouri Valley All-Newcomer team last year as a freshman. He is on the pre-season All-Valley team this year. That’s pretty good for a kid who never played on the D-line at Dell Rapids (SD) High School.
“It was a big change because, yeah, I didn’t play it at all in high school,” says Langer. “Just played linebacker and running back. It’s just a little different putting your hand on the ground. It’s gotten easier and now I feel pretty comfortable with it.”
Langer is joined by starting D-End Jack Sherlock and nose tackle Austin LaBlance as “guys who played a lot last year”.
J.R. Plote will be the starter at the other D-End spot with Landon Schultz and Keven Klocek (Klah-sek) in competition to be the next guy in. Coach Brown says that Shayne Gottlob (Salem, SD) and Kellen Soulek (Freeman, SD) are both showing improvement and could add some depth.
South Dakota State is picked to finish second in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The Jacks are rated #10 in the country in the pre-season FCS polls. They have 12 games on the schedule this year:
August 30 at Missouri (First time they have played)
September 6 Cal Poly (CP has won last 3… last played in 2011 and CP won 48-14)
September 13 at Southern Utah (Jacks have won last 4… last time in 2011)
September 20 Wisconsin-Oshkosh (First Meeting)
September 27 OFF
October 4 at Illinois State (Have not played since 2011… Redbirds have won last two)
October 11 Missouri State* (Jacks are 5-1 vs Bears… MS won 35-21 last year)
October 18 at Northern Iowa* (UNI on last game in Cedar Falls, 27-6)
October 25 Youngstown State (Jacks have won last 6 meetings)
November 1 at North Dakota State* (Bison have won last 5 meetings)
November 8 at Indiana State (SDSU beat them 29-0 last year in Brookings)
November 15 Western Illinois (Jacks have won last 6 matchups)
November 22 South Dakota* (Jacks have won last 5)
* on Midco Sports Network
The FCS playoffs get started on November 29 and the goal is to be one of the top 8 seeds in the 24 team field, get a first-round bye and then…… we will see what happens.