Well, once again, it all comes down to this.
After South Dakota State's loss to North Dakota State in the Dakota Marker game on November 1, the Jacks sat at 5-4, needing three straight wins to close out the regular season for just a chance at the playoffs. SDSU passed its first test on November 8, topping Indiana State on the road 32-17.
In my opinion, the triumph in Terre Haute was the best game the Jacks defense has played all year. Sure, they've allowed fewer points to teams like Southern Utah and Wisconsin-Oshkosh, but coming into the game, everyone was talking about the Sycamore passing attack. SDSU shut down Mike Perish. He did have two touchdowns...but one of them came on a short field after a safety and the other was a garbage-time score late in the 4th when the game was well out of reach. The Jacks still didn't blitz a whole lot (if at all), but they found a way to get consistent pressure. They got their first sacks in three games and the secondary also played a role, staying on their guys and not giving Perish any open lanes for throwing.
Offensively, head coach John Stiegelmeier will tell you a 90-yard drive is more demoralizing than a 90-yard play, but I'm pretty sure he didn't mind having two 90+-yard plays against the Sycamores. Freshman WR Jake Wieneke continues to impress, scoring a 91-yard touchdown (about 80 of which was running after the catch) in the 3rd quarter to give the Jacks a lead they would never relinquish. Then, in the 4th, Zach Zenner scored on a 94-yard run after the Jack D forced a fumble at the goal line.
Overall, it was exactly what you wanted from the Jacks at this time of the year. If there's one thing to be 'concerned with,' it's the fact that they've trailed at halftime in five of six Missouri Valley Conference games. Ironically enough, the only conference game the Jacks have led at halftime was at North Dakota State two weeks ago. I'm not sure if the Jacks are just slow starters or better finishers, but over these next two games, SDSU needs to get off to good starts. They can't rely on the cliche 'halftime adjustments.'
In this SDSU-Tube video blog below, Tom Nieman and I discuss the Indiana State game and what we liked from SDSU:
The good news for SDSU is the rest of the regular season is at the friendly confines of Coughlin-Alumni Stadium. The Jacks host Western Illinois on November 15 before the big rivalry game with South Dakota on November 22.
Before Jacks fans think ahead to USD, Western Illinois is no pushover. The Leathernecks are 4-6, but that record is incredibly deceiving. WIU led NDSU in the 4th quarter back in October, they won at Youngstown State and they lost on a last-second field goal to Illinois State, blowing a 21-point lead. Those three opponents I just described are all opponents the Jacks have lost to this season. The Leathernecks may not be the best at closing games out, but trends come to an end at some point. Western has a high-powered offense led by sophomore QB Trenton Norvell, who had a career-high five touchdowns last week in a win over USD at the Dakota Dome. Norvell leads the entire conference in both passing yards and passing touchdowns.
In another SDSU-Tube video blog, we hear exclusively from Scott Kornberg, the radio play-by-play voice for the Western Illinois Leathernecks. Hear his thoughts on the team below:
It's going to be a chilly (and possibly snowy) one on Saturday in Brookings. The Leathernecks haven't played in bad weather all year. WIU's last two games were a home contest in Macomb, Illinois on October 25 (where the high was 75 degrees) and last week in the Dakota Dome. Whether that impacts Western Illinois remains to be seen, but you can bet SDSU's happy to have this one in particular at home.
We'll have highlights and reaction from the Western Illinois game next week on Jackrabbit Journal, Wednesday, November 19 at 8:00 pm only on Midco Sports Network.