“Prolific” might not be a strong enough term to describe the University of South Dakota’s offensive output in the 2017 season. The Coyotes racked up some ridiculous numbers, finishing in the top six in the FCS in total (2nd/523.6 ypg), scoring (4th/38.2 ppg) and passing (6th/333.2 ypg) offense while also smashing several school records.
So, is it even possible to repeat that kind of historic production in the coming season?
Most would say no, especially with the loss of quarterback Chris Streveler. But, even without “15,” Bob Nielson’s offensive arsenal still appears to be well-stocked. Here’s a position-by-position look at what the Coyotes will be working with this season.
Projected Starter: #3 Austin Simmons (Jr. | Council Bluffs, IA)
Austin Simmons is the guy charged with filling the extremely large shoes of the most dynamic quarterback in USD history (a.k.a. Streveler). Simmons is a different player, of course, but he does possess some similar attributes. His experience is limited, but he’s done well with the game reps he has gotten including 15 gm, 50%, 410 yds, 7 TD and 1 INT.
What sets him apart from Streveler is his arm. I’ve told many people over the past few years that Simmons has an NFL-caliber arm. I’m not necessarily suggesting he’s on track to be a draft pick, but he can make every throw the coaches ask of him – and he can do it with both power and precision.
Time will tell just how ready Simmons is to be “the guy,” but he’s clearly taking the task very seriously. A naturally quiet person, he’s made an obvious effort to become a more vocal leader lately. While that’s not a prerequisite to playing the position, of course, most coaches would tell you it’s the kind of leader they want in the spot. Plus, Simmons’ teammates made their positive feelings known, too, by selecting him as one of their team captains during spring ball.
Next Men Up: #7 Tyler Tsagalis (Soph. | Arlington Heights, IL), #12 Jakob Parks (RFr. | Clearwater, FL)
Projected Starter: #2 Kai Henry (Soph. | Miami, FL)
Kai Henry burst on to the scene in 2017, finishing second among running backs with 613 yards and six rushing touchdowns. That includes a career best 109-yard effort against South Dakota State University in the regular season finale.
The biggest concern that arose during Henry’s true freshman was his lack of breakaway speed. He chuckled when we talked about that during the preseason, obviously feeling a little embarrassed by the fact that he was unable to outrun some linebackers last year. Fixing that was a big part of his offseason focus and it has showed throughout fall camp. Henry is quicker and leaner coming into 2018 and he’s hoping that translates into an even bigger sophomore campaign.
Next Men Up: #30 Ben Klett (Soph. | Lake Zurich, IL), #41 Brandon Thull (Soph. | Kewaskum, WI), #25 Canaan Brooks (Fr. | St. Louis, MO), #38 Ethan Falaniko (Soph. | Anchorage, AK), #5 Lincoln Gibbs (RFr. | Claremont, SD)
Projected Starters: #13 Shamar Jackson (Sr. | Pahokee, FL), #6 Kody Case (Soph. | Lake City, IA), #82 Dakarai Allen (Jr. | Largo, FL), #88 Levi Falck (Soph. | Circle Pines, MN)
Despite losing two of its top targets – Brandt Van Roekel and Alonge Brooks combined for 77 receptions, 1,133 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2017 – wide receiver is, without a doubt, South Dakota’s deepest position group.
Led by returning All-MVFC selection Shamar Jackson (53 rec., 766 yds, 4 TD), the Coyotes have an abundance of legitimate playmakers that are capable of ripping the lid off of opposing defenses. Jackson has battled some nagging injuries the past couple of years, but coaches say he’s looked fresh this fall.
Dakarai Allen closed strong last season, recording 20 of 22 catches and all four of his touchdowns over the Coyotes final five games. He’s got a flare for the spectacular, which was evidenced an incredible one-handed catch he made during the spring game, which landed the No. 1 play spot on SportsCenter. With all that considered, it appears Allen could be in line for a breakout season.
Kody Case showed a ton of big play potential as a true freshman, highlighted by a three-catch, 130-yard effort in the FBS win over Bowling Green. Injuries have limited him a bit since then, but there’s no question that when Case is healthy, his rivals will find him very difficult to deal with.
Levi Falck caught 16 passes over South Dakota’s first four games last season, but was shutout the rest of the way due to mostly injuries. He’s spent the past month proving he’s back by making one highlight catch after another. If you were to ask the coaching staff which players had the strongest fall camps, Falck’s would be one of the first names you would hear.
Next Men Up: #1 Randy Baker (Jr. | Daytona Beach, FL), #8 Trystn Ducker (Jr. | Bellevue, NE), #10 Reggie Crawford (RFr. | St. Louis, MO), #83 Caleb Vander Esch (Soph. | San Jose, CA)
Projected Starter(s): #81 Brett Samson (Soph. | Oconomowoc, WI), #87 Connor Herrmann (Soph. | Mount Vernon, IA)
If you were going to pick one word to describe USD’s tight ends it would have to be “athletic.” These guys run an average of 6-4, 219, creating a potential matchup nightmare.
Brett Samson showed last year that he can make plays through the air and on the ground. He caught at least one pass in nine of the Coyotes last 10 games and averaged nearly 13 yards per reception.
Sophomore Connor Herrmann gives the Coyotes another solid option. Herrmann played in 10 games last season, but he didn’t catch a pass. That will not be the case in 2018. He followed up a solid spring showing with an even stronger fall and appears ready to contribute in a big way.
Next Men Up: #85 Nathan Kneifl (RFr. | Lawton, IA), #89 Alex Jensen (RFr. | Plymouth, MN)
Projected Starters: #68 Tyler Ciurej (Soph. | Bellevue, NE), #69 Tyler Johnson (Jr. | Peosta, IA), #72 Mason Scheidegger (Soph. | Fonda, IA), #73 Cody Jennings (Sr. | Kismet, KS), #76 Nick Jensen (Sr. | Vermillion, SD)
At this time last year, one of the biggest question marks/concerns for USD was the depth of the offensive line. To put it simply, the Coyotes didn’t have it – and the extra bodies that were available weren’t proven. USD is still a little green here overall, but the number of players who are realistically ready to play, and play well, is definitely higher looking toward this season.
If things continue to progress as they have, and if the Coyotes catch some fortune in the injury department, South Dakota’s first five could develop into one of the more solid groups in the MVFC. The four returners – Jensen, Jennings, Ciurej and Scheidegger – combined for 42 starts in 2017. The last thing to get sorted out was where each of those players was going to play.
The fifth guy, Johnson, is one that earned his spot this fall. Johnson was expected to provide some depth last year, but ended up injuring his knee during fall camp and missed the entire season. He is clearly back to 100 percent and has been practicing particularly well lately.
Next Men Up: #65 Braden Schneider (RFr. | McLouth, KS), #66 Isaac Erbes (Fr. | Urbandale, IA), #67 Kian Rexroat-Potts (Fr. | Oconomowoc, WI), #75 Michael Bianchi (Jr. | Island Lake, IL), #77 Tanner Anderson (Sr. | Derby, KS), #78 Austin Wallace (RFr.|Metamora, IL)