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CSN West: Jumping ‘Jacks
By Kent Schmidt, CSN West Columnist
When the season began, South Dakota State didn’t look like a team that would contend for the Missouri Valley Football Conference title. The Jackrabbits went from upset hopefuls against last year’s Big 12 cellar dweller, Iowa State, to suffering a blowout lose to the Cyclones.
SDSU lost to Iowa State 44-17 as quarterback Ryan Berry threw five interceptions.
In the last two weeks, however, SDSU has shown that it might be a contender after all. The ‘Jacks have defeated ranked MVFC opponents, Youngstown State and Western Illinois, to start the season at 2-1 overall and 2-0 atop the league standings.
SDSU has reversed the early season doldrums that it suffered in 2006 and 2007 when it opened 0-3 each year.
How have the ‘Jacks done it?
Coach John Stiegelmeier’s team reeled off seven victories in its final eight games last year, including a 29-24 victory over previously undefeated North Dakota State in the final week of the season, to claim the Great West Football Conference title with a 7-4 overall record and 4-0 mark in league play. Along with NDSU, SDSU now resides in the Missouri Valley Conference as both teams are playoff eligible.
After the anomaly in the Iowa State game, SDSU defeated Youngstown State 43-7 and Western Illinois 24-22 (last week).
Against WIU, South Dakota State held the Leathernecks, who entered the game with the fifth-best ground game in FCS, to 65 yards on 29 carries. That included holding All-American tailback Herb Donaldson to 43 yards on 18 attempts. He also fumbled once.
SDSU led 24-0 at halftime, forcing the Leathernecks to go to the air. WIU had more pass attempts (50), completions (27) and passing yardage (284) than it did in the first two games combined. Western Illinois did rally for 22 unanswered points in the second half, taking advantage of an SDSU secondary that lost starting safeties to injuries in Brock Campbell and Conrad Kjerstad.
SDSU also blanked Youngstown State in its MVFC opener before allowing a late fourth-quarter touchdown.
In these two games, SDSU outgained its two ranked opponents (YSU was No. 14, WIU was No. 15 in the TSN Poll)
Besides Berry, who are the Rabbits’ other standout performers?
A senior, Berry has averaged 226.7 passing yards a game. After his five interceptions against Iowa State, he has yet to throw another one.
Berry’s favorite receiver, JaRon Harris, has 174 yards on 12 receptions and a touchdown.
Sophomore runningback Kyle Minett posted consecutive 100-yard rushing performances to open the season, gaining 111 yards on a career-best 22 carries against Iowa State, then tallying 123 yards on 14 carries against Youngstown State. He added 71 yards on 21 carries against WIU. In addition, Minett leads the team with 13 receptions.
Sophomore cornerback/kick returner Cole Brodie, junior linebacker Jimmy Rogers and defensive end Danny Batten also have performed at high levels. Brodie has six kick returns for an average of more than 25 yards. Rogers leads the team in tackles with 28, and Batten leads in sacks with 2.5, as well as tackles for a loss with 4.
Hoes does the remainder of SDSU’s schedule shape up?
No. 12 SDSU travels to Cedar Falls, Iowa, this week to take on Northern Iowa in a game that I’ll attend. South Dakota State hopes to defeat their third straight ranked FCS team. UNI enters the contest ranked No. 8.
After UNI, SDSU gets a break from ranked teams as it travels to the Southland’s Stephen F. Austin. Following that contest, there are more ranked teams with Cal Poly and McNeese State traveling to SDSU.
The Jacks visit Indiana State Oct. 25 before hosting their final two home games Nov. 1 against Missouri State and Nov. 8 against Illinois State.
SDSU likely will finish against two more ranked teams when it visits Southern Illinois Nov. 15 and NDSU on Nov. 22.
While two outstanding performances against ranked teams have helped SDSU to the 2-1 start, the road games against UNI and later against SIU and NDSU likely will determine whether the Jackrabbits will see the postseason for the first time since a Division II playoff appearance in 1979 - a loss to Youngstown State.
It might be a tall order to win one of those road games, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see South Dakota State finish at 9-3 or 8-4 to earn that long-awaited playoff spot.
For SDSU fans, it’s refreshing to see a winning record in September.
CSN West Game of the Week
No. 12 South Dakota State (2-1, 2-0) at No. 8 Northern Iowa (1-1, 0-0)
The Panthers enter the game after a week off. UNI defeated former SDSU rival South Dakota 24-13 on Sept. 6.
As mentioned, SDSU has won its last two games at home against ranked MVFC opponents. This matchup is the 43rd meeting between the two schools. The pair met regularly from the time the series started in 1935 until UNI left the DII North Central Conference in the late 1970s to join the Division I ranks.
UNI holds a 24-16-2 advantage following a 31-17 Panther victory last season in Brookings. The Panthers have won each of the last two meetings since the series resumed in 2006 after a 27-year hiatus.
SDSU’s last victory in the series was a 14-7 triumph at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium in 1979.
UNI lost its first game against FBS BYU to open the season and used the USD game and last week’s bye week to try to get healthy.
SDSU likely will key on the run much like it did against WIU. Northern Iowa boasts a top running back (Corey Lewis) such as WIU had and SDSU must force UNI quarterback Pat Grace to beat it.
UNI is 16-7 all-time in MVFC openers, which includes victories in each of the last three seasons. The Panthers are 9-2 in MVFC home openers since the inception of the league in 1985.
I know that UNI rarely loses at home, but I like how SDSU is playing. I think it can come into the UNI-Dome and win a close one. SDSU 24, UNI 21
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CSN West News & Notes
* Montana set a Big Sky record for the largest crowd for a nonconference home game last Saturday. A Washington-Grizzly Stadium record 25,056 watched the No. 5 Grizzlies roll to a 46-10 victory over Southern Utah. The previous record was 24,123 when Nevada played host to UNLV on Sept. 7, 1991.
* The Big Sky Conference dropped to 0-10 this season against teams from the BCS. Montana State dropped a 35-23 decision to Minnesota at the Metrodome on Saturday. Eastern Washington, Idaho State and Montana State all have played two BCS teams. Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, Sacramento State and Weber State all are 0-1 against BCS teams. The Big Sky has two more chances to knock off an BCS team. This Saturday, Portland State travels to 0-3 Washington State of the Pac-10. On Sept. 27, Weber State visits Utah of the Mountain West Conference.
* So far this year, Missouri Valley Football teams have combined for a 7-11 nonconference record (that includes an 0-9 mark at BCS members.) In 2007, the league had a 26-14 nonconference record.
* A quintet of running touchdowns highlighted a dominating performance by Illinois State as the Redbirds (1-1) scored all their points on the ground in a 42-23 victory over host OVC Murray State.
* North Dakota State narrowly lost to FBS Wyoming 16-13 in a game the Bison led 13-0 before giving up 16 straight points.
* The Missouri Valley was 0-3 last weekend against FBS opponents with Missouri State losing 57-13 to Oklahoma State and Southern Illinois losing 33-7 to Northwestern joining NDSU with a loss.
* Cal Poly’s game with McNeese State in Lake Charles, La., was called off because of the potential damage in the southwest part of Louisiana from Hurricane Ike. The cancellation leaves Cal Poly with just 10 games and Mustang officials have called just about every Football Championship Subdivision team with an 11-game schedule to try to pick up the lost game.
* South Dakota wide receiver Dan Skelly caught a 12-yard touchdown pass with no time remaining to pull the Coyotes within one point, but a failed two-point conversion attempt allowed Southeastern Louisiana to escape with a 31-30 home victory. Skelly caught seven other passes and totaled 184 receiving yards in the loss. He was named Great West Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
* UC Davis defeated Portland State 38-24 to give the Aggies their first victory of the season after two road losses to San Jose State and Central Arkansas.