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Coyotes Focus on Finishing
After a promising start, things turned sour for the University of South Dakota football team in 2010.
The Coyotes won three of their first five, including a 41-38 shocker at the University of Minnesota, but managed just one victory in their last six contests.
Several of those losses, according to Coach Ed Meierkort, could have been avoided by simply finishing the deal. Setbacks to North Dakota State, Northern Iowa and Cal Poly came after USD took leads into the second half.
“We didn’t finish games the way we needed to and we lost some games because of that,” Meierkort said during the team’s media day here Wednesday. “We have to be able to run the football.”
“We ran the ball well last year but I thought when we ran into some of our stumbling blocks we were not able to finish games when we had the lead with our running game. You have to be able to run the football against Top 10 teams in the country. That’s when you know your running game is where you need it to be.”
South Dakota enters its final season in the Great West Conference. The Coyotes, in their last year as an NCAA Division I transitional program, will join the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2012.
USD brings back 19 starters from a team that finished 4-7 overall and 1-3 in the Great West. An experienced squad will tackle yet another brutal schedule, beginning with a season opener at Air Force on Sept. 3.
“With the amount of talent we have, I’m excited about heading into the season,” said junior wide receiver Will Powell. “We’re so much more mature than we have been in the past. Like coach stressed before, we’ve all been there and seen games fall out of our hands and we’re not going to let that happen this year.”
Powell, a Sioux Falls O’Gorman product, led the Coyotes in receptions (47), receiving yards (933) and touchdowns (10). He’s part of a deep and talented receiving corps which should make life easier for second-year quarterback Dante Warren.
“Oh, man, where do you start?” said Warren, like Powell a second-team All-Great West Conference selection last season. “You have Will, kind of an all-around guy, and Dusty (Nowotny), who is also kind of a do-it-all guy. Jeremy (Blount) is our speed guy and we brought in Anthony Williams, so we’re still trying to figure out what he does best.
“I have to thank coach for putting these guys around me to make life a little easier. You draw this box around receivers and it gets bigger and bigger, so I would say I can put the ball around any of these guys and they’ll make a spectacular catch for me.”
Warren, a fifth-year senior from Arlington Heights, Ill., passed for 2,137 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also rushed for 393 yards and six scores.
“Dante is one of the better football players in the Great West Conference and one of the better quarterbacks in the country,” said Meierkort, entering his eighth season as USD head coach. “He’s a leader operating at a very high level and will carry this team. As Dante goes, we go.”
Chris Ganious, the team’s leading rusher each of the past three seasons, racked up 817 yards last season en route to first-team all-league honors. The Houston, Texas, native admits the team lost focus down the stretch.
“The win over Minnesota was one of the biggest ever for this University, but after that game we didn’t progress,” said Ganious. “Good teams get better, but we got caught up in that win and weren’t able to beat teams we needed to because we didn’t close those out.”
Ganious, as well as junior Marcus Sims and sophomores Michael Burrus and Earv Archambeau, will run behind a veteran offensive line anchored by senior left tackle Tom Compton (6-6, 314), a fourth-team All-American last year and preseason first-team pick this year.
Senior Brent Johnson (6-5, 309) returns at right guard, junior Tim Ross (6-2, 286) at center and senior R.J. Polley (6-6, 320) at right tackle. Fifth-year senior Matt Porisch (6-7, 294) is among a group battling for the starting spot at left guard.
Fourth-year starters London Landry and Mitch Mohr have each graduated, leaving a vacant hole at tight end. Among those in the mix is Joel DeJongh, a 6-3, 244-pound junior from Central Lyon/George-Little Rock who took all of the snaps during spring practice. Converted quarterback Tyler Wilhelm and Michael Neilson, plus Jay Burns, a transfer from Butler (Kan.) Community College, are also battling for the tight end spot.
The defense returns virtually intact, led by senior linebackers Shea Williams and Adam Broders. Broders, a Bloomfield, Neb., native, earned first-team all-league accolades after finishing third on the team with 75 tackles, including a career-high 15 against Northern Iowa.
“Shane and I have played together for three years now,” said Broders. “We know what each other is thinking by now and it’s always fun playing with him.”
Williams, from Alexandria, S.D., led the team with 89 tackles.
The defensive line returns a strong nucleus, led by senior end Jesse Weisbrod (6-5, 277) and senior nose tackle Evan Capper, from Aplington-Parkersburg High School. Juniors David Giese (6-3, 280) and Jordan Eaton (6-5, 246) also return.
“We wanted to get leaner, faster and more athletic up front and we have,” said Meierkort. “One of the things we have to do better is pressure the quarterback. To hang your secondary out to dry this day and age just isn’t going to work.”
Meierkort has been impressed with the play of Tyler Starr, a 6-5, 236-pound sophomore end from Central Lyon/George-Little Rock. Starr redshirted his first season and was defensive scout player of the week twice last season.
“Tyler is an extremely gifted young man,” said Meierkort. “He’s got IT, but I need to see it on Saturday afternoons when the lights are on.”
The Coyote special teams are in good hands with junior punter Cole Zwiefelhofer and sophomore kicker Kevin Robb.
After the Air Force game, the Coyotes host top-ranked and defending Football Championship Subdivision national champion Eastern Washington on Sept. 10. USD travels to Wisconsin Sept. 24.
“The last thing I need is a bunch of wounded guys mentally because we have ground them through a schedule like this,” said Meierkort. “My job is to keep these guys on the high side. We need to worry about the next game, not the previous game, and figure out a way to accumulate wins.”
Copyright 2011 Sioux City Journal