Game Preview: University of South Dakota
Did you know that the Jackrabbit came before the Coyote? I'm not just talking the transition to Division 1, I'm talking creation. The oldest rabbit fossil is 53 million years old. The oldest coyote fossil is just a mere 38 thousand years old. Again, Jackrabbits before Coyotes.
In all seriousness, the Showdown Series that will be played in Vermillion this coming Saturday has huge implications for both squads. If USD loses 4 out of their final 5 games and finishes 7-4, they may be in danger of missing the playoffs, especially with so many other schools on the bubble. If they win, they are in, no doubt. If SDSU loses, they likely lose their seed and would play a game on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. If they win, they likely will be a 4-5 seed, have a bye, and could host multiple playoff games. This rivalry didn't need any more fuel but knowing all this is on the line should only add to it.
In only his second season, Bob Nielson has turned around program that had struggled since making the jump to Division 1. This year the Coyotes were 6-0 and went 3-0 in their non-conference slate that featured a win over FBS program Bowling Green. Nielson has won every where he has been and USD is proving to be no different.
The Coyote offense is explosive. They average 38.8 points per game, 198.8 ypg rushing, and 314.7 ypg passing. They convert 51% of their 3rd downs and score touchdowns in the redzone 71% of the time. The coyotes start fast outscoring their opponents 246-100 in first half scoring. USD will come out fired up and will be playing in front of a raucous home field crowd. The Jacks will need to weather the initial punch and match it. Additionally, the Coyotes run a lot of plays in their fast paced environment. The Coyotes average 30 minutes of time of possession but average an astounding 82.8 plays per game. For reference, the Jacks also average 30 minutes of time of possession but run only 66.5 plays per game. For additional reference, in 2012, Oregon ran 82.8 plays per game which was an FBS record at the time.
The Coyote offense begins with quarterback #15 Chris Streveler. Streveler is a true dual threat who has improved his ball security in 2017. On the season he has passed for 2,950 yards, with 21 touchdowns versus 4 interceptions (2 against both UNI and Illinois State). His accuracy has also jumped from about 60% to almost 66%. In conference play the Yotes are averaging over 40 passing attempts per game. Streveler is also dangerous with his legs, leading USD with 570 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. The Jacks will need to be aware of the designed QB runs as well as the scrambles when the pocket collapses. Streveler has been sacked 23 times on the season. Streveler is the type of athlete that can win a game on his own for his team. The Jacks will need to spy and disguise their pressures and try to confuse Streveler much like they did to NDSU's Easton Stick.
The Coyotes have two additional running backs who compliment the efforts of Streveler. Junior #14 Michael Fredrick has 563 yards and 4 TDs on the season and a 4.8 ypc average. True freshmen #37 Kai Henry has had his share of big plays this season for USD running for 460 yards and 6 TDs along the way. The Yotes do not use a fullback but both of their tight ends are capable blockers.
At receiver, USD is deep and talented. #13 Shamar Jackson is only 5-9 but is electric with the ball having 41 receptions for 624 yards (15.2 ypc avg), and 3 TDs. #88 Brandt Van Roekel is finally a senior and he has 33 receptions, 422 yards, and 5 TDs. #1 Alonge Brooks has enjoyed a strong senior year with 23 receptions for 252 yards and 4 TDs. #6 Cody Case is playing as a true freshman and has 21 receptions, 368 yards, and 4 touchdowns including a 72 yarder. At tight end, #86 Josh Hale and #80 Aaron Ramsey are seniors who have enjoyed solid years catching 20 and 19 passes for 4 total touchdowns. Michael Fredrick has 18 receptions for 122 yards out of the backfield. Last years leading receiver, #8 Trystn Ducker, only has 9 receptions on the season for 54 yards. Additionally, reserve wide receivers #42 Levi Falck and #11 Randy Baker have 16 receptions for 197 and 227 yards respectively. Again, this is a unit loaded with playmakers and the Jacks will need to tackle well. It also appears taht while Streveler likes to throw to Jackson, he isn't afraid to spread the ball around to the open receiver.
The biggest point of improvement for the Coyotes is along the offensive line. Even last year this group was not ready for division 1 football but so far have been solid in 2017. From left to right they feature senior #72 Mason Scheidegger (6-5, 310), redshirt freshman #64 Stetson Dagel (6-5, 280), true freshman #68 Tyler Ciurej (6-4, 310), junior #73 Cody Jennings (6-5, 290), and junior #77 Tanner Anderson (6-5, 280). It isn't surprising that Ciurej is starting as a true freshman as he was one of the top recruits in the state of Nebraska last year. This will be one of the lighter offensive lines that the Jacks have played this season but they are an athletic group. The backups are all young but possess decent size.
The Coyote defense has struggled in MVFC play. In 5 of 7 games they have allowed more than 28 points but have pitched one shutout and another 6 point effort for a 26.7 ppg average. They currently allow 142.1 ypg rushing and 240 ypg passing. They have registered 32 sacks on the season and are very aggressive with their front 7. They have forced 10 interceptions and 6 forced fumbles on the year.
The linebacker corp is talented even with the retirement of outstanding senior John Wessel. The unit features #43 Jim Litrenta 61 total tackles, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble. #20 Alex Coker has 49 tackles and 2 sacks. #22 Alex Gray (32 tackles, .5 sack) rounds out the group and has started since Wessel's retirement.
The secondary was a strength of the team before suspensions took their toll. Gone are starters Danny Rambo and Adam Harris as well as sub Dale Williamson. In their place is #24 Mark Collins Jr. (18 tackles and 1 INT, .5 sack), #29 Isaac Armstead (20 tackles, 1 INT), and #31 Doug Lewis (28 tackles 1 INT, 1 sack). This group of corners is smaller only standing 5-11 or shorter. The biggest corner of the group is 6-2 #4 Elijah Reed but he has only played in 5 games this season. The safety position is lead by #9 Andrew Gray who leads the team with 63 tackles. He also has 5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 INT, and 6 passes defended. Next to him is #2 Mike Johnson or #21 Phillip Powell. On the season Johnson has 30 tackles and 1 INT while Powell has 49 tackles and 3 INT.
The defensive line is has been the Coyotes achilles heal for a few years but is showing signs of life in 2017. The group is young but talented. The statistical leader of the group is sophomore #44 Darin Greenfield (6-3, 235) who has 43 tackles, 16.5 for loss, 6 sacks, and 10 additional quarterback hurries. He is opposite #92 Kameron Cline (6-4, 240) who has 30 tackles on the season. As a subsitute #95 Nick Kramer (6-4, 230) has added 2 sacks, and 10 tackles. On the interior the Yotes have #97 Taylor Lambert (5-11 255) with 31 tackles and 4.5 sacks and #96 Nathan Schultz (6-4, 270) with 20 tackles and 4 sacks. #51 Jacob Headlee (6-3, 280) 2 sacks and #52 Braden De Boer (6-5, 270) 1 sack, provide some size as backups.
For the first time in 4 years the Coyotes have a new kicker and punter. Gone is All-American Miles Bergner who has been replaced by 3 people. #8 Ryan Weese is handling the place kicking duties for his senior year. So far he is 6-9 on the season with zero makes beyond 40 yards and a long fg make of just 33 yards. The kick off duties are #34 Ethan James. James has a 60 yard average with just 8 touch backs on 47 attempts. It seems like this will be another excellent opportunity for Cade Johnson. In rivalry games sometimes special teams can be the difference. The new punter for USD is #15 Brady Schutt. Schutt has punted 47 times for a 41.4 avg and has landed 20 inside the 20 and forced 16 fair catches with just 4 touchbacks.
The kick return duties belong to #6 Kody Case (17.1 avg) and #8 Trystn Ducker (18.2 avg). The punt returner is Kody Case who averages 9.1 yards and has a long of 28.
Rivalry games are always hard to predict. The Dakota Dome is a hostile environment. The Jackrabbits won their last two trips down there but did not play very well against inferior teams compared to the 2017 Coyotes. If the Jackrabbits can withstand the initial punch of USD, I think they will be fine. The Jackrabbit defense has played well in their 4 game winning streak. Furthermore, USD doesn't yet have the size that Illinois State possessed on defense that gave the Jackrabbit offense fits last week. I predict the Jackrabbits win this one 45-27 and clinch a top 5 seed.