Fifth-seeded South Dakota State is host to Duquesne in the second round of the FCS Playoffs on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.
The game will air live on ESPN3.
The Jackrabbits (8-2), who finished second in the Missouri Valley Football Conference standings with a 6-2 record, are making their seventh consecutive postseason appearance. They earned a top-eight seed and a first-round bye for the third year in a row.
“We got rested up, No. 1, both physically and mentally with the grind of fall camp to the conference season through the conference season,” SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier said of ‘Improvement Week Part II.’ “We got some guys rested up physically. (Right guard) Eddie Miller is closer; (defensive back) Seven Wilson is ready to go; (running back) C.J. Wilson is closer – so that was good.
“And then we just got better. We got better at working on the fundamental stuff that, when you’re game planning, you don’t have time to do.”
How important is a first-round bye?
“To think about playing your last game, making the playoffs and the worst-case scenario playing the next week and going on the road with Thanksgiving and all those things – it’s almost too much,” added Stiegelmeier. “We’ve done it and would rejoice in doing it, but it’s great to have the bye, great to have the improvement week.”
The Dukes (9-3) are coming off their first postseason victory since moving up to the FCS level in 1993, rallying from a 10-0 deficit late in the first half to beat Towson 31-10 on the road last week in the first round. It also marked their first win over a ranked FCS team in six chances.
Duquesne shared the Northeast Conference title with Sacred Heart with a 5-1 mark. The Dukes beat the Pioneers 28-24 on Nov. 10, as they were the conference’s automatic – and only – qualifier.
Duquesne’s lone NEC loss was a 21-20 setback to Bryant in the league opener Oct. 6.
The Dukes are 8-1 versus FCS teams this season. They lost to a pair of FBS opponents – 63-15 at Massachusetts on Aug. 25 and 42-21 at Hawaii on Sept. 22. Their three nonconference wins came at home against Division II Lock Haven (45-0 on Sept. 1) and Pioneer League members Valparaiso (23-21 on Sept. 8) and Dayton (31-26 on Sept. 15).
“We played them a year ago; they’re much, much improved,” noted Stiegelmeier. “They’re really, really good at running the football. They have the third-leading rusher in the nation – A.J. Hines. Their quarterback does a really nice job. (Nehari) Crawford, a wide receiver, is very athletic, a very good player.
“They have three losses – one was by one point to an FCS school and the other two were to FBS schools. So they’re a very good program.”
SDSU is third nationally in scoring offense (45.4 points per game) and fifth in total offense (511.2 yards).
The Jackrabbits have outscored their opponents a combined 113-40 in the first quarter, 138-49 in the second and 114-50 in the third.
SDSU is plus-14 in turnover margin, while Duquesne is minus-4.
The Dukes are averaging 31.2 points per game and giving up 26. They’re 45.9 percent on third-down conversions and have allowed opponents to convert at just a 33.5-percent clip on defense.
Junior running back and NEC Offensive Player of the Year A.J. Hines (5-foot-11, 225 pounds) recorded his third straight 1,000-yard season.
The three-time All-NEC first-team honoree has picked up 1,499 yards on 256 carries and scored a school-record-tying 15 touchdowns in 10 games this year. He needs 46 rushing yards to break Duquesne’s single-season mark.
Hines ran 28 times for 175 yards with a TD while adding a 71-yard scoring reception versus the 16th-ranked Tigers in the opening round.
“He’s very powerful; runs through tackles; can cut, does cut; has decent speed; he’s a workhorse,” Stiegelmeier noted. “He’s just one of those big backs that doesn’t get tired.”
Hines ran for 1,038 yards and 10 TDs in nine games as a sophomore. As a freshman, he picked up 1,291 yards and scored 13 times in 11 games while earning the Jerry Rice Award – edging SDSU linebacker Christian Rozeboom by a single vote.
Junior quarterback Daniel Parr (6-3, 210) is 174-of-287 for 2,287 yards with 20 TDs and nine INTs. He’s also run for six scores.
All-NEC first-team performer Nehari Crawford (5-11, 175) has 67 receptions for 1,017 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“They move (Crawford) around, like when we had Wieneke and Goedert – you design plays specifically for them based on the coverage of the team, and that’s what they do with him,” Stiegelmeier added. “They have a really good connection. The Towson game was tough because it rained the whole game, so the passing game wasn’t as good for them as it has been. But there will be no rain on Saturday; they’ll throw the ball.”
Left guard Matt Fitzpatrick (6-3, 300) and left tackle Alex Conley (6-4, 305) are All-NEC first-team picks, as the seniors anchor the offensive line.
Middle linebacker Brett Zanotto (6-2, 215) leads the defense with 86 tackles and strong safety Brandon Stanback (6-0, 195) has 60 to go with a pair of fumble recoveries.
All-NEC first-team cornerback Jonathant Istache (5-10, 180) has picked off four passes, forced three fumbles – recovering one – and broken up 14 passes. Defensive end Jalen Booker (6-3, 225) has recorded 4 1/2 of the team’s 19 sacks. Kam Carter (6-4, 295), an All-NEC first-team nose tackle, has 2 1/2 sacks.
“They play odd and even fronts, so you have different rules for blocking and so on,” Stiegelmeier noted of the Dukes’ defense. “They appear to play more man-to-man against teams – their competition – they feel good about and then they played a bunch of zone against the FBS teams. I think they prefer to play man-to-man and just cover people.”
Booker, Zonotto and Stanback are All-NEC second-team selections.
Mitch Maczura was an All-NEC second-team honoree as both a kicker and a punter.
Jackrabbit quarterback Taryn Christion is 163-of-270 for 2,549 yards with 28 TDs and six INTs while adding 215 yards and five scores on the ground.
Cade Johnson has 52 catches for 1,072 yards and 15 touchdowns – one off the MVFC and SDSU single-season record. Adam Anderson has added 42 receptions covering 669 yards with six TDs.
Pierre Strong Jr. has 777 yards on 67 rushes – an 11.6 average – and eight touchdowns. He has picked up 577 yards on 40 carries – 14.43 average – and scored eight times in the past three games.
“He’s kind of grown up a little bit the last few games,” Stiegelmeier said of the MVFC Freshman of the Year. “I mean, he just needed the chance and he got the chance and has done a super job.
“We were the deepest we’ve ever been at running back and we became not very deep really quick, and he took advantage of it and has had specifically three great games.”
Mikey Daniel has 125 carries for 517 yards and eight TDs.
Rozeboom has 73 tackles and three takeaways, including a pair of picks, to pace the defense. Dalton Cox has 60 tackles. Ryan Earith leads the team with five sacks, and Jordan Brown and Zy Mosley have three INTs apiece.
Points 45.4 31.2
Points allowed 22.3 26
Yards 511.2 383.3
Rushing yards 232.9 186.3
Passing yards 278.3 197
Yards allowed 374.5 374.2
Rushing yards allowed 161.2 170.7
Passing yards allowed 213.3 203.5
Third-down conversions 41.6% 45.9%
Third-down defense 34.6% 33.5%
Fourth-down conversions 3-of-6 8-of-15
Fourth-down defense 10-of-14 8-of-28
Red zone chances-TD-FG 42-31-5 51-31-9
Red zone defense chances-TD-FG 28-18-5 46-27-7
Turnover margin plus-14 minus-4
Takeaways (INT/F) 20 (14/6) 18 (9/9)
Giveaways (INT/F) 7 (6/1) 22 (10/12)
Possession time 30:31 31:08
SCORE BY QUARTER
1st 2nd 3rd 4th OT Total
SDSU 113-40 138-49 114-50 83-81 6-3 454-223
DU 94-85 118-96 75-72 87-59 — 374-312
SDSU – 61 TD (31 pass, 29 rush, 1 punt return), 11-18 FG, 55-59 PAT, 0-1 2-pt. (0-1 pass). Opponents – 29 TD (15 pass, 13 rush, 1 INT return), 7-11 FG, 26-28 PAT, 1-1 2-pt. (1-1 rush).
DU – 50 TD (27 rush, 21 pass, 1 punt return, 1 INT return), 10-11 FG, 44-49 PAT, 0-1 2-pt. (0-1 pass). Opponents – 42 TD (24 pass, 15 rush, 2 INT return, 1 fumble return), 7-10 FG, 39-41 PAT, 0-1 2-pt. (0-1 pass).
The Jackrabbits beat the Dukes 51-13 in their season opener last year. They led 20-0 after a quarter and 34-7 at halftime.
“I think if we use it properly, it’s a positive – we competed against them, we know something about them and we won,” Stiegelmeier said when asked about playing Duquesne again. “If we relax because of those things, then shame on us.
“I believe our guys are mature enough to know everybody gets better. (Duquesne) beat Towson on the road, so they’re a good team.”
SDSU held a 609-259 advantage in total yards.
Christion was 17-of-26 for 254 yards with five TDs – including four to Jake Wieneke – and an INT, while rushing for 96 yards. Mikey Daniel ran 17 times for 83 yards and Anderson had three catches covering 81 yards.
Hines was limited to 34 yards on 13 carries.
Defensive back Seven Wilson is back. Right guard Eddie Miller and running back C.J. Wilson are questionable.
Running back Blair Mulholand is also questionable.
SDSU – FCS Playoffs
The Jackrabbits are in the postseason for the seventh consecutive season and eighth time overall in the Division I era. They earned a top-eight seed and a first-round bye for the third straight season.
SDSU is 6-7 in the FCS Playoffs, including a 4-0 mark at home. It advanced to the semifinals for the first time last year.
Note: SDSU qualified for the NCAA Division II Playoffs once, losing in the first round in 1979.
SDSU – FCS PLAYOFFS
[opponent finish in brackets]
First round (Nov. 28) – Lost 61-48 at No. 1 Montana [runner-up]
First round (Nov. 24) – Won 58-10 vs. Eastern Illinois
Second round (Dec. 1) – Lost 28-3 at No. 1 North Dakota State [champion]
First round (Nov. 30) – Won 26-7 at Northern Arizona
Second round (Dec. 7) – Lost 41-17 at No. 3 Eastern Washington [semifinals]
First round (Nov. 29) – Won 47-40 at Montana State
Second round (Dec. 6) – Lost 27-24 at No. 2 North Dakota State [champion]
First round (Nov. 28) – Lost 24-17 at Montana State [second round]
2016 (1-1) – No. 8
First round (Nov. 26) – BYE
Second round (Dec. 3) – Won 10-7 vs. Villanova
Quarterfinals (Dec. 10) – Lost 36-10 at No. 1 North Dakota State [semifinals]
2017 (2-1) – No. 5 seed
First round (Nov. 25) – BYE
Second round (Dec. 2) – Won 37-22 vs. Northern Iowa
Quarterfinals (Dec. 9) – Won 56-14 vs. New Hampshire
Semifinals (Dec. 16) – Lost 51-16 at No. 1 James Madison [runner-up]
2018 (0-0) – No. 5 seed
First round (Nov. 24) – BYE
Second round (Dec. 1) – vs. Duquesne, 2 p.m.