BROOKINGS – The Jackrabbits did not give the Long Island Sharks are very warm welcome to the Division I level. SDSU blew out LIU 38-3 in the Sharks’ first ever game in the FCS.
SDSU starting quarterback J’Bore Gibbs was out with a broken finger so it was up to senior Kanin Nelson to lead the Jacks. Nelson finished 6-for-8 with 108 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for one touchdown.
“You got a quarterback who’s a second string guy and who missed some reads. I think next week he’ll get them because of experience. They showed a ton of different looks from blitzing to slanting to pop stunts and movements that caught or guys off guard. I thought we played a much better second half,” said SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier.
SDSU got off to kind of a slow start as they were only up 7-0 at the end of the first quarter. With about 4:30 left in the first half the Jacks led 7-3 and needed some momentum. That’s when freshman wide receiver Jaxon Janke returned a punt 77 yards for a touchdown.
Janke picked up the ball with a couple of defenders around him, but was able to break free and go all the way.
“A lot of people we’re screaming at me to get away from the ball,” Janke said. “I only saw one guy in front of me and I thought he wasn’t paying attention to me and was only paying attention to the ball and was letting it roll. So in my mind the first thing I thought was to pick it up and run with it.”
The Jacks got the ball back one more time before the end of the half and Pierre Strong Jr. ran it in from one yard out to make it 21-3 at the half. They didn’t look back after that as they shutout the Sharks in the second half and scored 17 more points.
SDSU held LIU to just 123 yards of total offense and dominated all night. The Jacks had two sacks, a fumble recovery and an interception as well. LIU head coach Bryan Collins said SDSU was the fastest defense he had ever seen.
“They just have fast players on every level. The front four we couldn’t do much with them and then you add in the linebackers … The one thing they do well is that they’re sound on defense and they have exceptional speed and closing speed. We didn’t break anything on them.”
Christian Rozeboom led the Jacks with eight total tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.
“We responded well to what they did. Credit to them, they had a lot of different and goofy stuff. We just responded and stayed to our rules and made plays,” Rozeboom said.
It was expected that SDSU would have a big game running the ball, especially after having success against Minnesota. But the Jacks ran for 186 yards. Strong led the way with 52 yards.
“You know, we couldn’t get to the edge. When we ran power you either had someone penetrating or a backer got over the top. I would credit them. It will be interesting to watch the film, if it was mental errors. In the chess game of football there are some calls that are better than others and maybe they were hot and we weren’t,” Stiegelmeier said.
Collins said he talked with Stiegelmeier before the game and told him about how SDSU dealt with the transition from Division II to Division I back in 2003.
“I think you have to see what it looks like and have a vision of what it’s like at the top of the mountain of the FCS and certainly South Dakota State has been a very fine football team at the top of the FCS for a very long time now. We respect their program and what an opportunity this was for us moving from Division II,” Collins said.
There was an announced attendance of 10,153 which is kind of low considering it was the home opener. It was raining most of the second half though. When asked if Stiegelmeier was disappointed in the crowd, he had this to say.
“I’m not going to comment on that he said,” he said. “The ones that stayed, I thanked them and thanked the students that stayed. Because I think 95% of them had left and I appreciate those guys … Maybe it’s something to do with the bad weather. Next Saturday it’s supposed to be beautiful, we’ll see. You got to have faith in the Jackrabbits.”
SDSU takes on Drake Sept. 14 at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.