BROOKINGS – South Dakota State has its lone off week this season this weekend. The Jackrabbits have started the season 2-0 with a 42-23 win over Colorado State and a 52-7 victory against Lindenwood.
SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said he is happy with how his team has played in its first two games, but would like to use the bye week to work on improving the younger players.
“I think our [starters] are real close to where we want them to be,” Stiegelmeier said. “I think when we put our [back up’s] out, there’s some glaring things we need to work on. Be it, tackling with defense, pass blocking with offense, making checks, and that’s on us as coaches really, and we’ve talked about that during this improvement week. The focus is really on the younger guys because they become a starter the instance someone goes down, so we have to get those guys up to speed.”
The Jacks suffered a significant inury in the win over Lindenwood. Sophomore running back Isaiah Davis went down with an upper body/shoulder injury and Stiegelmeier announced that he will miss at least eight weeks.
“Isaiah had surgery today and it looks to be a pretty lengthy rehab. Pretty lengthy recovery. We’re doing everything we can. The doctors did everything they could, it’s just an injury that has to heal with time. I’m guessing at least eight weeks, I’ve been told. I do think with his position and the nature of the injury, we need to be very cautious of when he comes back and how he comes back,” Stiegelmeier said.
Davis ran for 125 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in the two games this season. He led the team in rushing last season with 818 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The good thing for Jacks is that they still have a proven back in the backfield in Pierre Strong Jr. Strong has gotten out to a fast start in 2021 as he has ran for 248 yards and three touchdowns. Freshman Amar Johnson will assume the role as the back up running back. He ran for 105 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries against Lindenwood.
Davis isn’t the only key part of the offense that has gone down with an injury. The Jacks lost graduate senior wide receiver Landon Wolf to a season ending knee injury in the season opener. Stiegelmeier said the two injuries, specifically the one to Davis, will change the game plan a little bit.
“I don’t think [the injuries] are going to change our offense,” Stiegelmeier said. “It will change the amount of run or pass we call. You go into a game saying ‘this is what we can do run wise and this is what we can do pass wise.’ … Maybe without that second seasoned running back, maybe we still have that game plan, but we’re going to throw the ball a little bit more.
“We’ll still run those based plays that we think are going to work, but we’re going to throw the ball more, so Pierre doesn’t have to carry the ball 30 times or Amar doesn’t have to carry the load more than he needs to at this point. … You have one running back. We do play with, for the most part, three wide receivers, so the loss of Landon is huge. But I think you can make up for that easier than losing a running back like Isaiah.”
If the Jacks do pass the ball more, they have the right guy to do so. Graduate transfer Chris Oladokun has shined in his two starts for SDSU. He’s thrown for 395 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions with a 71% completion rate.
“I didn’t really have expectations [for Oladokun when he got to campus] because I hadn’t seen him practice. I think he’s surprised me in a really, really positive way. Surprised me, and it’s not like I didn’t think he could do it, I didn’t know what he could do. There’s no doubt he’s performing at a high level, which is exciting. Maybe that does mean he exceeded expectations, but I tend to believe in players. You want to have a basis for where they’re at and he started showing that in August,” Stiegelmeier said.
SDSU had just a three and half month offseason because of the 2020 season being pushed to the spring. Stiegelmeier said he thinks his team has looked so good in the first two weeks because of the short offseason, but is interested to see how they do physically moving forward.
“There’s no doubt the knowledge of the program and the schemes benefited [from the short offseason]. You know, you get done with a normal spring ball and April 20, you don’t do a lot of football. This was May 16, in fact I mentioned early that one guy said ‘can we shorten meetings coach? We already know this stuff.’ Well the young guys don’t. Physically, we didn’t have as much time in the weight room, so how that’s going to impact us moving forward, I know we’re really conscious about how much we practice and taking care of our guys bodies,” Stiegelmeier said.
Stiegelmeier added that his team will have this weekend off and most guys will go home.
“... Thursday we’re going to do a team building activity with one of our other athletic teams,” Stiegelmeier said. “You’ll see that on social media. It’ll be a fun time. They will have off Thursday night through Sunday. Many of them are going home, which I love that because we preach family. We just want them to be safe and stay away from any COVID type of stuff. They’ll come back, we’ll practice Monday and because we won’t have game film to watch, we’ll be able to jump right in to Indiana State.”
SDSU returns to play Sept. 25 and the Jacks open up Missouri Valley play on the road against Indiana State. Kickoff between the Jacks and Sycamores is set for noon Central time.