BROOKINGS – The South Dakota State football team faces a very unfamiliar opponent today. The Jacks will welcome the Long Island University Sharks to Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium for their home-opener.
This will be the Sharks’ first game ever as a member of the FCS. Long Island University combined their Brooklyn campus and Post campus’ this past year.
The Sharks were known as the Long Island Post Pioneers and went 10-0 in the regular season before falling to Slippery Rock 20-14 in the first round of the playoffs in their final year as a Division II program.
The change from Division II to FCS has also brought a lot of changes to their roster as they lost their leading passer, rusher and receiver from last season. They will have a lot of new faces starting, including a new quarterback in Clay Beathard who transferred from Iowa Western.
“They graduated a ton of players and have a transfer quarterback,” said head coach John Stiegelmeier. “We have their depth charts, but not a lot of those guys are on film. We do think their schemes will be consistent because of the longevity of their coaching staff.”
The Sharks will face quite a tough task in their first ever game as a Division I program. SDSU has won 11-straight games at home and is 9-1 in its last 10 nonconference games at home. The Jackrabbits have also gone 20-2 in Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.
After a tough loss on the road against Minnesota, you have to wonder if it will be tough for SDSU to get up for an opponent who has never played a game at the FCS level.
“[Long Island] is not coming to South Dakota to site see. They’re coming here to win a football game. So it’s on everybody, each coach. All of our coaches have been keeping them on edge. We just went to Minnesota and tried to win a football game, so they’re going to come out here and try to win,” Stiegelmeier said.
There were a lot of positives that came out of the game against the Golden Gophers. Specifically, from the Jacks offensive and defensive line. They outgained 367-308 and had 174 rushing yards to Minnesota’s 132. SDSU also only allowed one sack during the game.
“I thought our defensive and offensive lines played very well against that caliber of players,” Stiegelmeier said. “It was a classic close game. One play here and one play there. They made a play and we didn’t.”
The Jacks secondary held one of the best recievers in the country in Tyler Johnson to three receptions for 28 yards. They did however allow Rashard Bateman to catch five passes for 132 yards and a touchdown. Stiegelmeier was still very pleased with his secondary’s performance.
Part of the reason the Jacks played so well was a new scheme brought in from new co-defensive coordinators Jimmy Rogers and Brian Bergstrom.
“There was a lot of more different looks. What they’re trying to hang their hat on is lying to the quarterback. Don’t let him know if we’re slanting or lining up in cover two … The last thing you want as a defense is for the quarterback to know what you’re doing especially at that level,” Stiegelmeier said.
The SDSU offense looked different as well under new offensive coordinator Jason Eck. The Jacks tried to confuse the defense more by sending more guys in motion before the ball was snapped.
“I thought we did a really good job. We spread the ball around well. I think our game plan was executed and I loved how we did the up-tempo stuff,” Stiegelmeier said.
Heading into the season-opener it was known that SDSU’s biggest strength on offense would be their running game as they returned three running backs. The returners, Pierre Strong Jr., Mikey Daniel and C.J. Wilson combined for 136 yards and one touchdown.
Stiegelmeier said his team gained a lot confidence in their run game after their performance against a Big Ten school.
“Anytime you do anything well, you gain confidence,” he said. “The thing we can’t do is all the sudden put in 15 more running plays and slow the confidence down. Our coaches use the term ‘mastered.’ If a play’s not mastered, we don’t run it. In this game, it’s fickle to waste any plays.”
The Jacks and Sharks are scheduled to kick things off at 6 p.m. tonight and rain is expected to be in the forecast for the entire game.