SDSU hosts UC Davis in first round of the FCS Playoffs

Andrew Holtan/Register: South Dakota State quarterback Chris Oladokun runs the ball during a 23-20 loss to South Dakota in Vermillion on Nov. 13. The Jackrabbits host UC Davis at 2 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the FCS Playoffs.

BROOKINGS – For the first time since 2015, the South Dakota State football team will be hosting a first-round FCS Playoff game. The Jackrabbits were not selected as one of the top-eight seeds and will take on UC Davis at 2 p.m. Saturday at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium. 

SDSU head coach John Stieglmeier said the preparation does not change much for his team, except the Jacks found out who their opponent was on Sunday.

“The preparation from the coaches has been full speed ahead. For the players, it’s game week and the goal is to be to be 1-0,” Stiegelmeier said.

Both teams enter the game with a record of 8-3. The Aggies struggled to finish the season as they fell to Eastern Washington 38-20 and lost to Sacramento State 27-7. UC Davis did beat an FBS opponent in Tulsa to start the season and Stiegelmeier said the Aggies are battle tested because they play in the Big Sky Conference.

“[UC Davis] is a good football team,” Stiegelmeier said. “No weaknesses. I think they’re skill guys, especially on defense, are really good. They’re really fast. Again one of those teams that on defense doesn’t do as much stuff as some other people, but they’re really good at what they do, so you’re going to have to beat them. They’re not going to beat themselves.

“Offensively, they do a lot of stuff. Trick plays and so on. Those teams always hold you hostage and I think their special teams is good. … They’ve had to play their tails off every week to win in their league. They beat an FBS team like we did right out of the chute, so they’re a good football team.”

SDSU won its last game of the regular season as it topped North Dakota 24-21. That was a week after the Jacks lost on a Hail Mary as time expired to South Dakota. One of their other losses came on a missed two-point conversion in overtime against Southern Illinois.

Stiegelmeier said his team has learned a lot from their losses this season and has bounced back each time it happened. 

“The up and down is certainly part of the sport,” Stiegelmeier said. “After our three losses, especially the one play losses, our guys surely were down, but they came back. 100% came back and how do I judge that? I judge that with the energy on the practice field, the first team meeting Monday night, the look in their eyes and the posture and so on. 

“Part of it is, I hope part of it is our cultre. That we play in the present, we find positives in everything and we feel there’s a reason for everything. Our guys have been trained, prior to us getting them in our program, to evaluate win or loss and then move on. Play in the present.”

SDSU is hosting the game because it outbid UC Davis for the home game. Stiegelmeier said his team is going to cherish this home game because the rest of the games in the playoffs will likely be on the road if they win.

“In this situation, we’re the home team because of our administration stepping up and putting in a good bid. You know if we’re lucky enough to get a win it’s over, we’re on the road. One game at a time obviously. So it’s an advantage [to be at home]. It says something about our administration and their belief in our program and the expectations of our program. We just wanted to make the playoffs and we were able to do that,” Stiegelmeier said.

The Aggies have a solid offense. They come into the game ranked 32nd in the FCS in total yards per game, averaging 407.5. UC Davis averages 175.5 yards on the ground and 232.2 through the air.

On defense, UC Davis ranks 93rd out of 123 teams in total yards given up per game, giving up 418.5. However, the Aggies are 22nd in points given up per game, giving up just 19.73.

Stiegelmeier said if he had to compare UC Davis to someone the Jacks have played this season, it would be Northern Iowa. UNI beat SDSU 26-17 on Oct. 23.

“[I would compare UC Davis to] Northern Iowa. Physical up front, skilled. Real good skill across the board. Playmakers. … That would be who comes to mind and obviously [UNI] handled us pretty good at home,” Stiegelmeier said.

SDSU ranks 14th in the FCS in total offense, averaging 441.3 yards per game. The Jacks give up 326.7 yards per game, which is 22nd in the FCS.

Even though the Jacks don’t have a top-eight seed and don’t have home field advantage, Stiegelmeier said he believes there is still pressure on his team to go far in the playoffs.

“I think the pressure and the expectations come within our locker room and having finished second in the spring not that long ago, to have that opportunity again is motivation and pressure. There’s nothing to do with the seed. 24 teams got in and they all have the same goal, seed or no seed, and that’s to get to [the National Championship],” Stiegelmeier said.

SDSU has looked at times like one of the best teams in the FCS. The Jacks beat FBS Colorado State to begin the season 42-23 and they topped No. 2 North Dakota State 27-19 on Nov. 6. Stiegelmeier said confidence is important for his team to come out and play well.

“I remember commenting on this a number of times, how our guys took the field at Colorado State. That was a long time ago, but I could tell that they felt like they belonged and they could compete, and they played that way. If that is ‘swagger’ then it helped us that day. I would call it confidence, but on the outside I guess it’s swagger,” Stiegelmeier said.

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