SDSU opens up MVFC play on the road

Jason Salzman/salzmanstudios.com: South Dakota State’s Pierre Strong Jr. dives into the end zone during a 52-7 win over Lindenwood on Sept. 11 at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. SDSU opens up conference play at Indiana State on Saturday.

BROOKINGS – South Dakota State football is in the middle of an awkward part of its schedule. The No. 2 ranked Jackrabbits are 2-0 and are coming off of a 52-7 win over Division II Lindenwood and a bye week. 

SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said it felt weird to have the bye week this early in the season.

“Logan Backhaus really felt he had almost two weeks off because he had only played like 17 plays in the Lindenwood game. We talk all the time about having guys healthy. I’m sure some guys feel better because of [last week]. Would I feel better if [the bye week] was in two or three weeks after some more grind? I have no choice. We try to find a positive in everything we encounter,” Stiegelmeier said.

Now the Jackrabbits begin Missouri Valley Football Conference play a little bit earlier than usual as they head to Terre Haute, Ind., this weekend to take on the Indiana State Sycamores. Indiana State comes into the matchup with a 2-1 record.

“I am impressed [with Indiana State],” Stiegelmeier said. “I think they stretch you out on offense with bunches and stacks and wildcats. They do a lot of stuff that forces you to practice all of that stuff, even though they might run wildcat two or three times a game, you have to practice it. It’s easy to put in, but you need to do things differently on defense.

“Defensively, I’m very impressed with their defensive line. I think they’re very good and I’m somewhat intrigued by how they approach defense. … Looking forward to competing against them.”

The Sycamores are coming off of a game where they scored a touchdown as time expired to beat Eastern Kentucky 23-21. The week before ISU fell to Northwestern 24-6 after opening the season with a 26-21 win over Eastern Illinois.

The Jacks have beaten the Sycamores six-straight times. They are 8-2 in a series that dates back to 2008 and SDSU beat ISU 42-23 in 2019 on the road. Stiegelmeier said his team has looked at film from the 2019 game, but also the three games from this season.

“We did look at the [2019] film. We always look at our last competition against a like-opponent or the same opponent. Especially if they haven’t changed coordinators. You tend to say ‘this may be better film than the most recent one based on our schemes and their schemes.’ We do have three really good games from them from this season with some close games. A win at the end of the game last week and then they played Northwestern really tough. We put a lot of stock into all of that stuff,” Stiegelmeier said.

Indiana State did not play at all last season after opting out due to COVID. Stiegelmeier said he thinks it was a good decision.

“… I think not playing was better than playing and then canceling a bunch of games, and maybe ending up 1-3 and watching the playoffs. So I think they were watching us play and watching other teams play, and I’m sure they were disappointed, but also eager to get back to playing the game,” Stiegelmeier said.

The Sycamores have struggled a bit on offense this season. They average 18.33 points per game and 244.3 yards per game. ISU’s defense has stepped up though as it has given up 22 points and 313.3 total yards per game. 

SDSU has already lost two key players to major injuries this season. Backup running back Isaiah Davis is going to miss most of the season after having surgery on an upperbody/shoulder injury. Wide reciever Landon Wolf will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury and the Jacks lost quarterback Mark Gronowski to a knee injury in the National Championship, and he will miss all of this season.

Even with those injuries, Stiegelmeier is confident in his team because of their depth.

“Every year we recruit a higher level of student athlete, so the freshmen coming in, I really believe in some phase get better. Then we have 12 extra guys because of the super seniors, so that adds to our depth. Does it hurt to lose the guys you’re talking about? It does, but the next guy has to be ready, and they always have been in our program,” Stiegelmeier said.

SDSU opened the season in front of 32,327 people at Colorado State and the Jacks came away with a 42-23 victory. The Jacks then played in front of 15,162 people in their home opener against Lindenwood. 

ISU and SDSU played in front of 4,642 people in the last matchup between the two teams in Terre Haute. The same amount of people are expected for Saturday’s game, but Stiegelmeier said his team will be ready for the change of environment.

“We prepare for [smaller crowds],” Stiegelmeier said. “We don’t expect a crowd of 15,000 at Indiana State, and I don’t mean that knocking their fans or their institution, we’ve never had that there. So we need to be aware of the environment. 

“Our mental strength coach does a great job of taking every week, and if it’s the environment, if it’s the travel, he really hones in on that. I maintain that motivation comes from the inside. It’s fun to run out in front of 15,000 people at Dana J. Dykhouse, but you still have to be motivated internally, and our guys will be.”

Kickoff between the Jacks and Sycamores is scheduled for noon Central time. You can watch the game on Midco Sports Two or ESPN+. You can also listen to the game on the Jackrabbit Sports Network.

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