SDSU turns attention to Division II Lindenwood

Dave Eggen/Inertia: South Dakota State running back Pierre Strong Jr. runs with the ball during a 19-17 win over Youngstown State on March 13 at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. Strong ran for 138 yards and two touchdowns in the Jacks opening game. SDSU has its home opener Saturday at 6 p.m. against Lindenwood.

BROOKINGS – South Dakota State is coming off one of the bigger wins in its football program’s history. 

The Jackrabbits went on the road to FBS opponent Colorado State and took it to the Rams 42-23. It was the second time SDSU has beaten an FBS team as they topped Kansas 41-38 in 2015. SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said he was happy with a lot of things in the season opener.

“Excited to get the win, excited to get an FBS win, excited to go on the road and still have to do things the right way with COVID, and be able to function at a high level. I’m just excited for our football program and where we’re at. I was excited about the quarterback play, how we ran the football and really, the first three quarters of the game  our defense was really, really good. A lot of positives,” Stiegelmeier said.

SDSU will now have to turn its attention to Division II opponent Lindenwood University out of St. Charles, Missouri. The Lions made their debut in 1990 and play in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. 

This is the first time the Jacks have played a Division II opponent since 2014 when they beat University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh 41-3 at home. Going from playing an FBS team to a Division II team leaves an opportunity to maybe relax, but Stiegelmeier is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“I don’t know about a concern [for a letdown], but it’s my job and our jobs as coaches to point things out that you go from FBS to Division II, there’s an opportunity to relax. I talked about 2006 when we opened up against [University of Wisconsin-La Crosse] and lost that football game. Talked about West Florida beating McNesse State last weekend, a Division II program beating an FCS program. 

“The fact that just like we went in to Fort Collins to play our best football to make a statement, [Lindenwood] is going to try to do the same here. Bottom line is, it’s 100 guys making the decision that the goal this week is to win the football game and get better as a football team and get better as players. If we do that, we’ll take care of business. I’m certain of that,” Stiegelmeier said.

Jackrabbit fans will see somewhat of a familiar face on the Lindenwood sidelines Saturday night as Jedd Stugart, former head coach of the University of Sioux Falls, is now the head man for the Lions. He took the job with Lindenwood in 2017 after seven seasons at USF where he went 65-17.

Stiegelmeier said he knows Stugart pretty well from his days down in Sioux Falls.

“Jed is going to have them ready to play, I know that,” Stiegelmeier said. “I know Jed really well. Jed and I, we used to show up for the coaches Knights of Columbus, and he’d bring his guitar and make us all laugh. … [USF] would clinic with us and then we would clinic with them, and then they would come to our summer camps when he was at USF, looking at recruits. I would consider him a dear friend in coaching. 

“… He’s going to bring a well-coached football team. I mean he has as many coaches on staff as we do, so they’ll be prepared. He’s kind of coming home a bit since he spent so much time in Sioux Falls, so I except it to be a special weekend for him and hopefully a special weekend for the Jackrabbits.”

The Lions had their 2020 season canceled due to COVID-19. In 2019, Lindenwood went 9-4 while going undefeated in conference play and made it to the Division II Round of 16. The Lions are 17-18 in the three seasons under Stugart. They lost to Angelo State University 40-20 last week.

“We have their 2019 season [film] and then their opener [from this year]. They’re a good football team. Offensively they’re spread, up tempo, fairly simple, put the game in the quarterback’s hand. Defensively they do some stuff. I think they’re fairly athletic. They have a good linebacker core, I think their defensive backs are good. I think it’s going to be a battle, it always is when you have a team coming into your place,” Stiegelmeier said.

One of the highlights from the Jacks’ season opening win was the way they ran the ball. SDSU ran for 242 yards and averaged 7.1 yards per carry. Senior Pierre Strong Jr. led the way with 138 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Sophomore Isaiah Davis added 84 yards and a score on 15 carries.

Stiegelmeier said Strong struggled a bit with injuries last season, but Strong thinks he has found a new level so far this season.

 “{Strong] was slowed down last year. I think he tried to make too many cuts at times. I’m certain that he’s changed his mentality, that it’s maybe one or two cuts. The two touchdowns he had, he hit the hole, made one cut and then was up the field. I’ve never seen him run this fast, so maybe through the summer he found another gear. I asked him about that and he said he felt really good and really fast during the game,” Stiegelmeier said.

Stiegelmeier was also happy with his quarterback play in the opener. Grad transfer Chris Oladokun, who made his first start in a Jackrabbit uniform against CSU, was 18-for-28 for 224 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 19 yards and a score on the ground.

The win at Colorado State was big for the SDSU program, but the Jacks still have a full season ahead of them. That begins Saturday at 6 p.m. when the Jacks and Lions kick things off.

“I’ve said a number of times that [the Colorado State] game was just one of the games in our season and we need to be 1-0 every week. We need to better as a football program every week and we have improvement week [next week because of the bye] and we’re not going to relax because we might be 2-0. We have to take care of business this week and then get better. … I just hope we make the playoffs at the end of the season, so we have a chance to do something,” Stiegelmeier said.

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