South Dakota State Preview: #8 Jackrabbits at #14 Western Illinois
We're about to find out what this 2017 South Dakota State football team is made of as we enter the final four weeks of the Missouri Valley Conference schedule.
It's nothing but ranked teams from here on out for SDSU, as the Jackrabbits try to qualify for the FCS post season for the sixth straight year.
Test number one comes Saturday (October), when eighth-ranked South Dakota State (5-2/2-2 MVFC) plays at number-14 Western Illinois.
The Leathernecks (5-2/2-2) are putting together quite a season defensively, leading the conference with a plus-12 turnover margin.
WIU has picked off 12 passes in seven games, returning two for scores. Justin Fitzpatrick and Tyrin Holloway have combined for seven of those interceptions.
Up front, lineman Khalen Saunders leads an attack that is second-best in the league against the run, allowing just three yards per carry.
Linebacker Brett Taylor is the quarterback of the defense. The four-year starter is the leading tackler (15 per game) in the Missouri Valley.
South Dakota State picked apart the Leathernecks pass defense last year, as Taryn Christion threw for 361 yards and five touchdowns - four of those to Dallas Goedert, who finished with eight catches for 204 yards.
Western Illinois' offense is thriving despite having to replace their top two receivers from 2016.
Quarterback Seam McGuire has completed 66 percent of his passes and tossed 15 touchdowns to just four interceptions. Wide receiver Jaelon Acklin has 52 catches and eight scores.
On the ground, a solid offensive line is opening holes for Max Norris and Steve McShane, who are combining for 110 yards per game.
McShane also leads the Missouri Valley's top punt return unit, averaging 20 yards per touch.
Kickoff is 1:00 PM in Macomb, Saturday.
The Jackrabbits took care of business on the road last week with a 62-30 win at last place Missouri State.
This was a game that saw the two teams combine for 61 first half points, as SDSU took a 34-27 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Jacks first score was keyed by a Cade Johnson 61-yard return on the opening kickoff. The Bears got a special teams score later in the first quarter, when Deoin Holliman returned a punt 63-yards.
The second half was all South Dakota State.
The Jackrabbit offense scored on its first four possessions, as Christion finished the day 14-of-19 for 323 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Goedert caught eight of those passes for 170 yards and a score. On the ground, Brady Mengarelli ran for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, SDSU held Missouri State on downs to start the half, then forced three punts and an Alex Romenesko interception on the final four possessions of the game.
I talked with Jackrabbit head coach John Stiegelmeier about the Missouri State win and the match-up with Western Illinois: