2018 Preview: South Dakota State Defense
One season after coming within a victory of playing for a National Championship, the South Dakota State football program is looking at where they need to upgrade to compete for a title in 2018.
While the Jackrabbit offense is trying to fill some key holes heading into the season, it's the SDSU defense that needs to shore some things up on the field.
The South Dakota State defense was in the bottom half of Missouri Valley Conference units last season, struggling especially to stop the run, allowing 171 yards a game and 21 touchdowns on the ground.
In 2018, the Jackrabbits will be young up front, with only one senior (Chase Kern) on the defensive line. Juniors Ryan Earith, last season's sack leader for SDSU, and Spencer Hildahl both had starts in 2017. Junior Austin Smenda saw action last year, while big bodied sophomores Xavier Ward (6'2, 290) and Thomas Stacker (6'4, 285), along with redshirt freshman Krockett Krolikowski (6'2, 290) will get their chances in 2018.
The linebackers are the strength of the defense with all three starters back including All-Conference standout Christian Rozeboom, who led the team with 127 tackles a year ago. Dalton Cox and Logan Backhaus, who combined for 117 stops in 2017, also return.
In the secondary, question marks abound with just one returning starter, cornerback Jordan Brown. Brown had a breakthrough junior season leading the Jacks in pass break-ups and forced fumbles while picking off three passes and making 72 tackles.
SDSU isn't lacking in talent in the secondary, just starting experience.
At safety, Larenzo Williams returns after leading the team with four picks in 2017, while Makiah Slade and Alex Romenensko also have playing time under their belts. Sophomores Jarek Berg and Josh Manchigiah, and freshman Tyler DeMartra could be part of a rotation at safety for the Jacks.
Joining Brown at corner are Marshon Harris and Zy Mosely, who both had spot starts last season. North Carolina State transfer Bryce Banks, along with redshirt freshman Malik Lofton and sophomore Donald Gardner could factor in as well.
I talked with Jordan Brown about how the SDSU defense is progressing heading into the 2018 season: