South Dakota State Preview: #3 Jackrabbits Host #1 North Dakota State
The eyes of the college football world will be focused on Brookings this weekend as the annual Dakota Marker game readies for its most significant match-up ever.
The Dakota Marker Game is already a big enough deal to have its own Wikipedia page, but the border battle is reaching even loftier heights in 2019 with ESPN College GameDay bringing their show to Brookings for the first time ever for a live, on-campus broadcast the morning of the game.
Jackrabbits head coach John Stiegelmeier told me the run-up to this game is something he's never been a part of:
As for the game, the SDSU (6-1/3-0 MVFC) is trying to make it back-to-back wins over NDSU in Brookings for the just the second time since the Dakota Marker series began back in 2004.
The Bison (7-0/3-0 MVFC) have won 28 straight games and are using the same formula that has propelled them to seven of the last eight national championships
On offense, that means a solid running game utilizing a number of different players.
In 2019 NDSU has the fourth-best rushing attack in FCS, averaging 287 yards per game. Four different players (quarterback Trey Lance and running backs Adam Cofield, Ty Brooks, and Kobe Johnson) are each averaging better than 50 yards rushing per game.
That success on the ground takes a lot of pressure off the Lance, a redshirt freshman, who runs a passing game that is the only one in the country that hasn't thrown an interception this season.
Stiegelemeier says stopping the Bison presents some interesting challenged for his defense:
Like the offense, the NDSU defense has a number of different players who make an impact. The Bison are number-two in FCS in fewest points (10) and yards allowed (262) per game.
Lineman Derrek Tuszka is seventh in the nation with six sacks this season. He notched two in a playoff win against SDSU last season.
Linebacker Jackson Hankey has 20 tackles in the last three games. Defensive back Michael Tutsie is fifth in the nation with four interceptions while defensive backs Marquise Bridges and James Hendricks are each in the top eight in FCS in passes defended.
Stiegelmeier says it's a true team approach:
Kickoff is 2:00 PM, Saturday in Brookings. The game is sold out.
The weather is expected to be ideal with temperatures in the upper 50s with no chance of rain.
Stiegelmeier says the environment should be something special:
This will be the 110th time South Dakota State and North Dakota State have met on the football field. The series dates back to 1903 and the Bison hold a 62-42-5 edge over the Jacks, including nine wins in the 15 previous Dakota Marker match-ups.
The Jackrabbits ran their win streak to six games with a 42-23 win at Indiana State last Saturday (October 19).
In Terre Haute, SDSU put the ball in the end zone for the first time on an opening drive this season but had trouble capitalizing on a pair of Sycamore turnovers in the first quarter, first missing a field goal and then throwing an interception.
Stiegelmeier says those missed opportunities could have been huge:
Jackrabbit quarterback J'Bore Gibbs got off to a slow start throwing the football hitting on just two of his first seven passes and throwing a first-quarter pick. But after that, he was 16-of-21 and finished the day with 274 yards and three touchdowns.
Stiegelemeier says his redshirt freshman quarterback was having his best day throwing the ball while dealing with some adversity courtesy the Indiana State defense:
After failing to score on three of four first-quarter drives the Jackrabbit offense found its groove in the second quarter with three straight touchdowns to blow the game open. And has been the case all season, SDSU was getting contributions from a number of different players. Pierre Strong Jr. ran for 144 yards and two scores while CJ Wilson and Mikey Daniel added big runs. Cade Johnson had 134 receiving yards, while Adam Anderson added 77 yards and three different Jackrabbits caught touchdown passes.
Stiegelmeier says that kind of balance makes his team tough to stop: