Expectations for the South Dakota State football team have never been higher and it’s all thanks to the offensive line.
“We like to call ourselves the engine of the offense — we power it, but you can’t see it from the outside,” said senior offensive lineman Jacob Ohnesorge.
“We get recognition from (teammates), so it doesn’t really matter what the public says or thinks about us,” said junior lineman Sepestiano Pupungatoa.
On offense, the Jackrabbits are averaging 470 yards per game with about 58 percent of the yards coming from the passing game. Without the pass blocking the offensive line provides for junior quarterback Taryn Christion, those passing numbers would see a significant drop.
“Really with everything we do, if you don’t have a good start up front, you aren’t going to have any success as a team, at all,” Christion said.
Christion has only been sacked three times in three games this season; so while the offensive line has confidence in him to make plays, Christion trusts the offensive line to give him time to find his receivers.
“It gives me a whole lot of confidence, just knowing that I can drop back and not worry about being hit,” Christion said.
Even when receivers can’t separate from defensive backs, the offensive line keeps blocking and gives Christion time to find a lane to scramble or make something happen, which gives the offensive line trust in their quarterback.
“You know as long as you get part of your guy and not screw it up, he [Christion] is going to make the play, so it really holds you accountable,” Pupungatoa said.
However, offensive line coach Jason Eck still thinks there are improvements to be made for the offensive line.
“We want to run the ball better, and improve on that. I think that’s something we can do a better job of and that’s very important in our conference,” Eck said.
Run blocking has shown signs of improvement. In the conference, the running game will prove to be important to make sure the offense doesn’t stay too reliant on the passing attack. Last season, the Jacks averaged 145 yards on the ground per game and are averaging 195 this year.
The offensive line has seen its fair share of injuries and suspensions, though. Junior offensive lineman Matt Clark was suspended for six games in August and junior Tyler Weir was injured in the season opener against Duquesne.
The Jackrabbits turned to sophomore Evan Greeneway to fill their holes on the offensive line, and he hasn’t disappointed. In fact, Greeneway has surprised many.
“He’s done an awesome job stepping up. We focus on guys that are second strings and third strings and have them prepare like starters,” Ohnesorge said. “Injuries happen, especially on the offensive line.”
Weir will be back in uniform against the Youngstown State Penguins Saturday, while Clark still has three more games to serve for his suspension. Eck said they’re anxious to get him back from the suspension.
The Jacks have some experience on the line right now with Ohnesorge and senior Charlie Harmon. Ohnesorge has started in 42 consecutive games and Harmon has started 28 total games during his career.
The Jacks will face the Youngstown State Penguins at 6 p.m. Saturday in Youngstown, Ohio.