As I watched the South Dakota State football team Saturday, all I could think was “how is this happening?”
How is a team that is so much more talented on paper getting dominated in all phases of the game?
SDSU lost to Northern Iowa 38-18 in the 105th Hobo Day game. The Jacks fell behind 17-0 in the first half and were never able to get back in it.
Heading into the game, the Jacks were 4-1 and were coming off a dominating 49-14 victory over Southern Illinois. That was following a 19-7 loss at Youngstown State.
It seemed as though SDSU got back on track against SIU and looked like the team that had National Championship expectations at the beginning of the season.
But that was not the case Saturday. The Jacks were out-rushed 218 to 12 and only held the ball for a total of 19:31 while UNI held it for 40:29. The Jacks were also 3-12 on third down.
Head coach John Stiegelmeier said after the game “people are going to second guess what we said early.”
I am one of those people. It’s not a good sign when you’re 4-2 at the halfway point of the season and four of your final five games are against ranked teams.
There is so much potential for this team and the fact that they are in this position is ridiculous.
The Jacks put themselves in a position where they can probably only lose one more game if they want to make the playoffs. If they want to do that, their play makers have to start playing better.
Seniors Dallas Goedert and Jake Wieneke were considered top NFL Draft prospects. They’ve combined for 51 catches for 748 yards and 10 touchdowns this year. Those are still pretty good numbers, but they are not on pace to come close to last year, when they combined for 178 catches for 2,609 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Taryn Christion won Missouri Valley Football Offensive Player of the Year last season. He has not looked like himself at all this season. In SDSU’s two losses he was a combined 24-46 with three interceptions.
If these three perform at the top of their game the Jacks are one of the best teams in the country. If they continue to play like they have been, SDSU will finish the season as average.
It’s not just the players that need to step up. The coaches have to as well. They need to come up with a better offensive game plan.
The Jacks ran for more than 350 yards against SIU but then only ran the ball 23 times against UNI. If something is working, I think you should stick with it and that’s something the coaches need to look at.
Another key for the Jacks moving forward is getting their defense off the field. In both of their losses the opposing team held the ball for more than two-thirds of the game.
The defense isn’t giving up big plays but they are allowing teams to consistently run the ball on them and that chews up a lot of time.
The Jacks will face Missouri State this weekend, which is toward the bottom of the MVFC and they’ll have a chance to show fans and media that they are still one of the best teams in the FCS.
After that they need to play their best as they go to No. 12 Western Illinois, host No. 2 North Dakota State and No. 24 Illinois State, and then travel to play No. 4 South Dakota.
My expectations have been lowered since the beginning of the season, but I would not be surprised if this team had a strong second half of the season and did some damage in the FCS playoffs.
But they need to find a way to get the ball into Wieneke and Goedert’s hands while also utilizing the run to mix things up. They also need to get off the field defensively if they want to get back into the National Championship conversation.