The No. 6 South Dakota State Jackrabbits plan to ride the momentum of a 33-21 Dakota Marker win when they host the No. 17 Illinois State Redbirds Saturday.
Head coach John Stiegelmeier said it will be important for the Jacks not to live in the past.
“We want to make sure we don’t think we arrived at our goals because of the North Dakota State win,” Stiegelmeier said.
SDSU silenced most of their critics after defeating the Bison and put themselves back in the national championship conversation.
It was the defense that held the Bison, who were averaging 277 yards on the ground coming into the contest, to just 108 rushing yards. Not to mention the five forced turnovers the defense pressured.
Offensively, the Jacks put up big numbers for the third consecutive week. Junior quarterback Taryn Christion completed 23 of his 33 pass attempts for 329 yards and two touchdowns. The Jacks were much more balanced than usual and had four rushers combined for 164 yards.
Up next for the Jacks (7-2, 4-2) will be Illinois State (6-3, 4-2), a team that has been extremely inconsistent.
Illinois State lost to Southern Illinois 42-7 three weeks ago, but strung together two impressive victories afterward. The first win for ISU was a 37-21 win over the South Dakota Coyotes. Then, they went on the road to Youngstown, Ohio and routed the Penguins to a tune of 35-0.
In their latest game out, ISU managed to play well in the first half. They took a 14-0 lead into halftime against the Leathernecks, but Western Illinois went on to score 31 unanswered points.
It remains to be seen how the Redbirds will perform on a game-to-game basis. Despite their inconsistency, Stiegelmeier thinks SDSU will have to come well-prepared.
“To beat Illinois State, we are going to have to be even better this week,” Stiegelmeier said.
Looking at the Redbirds as a team, they have many playmakers on the offensive side of the ball.
Junior quarterback Jake Kolbe leads ISU on the field, but has been struggling this season, throwing 10 interceptions in nine games. He will face a tough test with the Jacks secondary, who picked off NDSU three times last week.
However, Stiegelmeier doesn’t see interceptions as a big factor in this game.
“I think they are really good on offense, so I don’t think we are going to exploit anything defensively,” Stiegelmeier said.
ISU’s running game is one of the best in the Valley. Sophomore James Robinson has solidified himself as one of the best rushers in the conference with 84 yards per game, which is the third best in the Valley. He found the end zone nine times this season.
A key for the Jacks will be to contain the running offense, an area they were effective in last week.
SDSU is facing another stout defense that ranks in the top four in just about every defensive category in the conference. Illinois State is only allowing 81.8 yards on the ground and the Jacks are running an average of 185.4 yards per contest.
Illinois State has a knack of getting to the quarterback During this season they have racked up 20 sacks.
The Jacks’ high-octane offense crushed the defense of NDSU last week and they’ll have to do it again if they want to be successful.
In the previous meeting between the two teams, the Redbirds dominated the Jacks 38-21 in Normal, Illinois.
“We are going to have some anger this week,” said Jacks wide receiver Marquise Lewis.
It will be senior day, which could add some motivation for the Jacks, as it will be their last regular season home game.
“I think we will just come out hyped up and on senior day so we will be ready to go,” said senior running back Brady Mengarelli.
Kickoff is at 2 p.m. and can be viewed on Midco Sports Network and ESPN3.