Jacks? win the most complete win of the season

Marcus Traxler

Marcus TraxlerSports Columnist

SDSU entered their Hobo Day game vs. Youngstown State with the Jacks winning two in a row in Missouri Valley Football Conference play. However, until this point fans had not seen strong, consistent play from each facet of the game. In each of their first two victories, either the offense (vs. Western Illinois) or defense (at Southern Illinois) carried most of the load. Saturday’s game was probably the most well-rounded effort the Jackrabbits have exerted.

SDSU hadn’t scored in the first quarter all year, let alone on the opening drive. Nevertheless, State took the ball and quickly marched down the field, capping the drive with a Kyle Minett one-yard touchdown plunge.

SDSU could not have found a better way to assert the presence of their physicality than with a physical opening touchdown voyage. Rather than coming from behind, it was nice to see the Jackrabbits jump on a team with an opening score early.

Youngstown State had been struggling to stop teams all season, and the Jackrabbits were no exception. SDSU sliced up the Penguin defense both through the air and on the ground, something that should occur on a weekly basis when playing a team that had lost three in a row – and in tough fashion – like YSU.

SDSU sophomore quarterback Thomas O’Brien’s play has continuously improved during the Jackrabbits’ three game winning streak. His 283 passing yards left him two yards short of a career high, which he set in last season’s Hobo Day victory over Northern Iowa. Saturday’s play did raise one question about the quarterback’s play however: If every day was Hobo Day, how well would O’Brien play?

O’Brien moves to 6-0 in games where he has not thrown an interception. He also possessed poise in the pocket, especially after two series in the first quarter where the Jackrabbits went three-and-out. The Jackrabbits ask O’Brien to be a leader, a game manager and to protect the ball.

Check, check and check. He also created a nice rapport with Aaron Rollin, who had a career day of his own and rebounded nicely from a dropped touchdown with a game sealing score on the exact same play later in the game.

The offense also has a ton of success when O’Brien can take the ball and give it to Kyle Minett. Few teams have a player who can bring more to the offense like Minett and sometimes his ability is taken for granted. He runs tough and downhill all game and -when he breaks one for 62 yards like he did near the end of the third quarter – it’s a bonus. Minett averages 124 yards rushing a game and his productivity only improves with each game. If he is anywhere near his average, the Jackrabbits chances to win are exponentially greater.

Saturday’s defensive turning point came on Youngstown State’s opening drive of the second half, with the Jacks ahead 17-9. The Penguins recognized their chance potentially tie the game and converted two third downs and a 4-and-1 in SDSU territory. Jake Steffen’s surge to stop Jamaine Cook on 3-and-1 from the 2-yard line snuffed out any chance for a touchdown. The Penguins had to settle for a field goal.

A touchdown would have drastically changed the outlook of the game and instead it was a 16 play, nearly seven-minute drive that came up with a measly three points. SDSU never looked back from there and went on to score the next 13 points to put the game out of reach.

For YSU, they came in with a volatile running attack that was amongst the top in the nation. When SDSU shut down their inside running game, the Penguins had to go outside via swing passes and sweeps. The Jacks had no problem throwing their weight around on defense. On numerous occasions, Jackrabbit defense would swarm and clean up any missed tackles with four or five players flying to the ball.

SDSU also saw flashes of excellence in the kicking game. Peter Reifenrath recovered nicely from a 23-yard missed field goal to hit three field goals later in the game. Dean Priddy continued to flip field position for the Jacks, including one occasion where pinned YSU on its own 2-yard line. Andy Mink was able to block an extra point to take some wind out of the Penguins’ sails after their first touchdown.

Minett remarked after the game that the Jacks are “still 3-4, and in other programs that might be okay, but for here, it’s not okay.” The Jackrabbit football team showed its fans something in its first four games. That same team has also caught the attention of those same backers in their last three contests. Certainly, fans have to be excited about the latter.

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