Football Preview: Jackrabbits prepare to defend home territory

Chris Mangan

Chris Mangan

While most college football teams kicked off on Sept. 5, the Jackrabbits have to wait until Sept 12.

The season officially starts at 6 p.m. Saturday for the Jackrabbits when they face Georgia Southern at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium. While the Jacks have yet to get on the field, the Eagles already have one game under the belt, a 29-26 win over Albany on Sept. 5.

“It can be either a plus or minus, just like most things,” Jackrabbit head coach John Stiegelmeier said. “We are approaching it as a plus.

“We will be fresh from fall camp and a longer lifting session.”

In the win over Albany, Lee Chapple threw for 259 yards and two scores, while Adam Urbano led the Eagles with 53 yards rushing. The Jacks are 0-3 against the Eagles; the last time the two teams squared off was in 2007 when the Jacks fell 41-38 in Statesboro, Ga.

The defense may be the strongest aspect for SDSU this year, as the Jacks return nine starters from a year ago.

The Jacks also return their top eight tacklers from a year ago, including leading tackler Jimmy Rogers who recorded 93 tackles. Danny Batten, a member of the initial Buck Buchanan Award watch list, will anchor the defensive life. Batten led the team in 2008 with eight sacks and was fourth on the team with 75 tackles.

“Our defense has to be a strength, and what better place to have your strength,” Stiegelmeier said last spring. “If you make it hard on an offense to move the ball and score points, life becomes a lot easier for everybody.”

The Jacks defense will face a tough test with the Eagles. In 2008, the Eagles averaged 31.8 points a game, totaling over 383.5 yards of offense a game.

Stiegelmeier said the Jacks have to be “smart with how we take on blocks and the angles we take to the ball” to deal with the Eagles’ exceptional team speed.

Senior Ryan Crawford will start for the Jacks at quarterback. Stiegelmeier announced Crawford as the starter on Aug. 31.

Crawford will have the daunting task of replacing record-setting quarterback Ryan Berry. Crawford is a fifth-year senior for the Jacks and played an instrumental part in the come-from-behind victory over North Dakota State last season. In the win over the Bison, Crawford completed 10-of-13 passes for 50 yards and a touchdown.

But the Jacks won’t have to rely on just Crawford on offense, as the backfield is full of talented running backs, including Kyle Minett. Minett rushed for just under 1,300 yards last season and 14 touchdowns.

“I think the running game working and being smart with what we ask of Ryan Crawford is the secret,” Stiegelmeier said. “I believe Ryan Crawford will have a great opener.”

The Jackrabbits are looking to build off a third-place finish in the Missouri Valley Football Conference a year ago. In order for them to do that, it comes back to the defense.

“To have the kind of year we want, we need to play great defense,” Stiegelmeier said. “Great defense is the best answer to competing for a championship.”