Jacks aim for 4-1 start on Hobo Day

Jakob King, Sports Reporter

With sights set on opening the conference slate with a win on homecoming, No. 3 South Dakota State hosts Southern Illinois in the 106th Hobo Day game Saturday.

While the Jackrabbits historically have had success on Hobo Day — they’re 61-39-5 all-time — they’ve dropped four of the last six. Though, after handling Youngstown State 36-7 on Hobo Day a year ago and cruising through the final nonconference games this season, SDSU is looking to shake their recent homecoming misfortunes.

After nearly pulling an upset over Minnesota to open the season, SDSU (3-1) dominated the remainder of its nonconference schedule.

The Jacks have outscored the opposition 119-20 in three games against the Football Championship Subdivision, and through four games, SDSU ranks 15th in the nation in rushing offense and sixth in total defense. To boot, the special teams have blocked four kicks, tied for first in the country.

SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier understands the excitement of Hobo Day and the week leading up to it, but also expects his players to stay focused on the game and not get distracted by the week’s festivities.

“It’s a distraction if you’re not committed to the team, so it won’t be a distraction,” Stiegelmeier said. “A better crowd, the energy on campus is totally different on Hobo Day. But our guys understand their part of Hobo Week is the game.”

So coming into the game fresh off a bye week, or as the coaching staff calls it, “improvement week,” where does Stiegelmeier want to see that improvement?

“The drills (during improvement week) are designed specifically for the shortcomings we’ve shown,” Stiegelmeier said “So tackling, taking care of the football. We made progress, but until the real, live game you don’t really know where you’re at.”

The upset-minded Salukis (2-2) are coming off a bye themselves, and pulled off a 45-20 win over the University of Massachusetts of the Football Bowl Subdivision back on Sept. 7. SIU played a second game against an FBS opponent, falling 41-28 to Arkansas State.

In other words, the Salukis have proven capable of competing with better teams.

SIU is led by fourth-year head coach Nick Hill, who took the Salukis to the national semifinals as their quarterback in 2007. Owning a 10-23 record as the Salukis head coach, Hill has yet to establish a consistent winner in Carbondale but looks to SDSU as an example of the quality program he wants to build.

“Everybody knows about their success and the type of team that they have,” Hill said. “I respect coach Stiegelmeier and what he’s been able to do, the consistency that program has. [They’re] a great opponent, but we’ll be excited and ready to play.”

The Salukis are an experienced football team, returning four of their five offensive line starters and ten starters on defense, including two preseason All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selections.

Who will start at quarterback for SIU is a mystery, as regular starter Stone Labanowitz missed last week with an injury. Labanowitz is a former Ole Miss recruit who transferred to ASA Junior College in Brooklyn before finding his way to SIU. If he’s unable to play, then backup Kare Lyles will get his second straight start.

Hill confirmed in a weekly press conference that SIU will be without the services of star senior running back D.J. Davis, who racked up 201 yards against SDSU last season and has been a big part of the Saluki offense so far this year.

Defensively, they’re led by preseason all-conference selections in defensive lineman Anthony Knighton and defensive back Jeremy Chinn.

“They’re good players with good speed in the secondary and blue-collar, linebacker-type guys,” Stiegelmeier said of Saturday’s opposition. “They’re a good football team. I know they’re going to get better and better, so I’m glad we got them early.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. Television coverage can be found on KELOLAND’s My UTV and radio coverage will be provided by the Jackrabbits Sports Network.