Jacks look to remain perfect in conference play

Jakob King, Sports Reporter

A week after escaping an upset on the road, the South Dakota State football program is on the road again to take on Indiana State in a Missouri Valley Football Conference matchup.

In last weekend’s contest at Youngstown State, the Jackrabbits (5-1, 2-0 MVFC) trailed at halftime for the second straight week. But much like it did on Hobo Day, SDSU found a way to revive itself after halftime, scoring touchdowns on four of their five second-half possessions and adding a touchdown on defense.

After watching his team rally from behind in back-to-back games, SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier praised the personality of his football team.

“I think it shows us that we have a very mature, focused group,” Stiegelmeier said. “They don’t get rattled. They believe in themselves, they believe in the plan, and they have the maturity to go out and try to win football games.”

ISU nearly knocked off SDSU in a 54-51 overtime shootout last season at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium, so the Jacks know Saturday’s opposition is up for a challenge.

The Sycamores (3-3, 1-1 MVFC) are led by the reigning Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year in Curt Mallory. The third-year head coach improved his team’s record from 0-11 in 2017 to 7-4 a season ago and narrowly missed out on a playoff berth.

Stiegelmeier respects the job his coaching counterpart has done so far in Terre Haute and sees similarities between the pair’s coaching styles.

“He’s put together a really solid, fundamental football team,” Stiegelmeier said. “He’s a lot like me — a defensive coach that wants to run the football. And that’s what they do. They play really good defense and they want to run the football on offense. They’re number one in time of possession, so you know they’re methodical about what they do.”

Mallory’s team lost its starting quarterback to a season-ending injury earlier this season, when preseason first-team All-MVFC signal-caller in Ryan Boyle tore his ACL on Sept. 21. Playing in his place have been quarterbacks Kurtis Wilderman and Gunnar See.

With their dynamic quarterback sidelined for the year, ISU has relied on its running game and defense to carry the weight. Led by junior Peterson Kerlegrand’s 6.9 yards per carry, the Sycamores average 183 rushing yards per game.

If Mallory’s comments on the Indiana State Coaches Show this week are any indication, the Sycamores will continue with this run-reliant offensive game plan while trying to contain the Jacks’ third-ranked rushing attack.

“We’ve got to stop the run and we’ve got to run the ball,” Mallory said. “It’s gonna come down to those two things. Getting back to what we do and what we’re made of. I know we’ll be ready to accept the challenge.”

When they do put the ball in the air, the Sycamores often target redshirt sophomore Dante Hendrix. Standing 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, the lanky Hendrix was a preseason first-team All-MVFC selection and has caught 26 passes for 295 yards and a touchdown so far.

On the other side of the ball, ISU touts the best passing defense in the conference and the eighth-best pass defense in the nation, allowing only 163.8 passing yards per game. Six different Sycamore defenders have intercepted at least one pass this season. Centering their defense are their top two tacklers — linebackers Clayton Gasco and STATS preseason second-team All-American selection Jonas Griffith.

“They’re the best pass defense in the conference, so they get a good rush and they play a number of coverages,” Stiegelmeier said. “You have to have answers for a lot of different things.”

Kickoff is scheduled for noon Central time at Memorial Stadium in Terre Haute, Indiana. The game will be available on ESPN+ and radio coverage will be provided by the Jackrabbits Sports Network.