Jackrabbits set for Top-25 battle in Cedar Falls Saturday

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MIRANDA SAMPSON

MIRANDA SAMPSON

Trenton Abrego

After a victorious Hobo Day, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits will look for their third-straight Missouri Valley Football Conference win in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Despite rolling over the Penguins, the Jackrabbits suffered what could be considered one of the biggest losses of their season.

Isaac Wallace suffered a career-ending hip injury in the first half. Until then, Wallace was the lead running back for the Jacks with 413 yards and four touchdowns on 44 attempts.

“It hurts more as a person to know a great competitor, a student-athlete, doesn’t get to finish his career,” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said.

It’ll be a top-25 matchup when the No. 2 Jackrabbits (4-1, 2-1) play the No. 25 Panthers (3-3, 2-1).

Last season, the Panthers stormed into Dana J. Dykhouse and dismantled the Jackrabbits 38-18 on Hobo Day. Now, the Jacks will get their chance to spoil the University of Northern Iowa’s homecoming.

UNI head coach Mark Farley and the Panthers will be coming off of a week in which they downed the South Dakota Coyotes 42-28 in the DakotaDome.

The downfall for the Coyotes was the inability to stop UNI senior quarterback Eli Dunne, who was named the MVFC Offensive Player of the Week.

Dunne threw for 257 yards, four touchdowns and scored a rushing touchdown. The Coyote defensive line only got to Dunne once.

For the Jacks, pressure on the quarterback will be key this week.

“It’s hard to get pressure on (Dunne), he understands the offense so well,” Stiegelmeier said. “He’s seasoned enough that pressure isn’t going to keep him from trying to make plays.”

Dunne has been sacked eight times. He has also been able to find a plethora of different receivers. Against USD, eight receivers had at least two catches for the Panthers. 13 different receivers have recorded a catch this season.

Leading the charge for receptions is junior tight end Briley Moore, who has 317 yards and three touchdowns.

“You just want to minimize the damage – know where he’s at,” Stiegelmeier said.

Defensively, the Panthers have allowed 161 rushing yards per game.

“That’s something we need to exploit,” Stiegelmeier said.

Without their leading rusher, the Jacks will still field a potent rushing attack with Mikey Daniel, C.J. Wilson and Pierre Strong Jr.

On the ground, the Jacks have racked up 1,263 yards this season – the third-best mark in the MVFC.

Despite having the fourth-best rush defense in the MVFC, the Panthers have the seventh-worst pass defense and are allowing 219 yards per game.

“The confusing thing for us is they’ve played three base defenses,” Stiegelmeier said. “ …  [T]o master your plays against three defenses is really hard.”

For the Jacks, they have been able to exploit pass defenses to this point in the season. The Jacks, who’ve been led by senior quarterback Taryn Christion, have the second-best pass offense in the MVFC.

Christion has thrown for 1,160 yards, 16 touchdowns and an interception. Christion has also made a difference on the ground with his legs with 129 yards on 34 carries and a touchdown.

“There’s not many people on the field that can catch him when he takes off,” Farley said.

After a few weeks with a banged up offensive line, the Jacks will still face question marks with Tyler Weir and Wes Genant both being deemed questionable.

The game against the Panthers will mark the midpoint of the MVFC season. Traditionally, the magic number to qualify for the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs is either six or seven. This week, the Jacks have that target in their crosshairs.

“It’s getting closer to that special number for playoffs,” Stiegelmeier said. “If we beat a ranked team, it adds some credibility to who we are.”

Kickoff for the game will be at 4 p.m. Oct. 20 at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The game can be viewed on television on ESPN3.