NORMAL, IL – Offense was the key for South Dakota State on Saturday as the Jacks disposed of the Illinois State Redbirds 38-28.
On their first drive, the Jackrabbits (5-2, 2-2) had no issue finding the scoreboard. It took just three plays and 67 yards for the Jacks to strike first. Then, the Redbirds answered with their own one play and 81-yard drive.
While it looked like it was going to be a high-scoring affair, things slowed down for the offenses.
That wasn’t the case. It wasn’t until the second quarter when one of them woke up again.
The Jacks offense came to life and scored a touchdown on three consecutive drives. It was the Jacks defense that made it happen for the offense. Two of the second quarter scoring drives came off of Illinois State fumbles.
After the 21-point second quarter, the Jacks never looked back.
Illinois State entered the Saturday matchup with the second-best scoring defense, allowing just 14 points per game, in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, but you wouldn’t have known by watching.
Senior quarterback Taryn Christion and the Jacks had an offensive field day against the stout defense of the Redbirds. Christion put up 292 passing yards and three passing touchdowns.
Christion went down in the second quarter due to a shoulder injury. Christion returned in the game after being out briefly. After the game, he said Jackrabbit fans don’t have anything to worry about.
“I’m fine,” Christion said. “I’ll be back next week.”
Sophomore wide receiver Cade Johnson was once again the favorite target. Johnson finished the game with eight receptions, 131 yards and a touchdown. He was targeted 11 times.
Despite being without freshman standout running back C.J. Wilson for the second week, the Jackrabbit running game bounced back. Junior Mikey Daniel rushed for 84 yards and two touchdowns on 20 attempts.
As a team, the Jacks had 96 rushing yards on 38 attempts.
Offensively the Jacks finished the day with 390 total yards.
Junior center Wes Genant returned to the starting lineup for the Jackrabbits and contributed in a big way, even if it won’t show up directly in the box score.
“Just having him back is a help,” head coach John Stiegelmeier said in a radio interview. “He’s such a good leader, such a good football player.”
It wasn’t just the offense that outshined the Redbirds defense. The Jackrabbit defense also showed up.
Coming into the game, Illinois State running back James Robinson entered the game as the second-best running back in the MVFC. Against the Jackrabbits, it was a different story. Robinson rushed 13 times for 10 yards.
“They have one of the best running backs in America,” Stiegelmeier said. “The way we played will give us a lot of confidence.”
As a team, the Redbirds had 81 rushing yards on 29 attempts.
Despite the success against the run, defending the passing game was a different story. Andrew Edgar carved up the Jackrabbit secondary for 202 yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions.
Brady Davis started the game at quarterback for the Redbirds but appeared to suffer an apparent injury. This caused ex-starter and senior quarterback Jake Kolbe to finish the game for the Redbirds. Kolbe finished with 183 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Davis contributed 181 passing yards and a touchdown before his apparent injury.
Defensively, the Jacks allowed 445 total yards but forced and recovered two fumbles. The defense also contributed an interception.
The win comes as a welcomed result for the Jacks and Stiegelmeier, who were previously winless on the road.
“It’s a huge win for us in a lot of ways,” Stiegelmeier said.
In order to reach seven wins that all but guarantees home-field advantage, SDSU will be forced to win all three of their remaining games.
Up next, the Jackrabbits will be back in Brookings to take on the Missouri State Bears. That game will start at 2 p.m. on Military Appreciation Day (Nov. 3) at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.