Jackrabbit football one win away from FCS Playoff seed

MIRANDA+SAMPSON

MIRANDA SAMPSON

Trenton Abrego

The No. 5 South Dakota State Jackrabbits have been victorious in nine straight meetings in the South Dakota Showdown.

In order to earn a top-eight seed in the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs, the Jacks (7-2, 4-2) will need to make it 10 straight wins against the Coyotes (4-5, 3-4).

Playoff implications will be high for the Jackrabbits. Win, and they earn a top eight seed. Lose, and they will get in, but they will lose their potential home-field advantage.

“Ideally, we win and then we get set up, then we get a bye if you are a top-eight seed which is huge with the health of our football team,” head coach John Stiegelmeier said.

USD’s record might not show some of the success it has enjoyed at times, but Stiegelmeier and the Jacks won’t take the Coyotes lightly.

“The first thing is slow down their offense, they are up-tempo,” Stiegelmeier said. “Their quarterback is really good, they got good skill, good line, they got a good offense.”

Despite having four wins and being well out of the playoff race, the Coyotes feature Austin Simmons, the top passer in the MVFC. Simmons is also the MVFC leader in total offense with 3,082 yards on the season. To put that in perspective, Jacks quarterback Taryn Christion is in second place of the conference with 2,566 total offensive yards.

The junior quarterback, Simmons, has struggled with efficiency to this point and has completed 61 percent of his passes and has thrown seven interceptions while throwing for 15 touchdowns.

For Simmons, his favorite target has been Dakari Allen, who has 48 receptions for 703 yards and five touchdowns. Allen has the sixth-most receiving yards in the MVFC.

“He’s not just a deep-ball guy, he’s not a short field guy,” Stiegelmeier said about Allen. “He’s just a complete player.”

Levi Falck and Shamar Jackson have also made an impact for the Coyotes as both receivers have more than 400 yards on the season.

For the Coyotes, one downfall for the passing game has been protecting Simmons. The offensive line has allowed 34 sacks in 10 games,  the most in the MVFC.

“It’s being behind, throwing the ball, more opportunities for sacks, I mean, there’s a lot of things that come into that,” Stiegelmeier said. “Do I think they have two offensive linemen that can’t pass block? No. It’s not one guy getting beat every time there’s a sack.”

On the ground, sophomore running back Kai Henry has been the leading rusher for the Coyotes and has 472 rushing yards on 120 attempts and seven touchdowns

“Against these guys, we want to set a corner on the edge of the defense, meaning he has to run through gaps, not get out on the perimeter,” Stiegelmeier said. “We had the same goal against Southern Illinois and they got out on the perimeter a number of times.”

Defensively, the Coyotes are allowing 32.7 points per game and 424 yards per game. Twin brothers, Alex and Andrew Gray lead the way for the Coyote defense.

Stiegelmeier knows what to expect from a team led by South Dakota head coach Bob Nielson.

“Coach Nielson is a good coach, he’s had success,” Stiegelmeier said. “He’s won national championships, he’s always put a good product on the field.”

Injuries continue to bother some key parts of the Jackrabbit offense and defense. Stiegelmeier confirmed that starting guard Eddie Miller, running back C.J. Wilson and second-string sam linebacker Seven Wilson will be out as well.

The South Dakota Showdown Series is slated to kickoff at 2 p.m., Nov. 17 at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings.

“It’s the South Dakota Showdown Series, you get points for winning, but more importantly our two teams are going to come together and help raise funds for Feeding South Dakota, which there is a big need in our state, hopefully the fans show up and both teams support Feeding South Dakota,” Stiegelmeier said.