Jacks determined to not underestimate Drake

After a narrow 31-27 victory over the Montana State Bobcats, the South Dakota State football team is hoping to get an early lead in its last game before Missouri Valley Football Conference play. 

The Jacks face the Drake Bulldogs (1-1) who are coming off their first victory of the season, a 55-14 rout of Southwestern College after falling to South Dakota in Des Moines, Iowa, 77-7.

Head coach John Stiegelmeier said the Jackrabbits (2-0) will focus on giving some of their starters some time off to avoid injuries while getting other players more experience before conference play. 

Part of the reason the Bulldogs have been so ineffective so far this season is their youth — they have 35 freshmen on their roster. 

“If we have a big lead, I’m assuming the coaches will pull us and keep us healthy going into bye week and starting conference play,” said senior tight end Dallas Goedert. “We want to be as healthy as we can so we can get ready for the Missouri Valley.” 

Against the Bobcats, SDSU allowed 491 total yards of offense. This weekend, the Jackrabbits will face a different type of offense that relies more on their passing game than their running game. 

“Our pass defense (was a concern), both pass rush and cover,” Stiegelmeier said. “We had some busts, some poor technique and part of that is the emphasis we put on them running the ball and part of it was just making errors.”

Senior safety Nick Farina said the Jacks view their performance at Montana State as a bit of a disappointment, especially defensively, but they were happy to get the win.

“We got the dub. Ultimately, we are happy with that but at the end of the day we realize we could have played a lot better. We came back and watched the film and learned from it,” Farina said. 

The Jackrabbit defense will have an opportunity to prove whether or not they’ve learned from their last game as they face another offense this week that can throw the ball with efficiency. 

Through the air, Drake averages 243 yards led by senior quarterback Grant Kraemer. The passing attack accounts for more than 75 percent of their total yards. 

Sophomore wide receiver Mitch McFarlane is the leading receiver for the Bulldogs. He has caught nine passes on the year for 182 yards. While it doesn’t seem like much, McFarlane’s statistics closely compare to Dallas Goedert’s, who has caught 13 receptions for 175 yards. 

Last weekend, the Jackrabbit secondary allowed the Montana State Bobcats to pass for 311 yards.

The Bulldogs average 78.5 yards on the ground, which ranks eighth of 11 in the Pioneer Football League (PFL). The leading rusher for the Bulldogs is sophomore running back Taylor Murph, who has gained 67 net yards on the year, with an average of 33.5 yards. 

Despite struggling on offense throughout the year, the Bulldogs have the best red zone offense in the PFL, as they have converted on all eight of their red zone opportunities. SDSU fields a defense that is allowing three touchdowns in five opportunities. 

Fifth-year senior Mack Marrin leads the Drake defensive line with 2.5 sacks on the year. Junior linebacker Zac Rujawitz leads the Bulldogs in tackles, averaging 5.5 tackles per game. 

For the Jacks, sophomore lineman Evan Greeneway will get his second start at right tackle for the Jackrabbits after junior Tyler Weir went down with an injury. 

Senior defensive end Kellen Soulek will also be out for the Jackrabbits from an injury sustained against Montana State. Freshman linebacker Noah Urbanek left the game due to injury, but should be back Saturday. 

“Kellen is the heart and soul of our defense. He is a brick up front — without Kellen it will be a little different, but we’ve got young guys that can step up,” Farina said.

Even with MVFC play starting in two weeks, Stiegelmeier just wants the Jacks to focus on the Bulldogs.

“They are a good football team. Their score against USD indicates it might be easier than we want our players to think, so the concern is we don’t overlook (Drake),” Stiegelmeier said.

Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. The will be on Midco Sports Network or 90.7 KSDJ with coverage starting at 5:30 p.m.