Road to winning national championship begins at spring game

The South Dakota State Jackrabbits played their spring game Saturday in front of a crowd of about 2,000 at the Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium. The Rabbits defeated the Jacks 24-20.

The Jacks team was built from the first-team offense and second-team defense while the Rabbits were built of the first-team defense and second-team offense. 

The game was different from previous years because rather than defense against offense, it was the Jacks against the Rabbits. 

“I liked how they changed everything up and team on team instead of just offense vs. defense, it made it a lot more enjoyable for the fans and it was a lot more competitive,” said sophomore running back Mikey Daniel.

SDSU went 9-4 last season and won the Missouri Valley Football Conference with an 8-1 record in the conference. They were awarded a first round bye in the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs and defeated Villanova 10-7 in the second round before falling to North Dakota State 36-10 in the quarterfinals.

The Jacks have national championship expectations for next year, but there are still positions they need to fill or get better at.

Linebackers

Perhaps the biggest question for the reigning Missouri Valley Champions is the line backing core. 

On the defensive side, the Jacks are trying to fill the losses of Dallas Brown and Jesse Bobbit, who graduated, and sophomore Jake Harms.

“Jake Harms was a really good football player but for medical reasons, he decided to give up football, so we could be a little thin at will linebacker,” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said. 

Despite losing Brown, Stiegelmeier didn’t seem concerned and made it apparent he already found his replacement.  

“Logan Backhaus is bigger and as fast as Dallas,” Stiegelmeier said.

Backhaus is a redshirt freshman from Spirit Lake, Iowa who hasn’t seen action in a Jackrabbit game. 

Eric Kleinschmit, a junior linebacker, led both teams with nine tackles. Kleinschmit played in 13 games last year and came up with 14 tackles throughout the season. Despite playing in every game last year, Kleinschmit could be in line for even more opportunities.

Sophomore Christian Rozeboom is also returning for the Jackrabbit linebacking core and was taking care of the long snapping duties at the spring game. 

Offensive Line

The offensive line might be a weak spot for the Jackrabbits, despite returning senior Charlie Harmon, junior Sepestiano Pupungatoa, senior Jacob Ohnesorge and junior Matt Clark. 

“I’m not sure we are dominant offensive line right yet, that’s an area we might have to pull a red shirt,” Stiegelmeier said. 

Defensive Backs

The defensive backs for the Jackrabbits looked good. Senior defensive back Anthony Washington came up with an interception from Taryn Christion. Donald Garner, a redshirt freshman, also came up with a take away. 

“Zy Mosley has made good strides, Jordan Brown is the most veteran, Anthony Washington is steady. I’m really excited about Donald Garner,” Stiegelmeier said.

Mosley is a sophomore who saw action in 13 games. Jordan Brown, a junior, had two interceptions last year and forty tackles.

Quarterbacks

Perhaps the most compelling battle of fall camp will be at the quarterback possession, but not for the starter — for the second-string spot. 

Redshirt freshman Kanin Nelson started the game at quarterback for the Rabbits’ offense. Nelson looked impressive as he answered a Jacks score with a 65-yard touchdown pass to junior transfer Skyler Monaghan. Nelson finished the day three for six for 83 yards. 

Nelson wasn’t the only quarterback who played well Saturday. 

Dalton Douglas, the senior quarterback, made good throws. He finished the day five for seven on passes for 99 yards against the first team defense. 

Alec Cromer, a redshirt freshman, completed all five of his passing attempts that went for 35 yards. 

The spring game caps off the spring practice season. The Jackrabbits will resume practice in late July and are scheduled to start the season against the Duquesne Dukes at Dana J. Dykhouse Aug. 31.