SDSU heads to the heartland to meet KU


SDSU has a better football team than they did 65 years ago, the last time they visited Lawrence.

It was all Jayhawks, all game in 1947, with final score in favor of Kansas, 86-6.

The odds are good that the Jackrabbits play within 80 points of KU but the season-long mission starts Saturday, as SDSU tries to better back-to-back 5-6 seasons.

Talk this week surrounds SDSU starting quarterback Austin Sumner, who has injured his throwing hand and is doubtful to play this week. That would leave the offense in the hands of redshirt freshman Eric Kline, who has only had practice time over the last year to show his skills.

“He’s more out than in,” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said of Sumner. “He’s doing everything he can and the athletic trainers are doing everything they can but it’s very doubtful that he’ll play. His backup, Eric Kline, is a pup. He’s a true competitor but has zero experience at this level except for our spring game.”

Entering his 16th season as the Jackrabbits’ head coach, Stiegelmeier needs a seven-win season to reach 100 wins for his career. He’s promised that his team will be a better rushing team this season and one that is more disciplined after doubling its penalties per game since its 2009 playoff season.

The team has made a key change at running back. Tyrel Kool will move back to wide receiver for the second time in his career after spending last season as a running back. Sophomore Zach Zenner will assume the main starting running back role for the team, which finished the year last in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in rushing.

“I’m excited for the season,” Zenner said. “I’m going to try to take advantage of it the best I can and if they think Tyrel can help the team more at wide receiver, I’m behind it all the way.”

Defensively, the Jacks had plenty of players get experience last season — at times because of necessity and lack of depth. Led by linebacker Chris Tracy, the defense will try to take the leap to make the stops it struggled with last year.

“It goes back to hard work,” Tracy said. “Last year, we weren’t where we wanted to be and it didn’t pan out. It’s hard to pinpoint one thing but this year, we’re excited with a lot of guys with experience.”

This week’s Kansas game marks the fifth straight season where SDSU has played an FBS opponent on the road but are still chasing in such games after losses at Iowa State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Illinois in the last four years.

“We’re going to run the football,” Stiegelmeier said. “If they’re in man-to-man defense, we need to move our receivers because they’re going to be better receivers than we are.”

The Jayhawks, with new head coach Charlie Weis, have mostly left the Jacks in the dark about how to prepare for them. They come in with a new offense and defense and without a quarterback who has taken a snap for KU. Former Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist will start in his debut game with Kansas.

“All you get is some press releases,” Stiegelmeier said. “There’s no game film. You can look at film from Florida (Weis’ last stop), but that’s a whole different level, a different type of players.”

Weis said he’s only worried about SDSU right now and not the impending Big XII season.

“I think we’d better get off to a fast start or we’re going to have a long year, and I think everyone else wants to look at the 12-game schedule,” Weis said last week. “I want to look at one. I have a one-game schedule, and it’s South Dakota State. It’s been a little while here since we came and in the first game of the year we had a very convincing performance, and that’s what my intent is in the opening game.”

“We’re practicing basics,” Stiegelmeier said. “We’re practicing basic rules and we’re going to have to coach our tails off at the end of the first quarter when we really see what they’re going to run offensively and defensively and special teams, really.”