I'm not going to use the term "moral victory" here, just because I don't want the participation trophy hardos coming after me. But if you're a part of or a fan of the South Dakota State football program, you have to feel encouraged after a 28-21 loss to Minnesota.
The Jackrabbits had a wide range of outside opinions this offseason. Some thought the Jacks will remain an FCS national contender and deserves to be ranked in the Top 5. Others looked at their 2018 senior class and believed this team was being hyped up too much.
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Indeed, SDSU had question marks and entered Thursday's game with redshirt freshman quarterback J'Bore Gibbs seeing his first collegiate action, three new starting offensive linemen and three new starters in the secondary. But the Jacks lived up to their preseason hype and proved they belonged on the same field as Minnesota out of the Big Ten, who some believe has its best team in years.
In fact, one could reasonably argue that SDSU looked like the better team in all three phases for a good portion of the game. But turnovers and penalties were the difference.
The Jackrabbits had a long kickoff return for a touchdown called back right before halftime. Gibbs threw a pick-six early in the third quarter. And up 21-20 in the fourth quarter, Gibbs fumbled on a read-option exchange in SDSU's own territory, which Minnesota turned into the game-winning score with 5:39 remaining.
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Speaking of Gibbs, his play "on paper" may not stick out. He went 13-26 throwing for 193 yards, one touchdown and that one interception. But his improvements from just the first half to the second half was noticeable as he threw the ball with more zip, more touch and more confidence. Expectations for a redshirt freshman are to get better with every snap, right? That tells me Gibbs is set for a big season and a solid career. He had some errant throws and missed some reads on open targets. But he also had some beautiful passes along the sideline or threaded the needle in between a linebacker and safety.
The team should take big strides too as the season progresses. There were times last night the secondary got exposed. And the offense stalled in key moments. The Jacks are by no means polished and improvements still need to be made if the program wants to accomplish its ultimate goal of a national title. Both lines need to continue this level of play, but depth (especially on the defensive line) is key as the season wears on. The secondary needs to become more consistent throughout a game, and so too does Gibbs.
For Game 1, though, SDSU impressed and showed its No. 3 STATS preseason ranking is deserved.
NEXT: Week 1 Score Predictions
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