To prepare for the FCS Playoffs semifinal matchup between South Dakota State and James Madison, HERO Sports got some insight from Jackrabbit Illustrated.
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Make sure you check out Jackrabbit Illustrated and give them a follow on Twitter at @JackIllustrated. Thanks to Matt for his insight on the matchup — be sure to check out his preview of the game.
Now, onto the questions:
Most FCS fans thought the Jackrabbits would be a juggernaut this season, but it took a few weeks for them to get on track. What do you think changed for SDSU after the Northern Iowa loss?
It did take a bit for the offense to gain some consistency. Even though they generated 133 points in three non-conference games, something just wasn’t clicking. In the Youngstown State loss, the Penguins controlled the ball and had a time of possession edge of 45:14 to 14:46. The offense just never had an opportunity to find its rhythm after a turnover on its opening possession.
The loss to UNI was weird. SDSU had 2 special teams turnovers, threw an interception in the first half and was down 17-0 before anyone knew what happened. UNI also deployed a 3-4 defensive alignment for the first time and the offense was totally unprepared for this wrinkle. In the post-game press conference, Dallas Goedert said that the team was so close; one missed block, one dropped pass, one missed pass from hitting on all cylinders.
It seemed like after the UNI game there was a renewed focus on Coach Stiegelmeier’s “1-0” mantra. It was an incredibly tough stretch of opponents after Missouri State. The Jacks ended the season playing at Western Illinois, North Dakota State, Illinois State, and at the University of South Dakota. All are top-tier Missouri Valley teams.
Besides the USD game, the Jacks have used a fast offensive start, have gotten Dallas Goedert more involved, and have also looked to their group of other wide receivers not named Jake Wieneke or Dallas Goedert. This group includes Cade Johnson, Jacob Brown, and Marquise Lewis and they have all stepped up during this win streak and have made big plays when called upon. The Jacks have also ran the ball well in this seven game win streak rushing for over 183 yarps per game.
This is a matchup the FCS world has been dying to see — SDSU’s offense vs. JMU’s defense. Which unit do you think has the edge in the matchup?
JMU’s defense is tremendous but so is SDSU’s offense. When I have watched JMU play, they look like they are really tough to beat to the edges. Their team speed is something that I remember being impressed with in their victory over NDSU and YSU last year. Luckily, the Jacks don’t run a lot of stretch plays and tend to still run powers and dives with very few off tackle plays.
If the Weber State game is any indication, I like the Jacks vertical passing game against the JMU secondary. If the Jackrabbit offensive line can give Taryn Christion time, he will find the open receiver from the group listed above. Unlike many of the prolific passing attacks, the Jacks can also line-up and play smash mouth football if needed as evidenced over the victory over NDSU.
Last week against New Hampshire, a defense many had called similar to JMU, the Jacks were able to dictate the game with either the run or pass. However, JMU’s pass rush is the wildcard. I’m calling this matchup a toss-up.
Bryan Schor is spreading around the ball to a bunch of different receivers and running backs, and keeping it himself on the ground. How do the Jackrabbits slow him?
The Jackrabbit defense has quietly had a really good season. The strength of the defense is an active and athletic group of linebackers that is lead by Christian Rozeboom (118 tackles). Dalton Cox (56 tackles) and Logan Backhaus (47 tackles) have emerged as solid playmakers. Backhaus is especially good against the pass and gets his hands on a lot of passes.
On the backend, Jordan Brown (66 tackles, 3 INT, 8 break-ups) was an All-MVFC selection this year and consistently shutdown the opponents #1 target. I could see him shadowing Terrence Alls for the game or taking on the emerging Riley Stapleton. The Jacks other starting cornerback, Marshon Harris is great in the slot and has really been playing with great confidence the back half of the season. Behind him is the rangy Zy Mosley and senior Anthony Washington. Both are more than capable.
The safeties are experienced, solid, and tend to make big plays. Nick Farina, Chris Balster, Makiah Slade, and Larenzo Williams all see time at safety and bring different skills to the table.
I am nervous about the pass rush, even with the banged up JMU offensive line. Kellen Soulek is a beast in the middle and draws double teams from most opponents. On the edge is Ryan Earith who has 5 sacks in the last 5 games and has really emerged as a playmaker. The other defensive tackle and end positions rotate pretty heavily. Traditionally, the Jacks don’t send a lot of blitzes, but I think they will need to in order to disrupt Schor’s timing. This will certainly be a matchup to watch!
What would it mean for the program if SDSU were to go on the road and knock off the reining champions?
Obviously it would mean a lot! The Dukes are a terrific program with a great following. SDSU, while it has been to the playoffs for 6 consecutive years, is still clawing to reach that top echelon of FCS teams. A win helps with recruiting, attracting more fans, and establishing a belief that we, even tiny South Dakota State University, can achieve HUGE things.
With NDSU right up the road, seasons are no longer measured by just reaching the playoffs, the program is hungry to bring home the National Championship. For years MVFC fans have called for the committee to put NDSU and SDSU on opposite sides of the bracket. Now that they have, it is SDSU’s chance to uphold their end of that deal.
What’s your prediction for the game?
I see the Jackrabbits coming away with a 30-24 victory.