Any time a Jackrabbit and Coyote meet in anything, there’s going to be some talking going on. Bragging rights extend throughout the year when it comes to any athletic matchup between South Dakota’s two largest universities.
And that’s what makes today’s 1 p.m. CST matchup between No. 19 South Dakota State and the University of South Dakota such a big game all the way from Reva to Richland.
But there’s a little more than just pride on the line at the DakotaDome in Vermillion as the Jackrabbits (6-4 overall, 3-3 Missouri Valley Conference) have to win their final two games against the Coyotes and Youngstown State to have any shot at making the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for a second straight season.
“We can make the FCS playoffs, but we need to play our best football,” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said.
While the Jackrabbits are still playing for what they hope is a chance to make the postseason, their archrival would like nothing more than to knock off the Jackrabbits, regardless of playoff scenarios.
“We don’t mind spoiling. That would be fun, but even more than that so much of it is the rivalry for us,” USD head coach Joe Glenn said. “We want to beat this team for our alums in the state and the people that have played here … it’s smack-talk time whether you’re a Coyote or a Jackrabbit and we’d just really, really like to shut this one down. If we spoil something for them that’s fine, but even more than that, we just want to win the game for what it is.”
The Coyotes (4-6, 3-3) have lost three straight to Illinois State, No. 15 Youngstown State and No. 7 Montana. After falling to Illinois State 28-14 the Coyotes dropped four-point decisions to both Youngstown (38-34) and Montana (31-27).
“It shows us that we can touch gloves with a good heavyweight and go 12 rounds and we got a split decision, basically,” Glenn said. “It was that close. I’d like to see us play close again this weekend and finish, finish the game, shut the game down and get a victory.”
Stiegelmeier has no doubt that the Coyotes are more than capable of getting that victory in Saturday’s game, which marks the 106th meeting between the two schools. USD leads the series with a 50-49-6 record.
“They’re a really good football team,” Stiegelmeier said. “They’re better in every phase (this year), they have good players and they’re doing a really good job down there.”
A big part of the Coyotes’ improvement has been the play of Kevin Earl at quarterback. That allowed former starter Josh Vander Maten to take on a “slash” role popularized by former Pittsburgh Steeler Kordell Stewart in the mid 90s.
“We’ve made a lot of improvement and I think a lot of it came when we decided to put Kevin in at quarterback and moving Josh Vander Maten to slash,” Glenn said. “He’s done just a sensational job as a receiver, running back, kickoff return, punt return … he has helped us all over the field and it has allowed Kevin to get on the field and help us at the same time.”
On defense, USD will try to slow down a very balanced Jackrabbits offense, led by one of the nation’s top running backs in Zach Zenner, who has rushed for 3,886 yards in his career.
But Glenn also pointed to quarterback Austin Sumner and wide receiver Jason Schneider as just as much of a headache. Sumner threw for 272 yards and a touchdown and Zenner ran for 164 yards and a score in the Jackrabbits’ 31-8 win over South Dakota last season.
“Schneider is really the guy who has been putting up big numbers. I think he leads the conference in conference games in receiving and (quarterback Austin) Sumner is going good,” Glenn said. “We certainly have got to keep our eyes on Zenner. We all know what he’s done, but their whole offense is really, really capable of putting up pretty big numbers … we’ll have our hands full, but we love the challenge.”