South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier doesn’t think the turmoil surrounding the Nebraska football program and head coach Bo Pelini will hurt his team any Saturday.
And while he might prefer to play a Cornhuskers squad that was feeling a little more comfortable, he knows that regardless of circumstance the Jackrabbits will have to play their very best.
“It surely doesn’t hurt us, but I don’t know if it hurts them,” Stiegelmeier said of the fallout from a second-half meltdown by Nebraska against UCLA and the ensuing leak of an audio recording of Pelini berating the team’s fans after a 2011 win over Ohio State.
Stiegelmeier admits the chances of Nebraska overlooking his team are next to none after last week’s result. Nebraska (2-1) and South Dakota State (3-0) will meet Saturday at 1:42 p.m. MDT in Lincoln, Neb., for the third time. Nebraska won the previous two games, in 1963 and 2010, by a combined score of 75-10.
Nebraska came out on top 17-3 in the most recent meeting despite gaining just 345 total yards. The Jackrabbits also had two touchdowns called back on penalties in that game, a contest that certainly felt closer than the final score.
A big difference from three years ago is that Nebraska was coming off of an impressive win instead of the embarrassing loss and ensuing publicity it is dealing with now.
“They surely are addressing the concerns they had from last week,” Stiegelmeier said of a Nebraska defense that gave up four touchdowns to the Bruins in the decisive third quarter. “Many times, if you have a big win like they had in 2010 versus the University of Washington, they may overlook (us) going into our game. Well, they’re not going to overlook anything going into our game (now).”
Still, Stiegelmeier admitted that the off-the-field drama in Lincoln could conceivably take a toll on any team.
“I’d prefer it if (Nebraska) had a big win prior to our game,” he said. “But in this situation, there’s a lot of talk going on. It’s not just them trying to figure out what went wrong. It’s them trying to defend themselves off the field also.”
On the other hand, Stiegelmeier said Cornhusker football, an institution that deals with more fan and press scrutiny than most professional franchises, is well-equipped to deal with a less-than-ideal situation.
“In my mind, an athlete in that type of program (deals) with so much press, positive and negative, that those guys have to be a lot more focused and mentally tough than our guys because we don’t deal with, not necessarily distractions, but that kind of coverage,” Stiegelmeier added.
Getting down to what will actually take place on the field, the Jackrabbits head coach, who has a 105-76 record in his 16-plus seasons at the SDSU helm, said the Cornhuskers offense will present a huge challenge.
“Probably the biggest deal is controlling their offense. (Nebraska quarterback) Taylor Martinez is a great college football player. He just gives them so many options … I think that’s the biggest concern is our defense against their offense,” Stiegelmeier said.
The No. 6-ranked Jackrabbits will look to follow in the footsteps of fellow Football Championship Subdivision teams North Dakota State and Eastern Washington in springing upsets on teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision.
NDSU beat Kansas State and Eastern Washington beat Oregon State earlier this season, but Stiegelmeier said neither he nor his team has any interest in those results.
“The most important thing is that we believe we can go down there and play our best football and have a chance to win,” he said. “The fact that somebody else beat somebody else, that’s a whole different matchup. We’ve always talked about going into these games and being able to win and we’re doing the same thing this week.”
If the Jackrabbits want to pull off a huge upset, they will have to play a lot better than they did in last week’s 34-26 win over Southeastern Louisiana.
SDSU trailed 19-7 in the third quarter before reeling off 27 unanswered points. The Jackrabbits head into Memorial Stadium a 20.5-point underdog in Las Vegas.
“There’s two populations, those in the locker room and those out of the locker room,” Stiegelmeier said. “There are the oddsmakers, the Cornhuskers, the press, and they’re all out of the locker room. The guys I care about are in the locker room … I want us to go down there and not focus on anything but playing our best football.
“Anything but that will take away from that. If we’re thinking about the Big Ten, the Big Ten Network, the 91,000 people, our mom and dad are here watching, all of that stuff takes away from the single message and that’s to go down there and play your best football," he said.
* Nebraska true freshman Nathan Gerry, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound state champion sprinter from Sioux Falls Washington, will be starting at linebacker for the Cornhuskers. It will be his third career start.
* South Dakota State will be playing an FBS opponent for the sixth straight season, all from either the Big Ten or Big 12. The Jackrabbits have yet to beat an FBS team, coming closest in a 16-13 loss to Minnesota in 2009.
* The Jackrabbits open Missouri Valley Conference play next week against defending FCS champion and No. 1-ranked North Dakota State in Brookings.
* South Dakota State quarterback Austin Sumner and running back Zach Zenner are making their way up the career ranks at the school. Sumner, a junior from Brandon, is 529 yards from taking over the all-time lead in career passing yards, held by Ryan Berry. Zenner, a junior from Eagan, Minn., is fifth on the rushing charts with 3,054 yards. Zenner could conceivably move into the No. 2 spot, currently held by Kyle Minett with 4,277 yards, by the end of the season. Tyndall’s Josh Ranek holds the SDSU career mark at 6,744 yards.