TERRE HAUTE —
With the Missouri Valley Football Conference in its first year of its new 10-team alignment, it’s paramount to be able to tell your South Dakota football teams apart.
Know your prairie fauna. The Jackrabbits of South Dakota State came to Memorial Stadium in September and handed Indiana State its only MVFC loss.
The Coyotes of the University of South Dakota, the newest members of the MVFC, visit today. But what the MVFC has visited upon the Coyotes so far has been a world of pain.
South Dakota (1-6, 0-4) is the only winless team left in the MVFC. The Coyotes have had some close losses — a 34-31 loss at home to Illinois State and a 27-24 loss at Missouri State among them.
USD — based in Vermillion, S.D., in the southeast corner of the state — has also been on the wrong end of a 24-17 loss at home to Western Illinois and are fresh off a 54-0 loss to North Dakota State off-campus at Sioux Falls last Saturday.
The statistics aren’t kind. The Coyotes are only ranked in the top 50 in one major national category (48th in pass defense). USD ranks no higher than 75th in any offensive category.
In the MVFC, USD ranks seventh or worse in 14 different categories, including last in run defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense and scoring defense.
Given the difficulty against the run, the Sycamores aren’t the ideal matchup for the Coyotes given that ISU running back Shakir Bell lies in wait. Bell ranks fifth in the nation at 144 yards per game and has 1,156 yards overall.
“He plays like a giant. He’s got the strongest legs I’ve ever seen, pound-for-pound on a running back. When you do get him wrapped up, it’s not over. He pulls out and he’s able to keep going. He’s an amazing football player. I have a lot of respect for him,” said USD coach Joe Glenn, who’s in his 25th season as a head coach.
Though USD has struggled, the 15th-ranked Sycamores have maintained an even keel at practice this week and are determined not to suffer a letdown.
“We’re going to get South Dakota’s best shot. They’re a good team. They’ve been close to winning games. We have to keep preparing the way we’ve been preparing over the last few weeks,” ISU defensive tackle Tyler Boyd said.
At 6-2, and with three games left, ISU is likely one win away from Football Championship Subdivision playoff contention. ISU is currently eighth in the Gridiron Power Index, a key component that helps determine the FCS playoff field.
Not that ISU coach Trent Miles want the topic broached yet. The minute the word “playoff” was mentioned in a question, he jumped in.
“No, we don’t worry about that. We worry about this weekend,” Miles said.
There’s a couple of issues on the table for ISU. USD plays a 3-4 defense — something ISU has had little exposure to this season. USD quarterback Josh Vander Maten (289 rushing yards) is also a running threat out of the backfield, a dynamic ISU hasn’t dealt with since it faced Indiana’s Tre Roberson in the season opener.
“They play an odd front on defense. They have a defensive line that can play and aggressive linebackers. Offensively, they present a problem because of their running quarterback. We have to play with discipline,” Miles said.
ISU could also be further depleted at wide receiver. Taje High is listed as one of the starters. Tanner Riley injured his shoulder at Western Illinois last week and is questionable. Starter Donald Spencer is out with a broken foot.
ISU has two home games in its last three games and has momentum with a four-game win streak. The homestand could serve to provide the thrust ISU needs to make the FCS playoffs for the first time since 1984.
“We’re not looking too far ahead. We keep playing for the 1-0 week each week and we hope that everything falls into place elsewhere to get us where we need to be,” Boyd said.
n Lansing loyalties — ISU’s most prominent tie to USD is men’s basketball coach Greg Lansing. The third-year head coach played for the Coyotes from 1986-90.
Lansing was asked about the first-ever ISU-USD showdown during Thursday’s men’s basketball practice.
“I’ve been talking to all of the football players in the weight room. I told them to take it easy on the Coyotes,” Lansing said.
“I still support my alma mater, but when they play Indiana State? No way. I love the mentality I see off the football team. They’re not satisfied. We love what they’re doing. I hope they keep it up,” said Lansing, who was an all-state quarterback at Harlan High School in Iowa.