VERMILLION, S.D. | Opportunities keep presenting themselves for a South Dakota team that has risen from unranked status at the beginning of the season to No. 6 in the Football Championship Subdivision polls.
The latest comes on Saturday when the 4-0 Coyotes entertain No. 3 Youngstown State (3-1). As of Thursday, all 10,000 seats in the DakotaDome had been sold for the annual Dakota Days game, this year matching a pair of national powers.
Youngstown State, coached by former University of Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini, was the national runner-up last season and handled South Dakota State 19-7 in its Missouri Valley Football Conference opener last Saturday.
The Penguins have only an overtime loss to Pittsburgh. The fact that Pelini is coming here for the second time attracts enough attention, but the fiery YSU mentor has another talented squad this season.
“We’ll have a really good football team coming in here who were in the national championship game a year ago and brought back a lot of returning players,” South Dakota Coach Bob Nielson said. “It will be a great challenge and without a doubt the best team we’ve played this year.”
USD moved to 4-0 for the first time since 2006 with a 38-33 victory at Western Illinois last week. Quarterback Chris Streveler continued his outstanding play and the Coyote defense made a big play late in the game to preserve the victory.
Just how good has Streveler – a senior transfer from the University of Minnesota – been in the first four weeks of the season?
He is the nation’s 10th-leading passer and 36th-leading rusher and has accounted for 17 touchdowns. He hasn’t committed a turnover despite 120 pass attempts and 74 carries.
Streveler leads the nation in points responsible for per game and is the sixth-most efficient quarterback. He leads an offense that ranks second nationally in scoring and yards per game.
“He can hurt you with his legs and is a very capable thrower,” Pelini said. “Any time you have a quarterback that can run like a tailback it creates extra challenges for your defense.
“He’s a leader who competes and plays hard and, to me, it always starts there. You’ve got to like the way he runs around, he’s a tough kid who takes a lot of hits and runs with an attitude. A group of guys are going to rally around a kid like that and to a certain extent this team has taken in this kind of identity.”
Fast starts have been the key for the Coyotes, who have outscored their opponents 132-22 in the first half and outgained them 1,455-635. They jumped to a 38-6 lead on Western Illinois.
South Dakota hasn’t beaten Youngstown State in five tries, including a 30-20 loss last season in which Streveler was limited to a season-low 141 yards passing (10-for-27) and 15 yards rushing on 14 tries. The 20 points are the fewest the Yotes have scored under Nielson, in his second season has head coach.
“This is a different team than last year,” Pelini said. “They’re well-coached, very physical and balanced. They’re good in all three phases, offense, defense and special teams, and are playing with a lot of confidence, which they should be.”
USD’s Nielson, whose team has a 1-0 MVFC record for the first time, says the fast starts have been a big reason for the early success.
“Our guys have gone out at the start of games and executed our game plans really well,” Nielson said. “I give our staff credit for having good plans and I think our preparation has been good. As a result we’ve been able to jump out to early leads and it’s been a big part of our success.”
Danny Rambo intercepted a pass late in the game to preserve the win at Western Illinois, where Nielson coached before coming to USD. Rambo returned after leaving the game because of a blow to the head.
“We were in good position with 30 seconds to go and they had to score a touchdown,” Nielson said. “It forced them to throw the ball downfield and Danny Rambo, who played a very good game, made an interception to seal the win. That play can be a real confidence boost to us as we move forward.”
Youngstown State ran 86 plays to 37 for South Dakota State (11 in the second half) and held the ball for 45 minutes. Tevin McCaster leads the Valley and ranks ninth nationally in rushing at 111 yards per game.
“They’re a team that’s extremely well coached,” Nielson said. “They execute their stuff both offensively and defensively very well and are in my opinion the best rushing team that we have faced to date. And from a defensive standpoint, they’re the best team we’ve played, too. They’re going to want to hold on to the football so we have to do a good job of defending the football and be good on third downs.
“On offense one of the keys will be for us to extend our possessions and take advantage of every time we have the football.”