VERMILLION, S.D. | Look for the quarterbacks to take center stage in the latest installment of the South Dakota Showdown Series here Saturday.
South Dakota’s Chris Streveler and Taryn Christion of South Dakota State are not only two of the best quarterbacks in the Missouri Valley Football Conference but also the entire FCS.
Christion is the reigning All-MVFC quarterback and has accounted for 32 touchdowns and just six turnovers this season. Streveler, meanwhile, has 31 touchdowns and four turnovers.
The regular season finale at the DakotaDome matches teams trending in opposite directions.
No. 5 SDSU (8-2, 5-2) has won four in a row while No. 16 USD (7-3, 4-3) has lost three of four since a 6-0 start to the season. South Dakota State has won the last eight games between the schools, but there is more riding on the contest for the Coyotes.
Win or lose, the Jackrabbits will make the playoffs and USD should, too, although it’s not a given that the FCS football committee will select six MVFC teams with seven victories.
“Our approach is that it needs to be a playoff game for us,” South Dakota Coach Bob Nielson said. “We need to get back to playing our best football against a very good opponent that is going to cause us to have to do that.”
Playoff implications aside, there is also the rivalry factor to take into consideration.
“In-state rivalry games are certainly always big,” said Nielson, preparing for his second game against SDSU as the USD coach. “I grew up in Iowa and having been here now for two years, seeing how our alums and players perceive this game, there is a difference in terms of the nature of in-state rivalries.
“I think it’s a unique situation this year in that both teams are in position for, not only is it a rivalry game, but a game that means a tremendous amount for both programs.”
South Dakota State is still in the hunt for a share of the Valley title. A Jacks’ win coupled with an Illinois State victory over North Dakota State in Normal, Illinois, would give SDSU a piece of the crown.
A win for the Coyotes would ensure the school’s first FCS playoff berth and eight-win season. Saturday’s winner may also determine who gets a first-round bye and a second-round home game.
The FCS playoff selection show is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sunday on ESPNU.
South Dakota’s defense will certainly have to shore up after allowing 647 yards to North Dakota State in a 49-14 loss last Saturday in Fargo. It must contend with an SDSU offense averaging 38 points and 455 yards per game.
“We gave up big plays and several times we broke down,” Nielson said. “We either didn’t set a play correctly, missed a tackle or blew a coverage. So as a result we made it relatively easy for them to move the ball down the field. Those were things defensively we had been pretty good about not doing through the course of the first nine weeks.
“We certainly have to get back on track, we’re going to be challenged by a very efficient and very good offensive football this week.”
Christion has the luxury of two All-American pass catchers in tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Jake Weinke. The Coyotes limited the talented pair to a combined five catches, 67 yards and no touchdowns in a 28-21 loss at Brookings, South Dakota, last season, but the Jacks rushed for 415 yards.
“They have some of the best skill people in the conference with perimeter players and an experienced quarterback who does a really good job of keeping plays alive with his feet and throwing the ball downfield,” Nielson said. “Their perimeter people do a good job of creating difficult matchups, so from a standpoint of us being the kind of defensive team we need to be, we’re going to have to play a complete defensive football game.”
Offensively, Nielson is looking for more consistency. The Coyotes moved the ball well at NDSU, but most of that was between the 30-yard lines.
“We’re going to have to value every possession and make sure that we take advantage of every scoring opportunity,” Nielson said.
It’s the final home game for 17 seniors, who are attempting to go 5-0 at home for the first time since 2011. That includes Streveler, who needs 100 yards passing to break the single-season record of 3,049 yards.
“Every game you have to bring your ‘A’ game and unfortunately we haven’t been able to bring that our last couple,” Streveler said. “Being in front of our home crowd is important to us. Our fans have been great this season and I’m sure it will be a sold-out crowd and we love playing in the dome so it should be fun.”