VERMILLION, S.D. | The latest sign of South Dakota’s vast improvement on the football field came last Saturday when the Coyotes avoided what could have been one of those proverbial “trap” games.
Instead of taking for granted that it would simply show up and beat winless Indiana State, USD went in with a business as usual attitude and rolled to its sixth win in as many games, 56-6.
“I think that’s a sign of the team maturing a little bit,” South Dakota Coach Bob Nielson said. “They obviously took their preparation seriously during the week and came out and played the kind of football we need to play to be able to win.”
The Coyotes, who remained at No. 4 in the FCS national polls, moved to 6-0 for the first time since 2005 and are 3-0 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, tied with No. 2 North Dakota State for the lead.
Saturday, though, begins a difficult stretch with matchups against teams either ranked or receiving votes in four of the final five games of the regular season. South Dakota travels to No. 24 Illinois State looking for its first win ever at Hancock Stadium in Normal, Illinois. The Redbirds (4-2, 2-1) have lost their last two after starting 4-0.
Quarterback Chris Streveler didn’t compete against Illinois State last season because of a head injury, but even with his aggressive style of play, Streveler has remained healthy and is performing at a high level.
The senior was named national offensive player of the week for the second time and has accounted for 25 touchdowns and – miraculously – no turnovers through six games.
The offense ranks first nationally in total offense (565 yards per game) and second in scoring (47 points per game). USD racked up a whopping 705 yards against Indiana State.
“Offensively we’ve played very consistently and done a good job distributing the football,” Nielson said. “We were taking advantage of the things that the defense was giving us on Saturday.
“From a defensive standpoint I’m pleased with the way we’ve stopped the run. We talked about that at the beginning of the year how that was going to be one of the important things. We’ll certainly be challenged in that regard more severely as we move forward in our schedule but we took away the run and made them have to throw the ball to move it.”
Streveler threw two touchdown passes each to Brandt Van Roekel and Kody Case and added a 46-yard sprint to the end zone on a quarterback draw. Van Roekel, a senior from Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley, has caught a touchdown pass in each of his four games he has played this season and had seven catches for 108 yards last week.
“Chris is playing with a lot of confidence right now, he’s seeing things really well and works hard every week in terms of preparation,” Nielson said. “I think that shows up by the way he executes on Saturday.”
South Dakota’s defense has allowed just 91 yards per game on the ground (down from 250 last season), ranking second nationally in sacks (24) and fifth in tackles for loss (53). Sophomore Darin Greenfield (Sheldon, Iowa) leads the nation in tackles for loss with 13.5 and is among the leaders in sacks with 5.0. Taylor Lambert, a senior from Dakota Valley High School, has 3.5 sacks and 6.0 tackles for loss.
While USD committed its first turnover in seven games last week, Illinois State has turned it over eight times in the last two weeks (six interceptions). The Redbirds have allowed 771 yards and eight touchdowns through the air in their two setbacks.
However, only two of their six foes this season have rushed for 50 yards and they rank fifth in the nation against the run.
“They’re a real good football team and will be ready to play and I’m expecting to get their best on both sides of the football,” Nielson said. “Their front seven on defense is very experienced and physical. They’ve been hard to run the football against all year. You have to find a way to be consistent against them and to do that you’re going to have to be two-dimensional.”
Jake Kolbe averages 254 yards passing per game, with Spencer Schnell and Christian Gibbs accounting for over half of the team’s receptions. Gibbs, though, missed last week’s loss to Southern Illinois because of a toe injury.