VERMILLION, S.D. -- Desperately in search of its first victory of the season, the University of South Dakota football team hooks up with another winless squad Saturday.
The Coyotes (0-3) travel to Greeley, Colorado, to face Northern Colorado (0-3). The schools were longtime foes when each competed in the North Central Conference as NCAA Division II programs.
In order to have a chance to break into the win column, it’s no secret the Coyotes must shore up their defense. They’ve allowed a combined 123 points in the last two games, including 53 in a one-point home loss to Houston Baptist last week.
The week before, Oklahoma erupted for 70 points in a 70-14 shellacking of USD in Norman, Oklahoma.
“We have to play better on the perimeter,” USD Coach Bob Nielson said. “We’re giving up too many easy yards in the passing game right now. It’s a combination of things, No. 1 we’ve been facing a lot of good passing teams and at the same time we’ve blown some coverages, tackled poorly on the perimeter which has provided opportunities for teams to take what would be short gains and make them long games.”
Combine that with the fact that because of injury, the Coyotes were forced to play with some younger players who hadn’t got quite as many practice reps during the week.
They’ve been especially hard hit at cornerback, where veteran Mark Collins Jr. hasn’t played since getting hurt in week one. University of Massachusetts transfer Bakhari Goodman and Cameron Tisdale were each injured last Saturday.
Expect Northern Colorado and veteran quarterback Jacob Knipp to try and exploit the perimeter. Knipp, who is in his sixth season after being granted an injury waiver by the NCAA, threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns in a 43-28 loss at South Dakota last season.
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Knipp, however, was knocked out of last week’s 50-0 loss to Sacramento State in the second quarter and did not return
“I think we’re going to see teams continue to attack the perimeter until we demonstrate that we’re going to be better and more consistent in being able to defend those types of plays,” Nielson said. “We’ve held up much better against the run, but the problem is we haven’t forced teams to be one-dimensional because of the fact they’ve been so successful attacking us on the perimeter and downfield.”
On the flip side, Austin Simmons put together a record-setting performance in the 53-52 loss to Houston Baptist.
Simmons set program single-game records for passing yards (537), attempts (65) and completions (48). His 537 yards are the most by any player at any NCAA level this season.
Five different receivers reached career highs in receptions, including Caleb Vander Esch and Randy Baker, who each surpassed 100 yards on the day. Baker tied a program record with 11 catches.
However, the Coyotes turned the ball over deep in the red zone last week and missed a 33-yard field goal, which were both crucial miscues in a 53-52 loss.
Northern Colorado is playing at home for the first time this season. The Golden Bears faced FBS schools San Jose State and Washington State in their first two games.
“They’re a football team with a seasoned, outstanding quarterback who is one of the top returning quarterbacks in the Big Sky Conference,” Nielson said. “They have a talented running back to go along with that. Defensively, they’re a little like us where their strength is in their defensive front. They’ve played a difficult early season schedule and I’m sure they’re excited to get home and play.”
This is USD’s first trip to Greeley since 2009 and its last win there was in 1988. They’ve been 0-8 there since.
Saturday’s game is also the last tuneup for a difficult Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule that begins in two weeks at home against Indiana State.