VERMILLION, S.D. | The South Dakota Coyotes will be in bounce-back mode for the first time this season when Southern Illinois pays a visit to the DakotaDome Saturday.
Illinois State handed the previously unbeaten Coyotes their first loss, 37-21, last Saturday in Normal, Illinois. USD slipped from No. 4 to No. 7 in the FCS national poll and into a three-way tie for second in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
“I thought we showed some character in the game Saturday, we just did a poor job of taking advantage of some of the opportunities we had in the second half that could have made a difference in the game,” South Dakota Coach Bob Nielson said. “For the first time all year we gave up a number of big plays. Well over half of their yards for the game were on five plays and when you give up those kinds of big plays it puts you in a difficult situation defensively.
“It was a combination of things. We didn’t do some things fundamentally as well like tackling and containing the run. Some of it was that we could have put some guys in better positions to make plays. We certainly had more opportunities to put points on the board offensively but penalties hurt us and we didn’t execute well in our red zone possessions.”
The Coyotes gave up 331 rushing yards and came up empty twice inside the red zone, including a first-and-5 from the Illinois State 7-yard line with seven minutes remaining trailing by six points. USD also threw 63 passes, an unusually high amount even for a quarterback of Chris Streveler’s stature.
“We need to be a better balanced offensive football team to be effective but that was not the case,” Nielson said. “Some of that was due to the fact that we got behind early and some of it because we were facing one of the best run defenses in the country. We knew the game plan was going to have to include throwing the football but we had to throw it too much and we’re not as effective throwing the football when we have to throw it.”
Chris Streveler set school records with 63 pass attempts and 39 completions for 440 yards, but threw his first two interceptions of the season.
The Coyotes fell behind by two scores for the first time this season, 14-0, with just over three minutes left in the first quarter. They drew even on Streveler touchdown passes to tight ends Brett Samson and Aaron Ramsey but trailed 17-14 at halftime and never took a lead.
After falling behind by 10 again in the second half, USD cut it to 24-21 on a Kai Henry touchdown run and had the ball first down at the Illinois State 12, trailing 27-21 with eight minutes left. The Coyotes wound up going for it on fourth-and-8 from the 10 but passed incomplete.
Two plays later Illinois State’s James Robinson ran 87 yards for a touchdown, making it 34-21.
“We threw the ball into the end zone once and thought it should have been pass interference, so we got ourselves a little off schedule there,” Nielson said. “We actually had a couple of communication errors and in the red zone your execution has to be spot on. As a result we ended up going for it on fourth down and I still think that was the right decision, it puts us ahead and a field goal leaves us down by three and we were going into the wind which didn’t make field goal opportunities in any way, shape or form a sure thing.
“Plus if you miss you give them the ball deep in their own territory. If you get a defensive stop you get the ball back in good field position again. But they flipped the table on us popping the 90-yard run on us on second and long. That really kind of changed the outcome of the game when you think of it from a 14-point swing standpoint.”
Southern Illinois, Saturday’s foe, routed Illinois State 42-7 two weeks ago. Quarterback Sam Straub has passed for 720 yards and seven touchdowns in his last two games. The Salukis have forced 19 turnovers, sixth-best nationally.
“They’re a very good offensive football team, one of the best in the league,” Nielson said. “The challenge from a defensive standpoint is to take last week’s performance and throw that out the window and get back to the kind of defense we played over the first half of the season.”