Week 2 Preview – #6 South Dakota State Jackrabbits

The UND football team has a whole ‘nother animal coming to town this weekend.  Last week UND pounded an inferior Valparaiso team 69-10 and left fans wondering how good UND really is.  Well, they will find out soon enough.  Old NCC rival South Dakota State is 1-0 on the season after also pounding a Pioneer League member, Butler, 55-14.  The Jacks are ranked as high as #6 in the FCS polls and were a playoff team last season.

Gametime is set for 6pm at the Alerus Center.  The game will be televised on Midco Sports Network in HD and also will be picked up by Fox College Sports (Directv 623).

UND Defense vs. SDSU Offense

The Jacks are known for their ability to run the ball, led by All-American running back Zach Zenner, but their passing game led the way vs. Butler.  QB Austin Sumner, 6’5″-225, threw for 326 yds and 3 TD’s and showed that the Jacks are a balanced offense.  Sumner works out of the Pistol formation a good portion of the game and the Jacks like to employ 3 and 4 receiver sets with Zenner as the lone back.  They seem to want to spread you out to then get their big OL singled up your DL and then let Zenner find the hole.  When they pass, the Jacks seem to favor simple slants, fades, and out routes.  They could be termed a “ball-control offense” as they try and get themselves in manageable third down positions with their play calling.

Last season, their first running the Pistol formation, the Jacks had great success on the ground.  Zenner, 5′-11″, 220, led the entire FCS in rushing yards with 2,044.  He picked up where he left off last season by rushing for 117 yds on 16 carries in limited duty.  Zenner is a compact, well-built back who shows great vision and very good speed.  He is a game breaker every time he touches the ball.

SDSU has a massive offensive line that averages 310 pounds across the board.  They are a physical group that definitely plays with an edge, something every O-line coach loves.  This could be the biggest test of the season for UND’s front seven.

After last week it is apparent that SDSU is a legitimate passing team and far from one-dimensional.  However, with UND’s struggles vs. the run last season and also seeing them get run on a bit last week vs. Valpo, we are much more concerned with the Jacks running game than their passing.  The easiest thing to do on offense is run the ball.  Less things can can go wrong when you just hand it off, especially when it’s to the best running back in the country.  We see the Jacks really trying to establish the run throughout the first quarter with heavy doses of Zenner.  UND gave up 215 yds/game on the ground last year and SDSU is surely aware of that.  Will they throw it to keep UND honest?  Yes.  But they know if they can get the running game going they have an excellent shot at winning this game.

A key to the game that is overlooked is UND’s corners vs. SDSU WR’s.  Daryl Brown and Chris Hall need to play even with their receivers.  They cannot give them easy first downs to continue drives or UND will be in bigtime trouble.  Its obvious that UND is going to have to focus on stopping the run, which means Brown and Hall will be on their own to try and defend the outside passing game.  A few breakups here and there resulting in the defense forcing a punt could be the difference for UND.

UND Offense vs SDSU Defense

The Jackrabbits bring their big, physical 40-front defense to The Alerus Center on Saturday.  All 4 defensive line starters are seniors.  Primarily, they play cover 4 and cover 2 looks in the secondary with ‘2-high’ safeties.  They play the Tampa-2 look with funneling ‘hard corner’ play in the flats and will drop an inside linebacker into the deep middle of the field.

Against Butler last week, the SDSU defense surrendered 276 yards of total offense and had 3 interceptions.  The Jackrabbit defense is led by sophomore linebacker TJ Lally and senior cornerback Winston Wright.

The UND offensive line will have its hands full with the SDSU defensive line.  They are big, physical and can move well.  Their defensive ends could be an issue on the edge with the UND tackles in pass protection.  Joe Kleason and specifically Darren Deneui will have to be on their game.  The running backs will probably also be called upon to help out and ‘chip’ in the protection.  One other concern is the health of center Shea Walker.  UND is much better up front with him in the game.

In the passing game, QBs Ryan Bartels and Joe Mollberg will need to convert on some short to intermediate throws early on in order to make the linebackers and safeties respect and drive on those routes, which will help stretch out the SDSU secondary and create opportunities for the vertical passing game later.  We saw what Bartels and Mollberg can do when they have time in the pocket against Valpo when they combined to go 16-19 for 286 yds and 1 TD.  We will see what they are made of early on against a senior-laden defense up front and a much more talented defense overall.  How will they react when the pocket breaks down?

Helping the QB’s out will be the return of sophomore WR Jameer Jackson, who sat out last week’s contest for reasons unknown.  He, Greg Hardin, Kenny Golladay and Blair Townsend need to help settle the QBs in by simply just making the plays that they are presented with.

We expect a balanced attack overall and we hope to see more of the physical running style backs like Adam Shaugabay and PJ Sparks.  We know Jake Miller and Jer Garman will rightfully get their carries too, but we like what we have seen from Sparks and Shaugabay from last spring until now.  We think they bring something different to the table.  The nice thing is the absolute variety that the UND backfield brings with their stable of different backs and running styles.


SDSU is the best highest rated team to ever visit the Alerus Center.  They are ranked #6 in the country and have multiple playoff appearances (3) since making the move to FCS football 10 years ago (eligible for five).  On the flip side, UND is only in their second year of FCS eligible play but have not shown they can beat the upper-echelon of the FCS division yet.  This is their chance.

While we are excited to have ‘an old friend’ back at The Alerus, we are also concerned about the play up front on both sides of the ball and the talent of RB Zach Zenner.  UND must make him earn his yardage.  More than one 50+ yard run spells trouble for UND – herein lies the challenge.

Its early in the year and the teams are relatively healthy (UND could be missing Ratelle).  The UND fan base is desperately seeking that big win over a highly ranked team that can allow them to ‘buy in’.  The Alerus Center crowd needs to help out and make a difference on Saturday.  We expect 11,000+ loud fans to do that.  With that being said, the UND players need to prove us wrong and give the fans exactly what they are starving for.


UND 26

6 Responses

  1. old hog

    Good synopsis. Last week, I concentrated on watching our line play. I came away thinking we’re not quite there yet. I hope I’m wrong. Hopefully, the crowd gets the place rocking and the good guys in green can feed off that. To win, we need to play with more emotion and match the toughness up front on both sides of the ball. It’s going to be fun. 24 hours to tailgating time!

    1. We are with you. Line play needs continuing improvement. This week will be as tough a matchup as they have all year. SDSU’s defensive line is experienced and talented. Bartels is going to have to be quick and decisive with the ball, he will not have time to survey the field too often.

  2. Geaux_sioux

    That’s the weird thing about offensive line play. They can gel out of nowhere. It just takes one good series for things to click for them and they can be good the rest of the season.

  3. old hog

    Zenner and their O line was as good as advertised. Our D showed flashes of being better and got some key stops. The freshman qb’s are going to give us flashes of brilliance and the occasional awful play…………to be expected. The good news that even with Zenner going crazy and our turnovers & penalties and the missed delay of game followed by a personal foul, we still made it a very close game.

    I was pretty happy with the enthusiasm in the building, especially the 4th quarter. It is still a loss, but I hope we can build on it going into the BSC schedule. Lets Go Sioux!

    1. geaux_sioux

      I found it funny that after the fair weather fans abandoned ship the Alerus was still loud enough for Sumner to be screaming and clapping at his center to hike the ball and he couldn’t hear a thing. Pack the place with real fans and it’s louder than the Fargo Dome. Low roof plus metal walls equals loud as hell.

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