3rd seed South Dakota State visits Springfield this week for a historic game with 4th seed Missouri in Saturday’s game at 2 p.m. at Blaster Stadium.
To learn about Jackrabbits before the match, we asked Matt Zimmer, who covers SDSU for Argus Leader in Sioux Falls.
Here’s what Zimmer had to say about the start of the year for Jackas:
How did you notice the changing of the concept of Missouri among the SDSU fan base? The Jacks have not played bears since 2019.
Zimmer: My first year at SDSU after several years of covering Division Two schools was 2015, and I vividly remember thinking the Bears would not be a contender in the D2 league I was covering.
While Bobby Petrino brought some instant credibility when he took office, I think the fact that the Jacks hadn’t played them yet, and the weirdness of the spring pandemic season made it difficult to fully embrace them as legitimate competitors.
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But what they did last fall definitely changed the perception, and there was a lot of hype around Dana G. Dickhouse Stadium last Saturday when word broke that Jack’s next contender was threatening to beat Arkansas.
South Dakota’s defense was very good at the start of the year. Where might the weakness be that Petrino might be able to exploit?
Zimmer: The levers are banged into the secondary. Both Amantis initially missed matches. A young corner set also had some injuries. They were already in the season needing to replace their best corner and best safety.
I wouldn’t call it a weakness, necessarily, because they’ve held up so well so far, but they haven’t faced a crime like this. In particular, Jason Shelley is unlike any quarterback player who has faced SDSU so far. It will be interesting to see how Jack adapts against a midfielder who is able to make out-of-pocket plays.
SDSU QB Mark Gronowski was the big story of the season as he came back from injury. Did he look like the offensive MVFC player of this year’s Spring 2021 season?
Zimmer: not yet. His numbers were poor in the opening game against Iowa State, but he didn’t play really badly as much as a poor offensive line performance, a string of penalties and consistently poor fielding position due to Iowa being in an amazing gamble, never giving him a goal. Coincidence.
He was better but not so great in the second week win against Cal Davis, and he was significantly better last week against Butler. Throwing for 279 yards, he ran for 55 and had four touchdowns total in about three quarters of the action. It was against a non-delegated team, but he and the offender needed a game like this, regardless of the opponent.
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He’s been saying all the time that he feels 100% but he hasn’t always looked at it. I think it was just getting rid of the rust.
Local fans know Isaiah Davis because he went to Joplin and was not introduced by the former Bears coaching staff. What made it special?
Zimmer: Yeah, that’s not a good look at the (Dave) Steckel system. If you watch the National Championship for the spring season, you’ve seen what Davis can do — he’s totally electric at times. He’s big and fast and when he comes down the slopes he punches.
He had trouble getting to level two at first, which is a bit disconcerting, but I admire his patience. He averages 4.4 yards per carry and 78.7 yards per game without a run longer than 14 yards. He has to lose sooner rather than later.
Is SDSU crime still a concern? The first two weeks were against good competitors, but does a good performance against Butler give you confidence as the week approaches?
Zimmer: no doubt. They lost tight end Tucker Craft to a major injury in the first series of the season, and it’s very clear that new offensive coordinator Zach Logan has built a lot of attack around the future NFL Draft pick. This, combined with Gronovsky’s rust and the dominance of the Iowa defense, led to an unexpectedly difficult start.
Their performance against Butler didn’t amaze me, but they did enough, I think, to restore their confidence, and perhaps for the first time this year the sense of how to get into an offensive rhythm and what their identity might last until Kraft returns (which is unexpected until late in the season).
White D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist for the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, via email at email@example.com or Twitter at Tweet embed. He is also the co-host of Sports Talk on Jock Radio 7 days a week from 4 to 6 p.m.