It’s that time of year again: I crack open my trusty laptop which still has Yahoo! as the default search engine and begin the football previews. Up first are the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, a genuine force in FCS football.
Who: South Dakota State Jackrabbits (Brookings, SD; Missouri Valley Conference)
Head Coach: John Stiegelmeier 185-111 (.625) in 25 seasons
What: the first football game of the Iowa Hawkeye season!
When: September 3rd, 2022; 11a God’s Time
Where: Kinnick Stadium; Iowa City, IA
Why: Because North Dakota State was booked that weekend
10 straight FCS playoff appearances: The only thing Coach Stieg hasn’t brought to Brookings is a national championship trophy. They’ve been in the FCS semifinals (or further) in 4 of the last 5 tournaments. They’re one of two teams to have a current decade-long streak.
2 wins against FBS opponents: They beat a shared opponent in Colorado State last year and Kansas in 2015. Last season’s win against Colorado State was the season opener and it was, uh, not pretty, at 42-23.
3 games with 20 points or less: Last season, the Jackrabbits averaged 36.1 points/game (10th in FCS), in large part by their ability to limit poor offensive outings. Iowa had 5, which is even more (9) when you take away defensive/special teams touchdowns.
27 takeaways: South Dakota State had a top 4 turnover margin at a clean 1.00/game, mainly by their ability to intercept passes at 21 (led the country there, from what I can tell). Part of the elite turnover margin is not turning it over themselves, and they had just 12 on the season.
Isaiah Davis (#11, RB, Jr, 6’1”, 220 lbs): South Dakota State’s leading rusher, Pierre Strong, departed for the NFL, which will leave Davis as the bona fide #1. Davis put up 701 yards despite an injury which kept him out of eight games and led the Jacks in the 2021 spring season. Notably, he rarely doesn’t run for a loss, with the first of his career coming 81 rushes in and just 8 in 95 attempts last season. He’s a gamer and scored every one of their TDs in the Championship Game loss, including this 85-yarder:
Keaton Heide (#13, QB, Sr, 6’3”, 200 lbs): The Jackrabbit QB started 5 games way back in 2019 and did what he needed to do as a freshman: 85/127 (67%) for 1072 yards with 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He bided his time, as Mark Gronowski & Chris Oladokun started the 2021 seasons and while Gronowski is still on the roster after a spring 2021 injury, Heide looks like the guy who will face Iowa. Oladokun slung it for over 3000 yards last season, so their offense is certainly not pass-averse.
Adam Bock (#32, LB, Jr, 6’1”, 215 lbs): This one was a toss-up between Bock and cornerback Dalys Beanum, who returned two of his four interceptions to the house, but I opted to go with the Jackrabbits’ leading tackler, who happened to graduate from Solon. I mean this respectfully when I write: Bock reminds me of a mini version of Jack Campbell, as an absolute tackling machine and do-it-all linebacker. He amassed 115 tackles (40 more than second on the team), was third on the team in tackles for loss (9.5), and threw in a couple interceptions and forced fumbles for good measure. Oh yeah, he also blocked a kick.
Best case: Iowa shows up ready to play. Spencer Petras looks the part against a solid but overmatched defense and Charlie Jones is forgotten as Cooper DeJean is turned loose on special teams. Even Joey Labas gets some run, as Iowa’s got a 30-point lead for much of the fourth quarter.
Worst case: South Dakota State matches Iowa’s physicality and gets an early score before Kinnick Stadium fills in, which gets everyone properly on edge. Iowa struggles to pull away as the game increasingly resembles North Dakota State’s victory over the Hawkeyes in 2016. Whether Iowa wins or not becomes decreasingly relevant as any alleged progress made on offense is proven not to be the case.
Can Iowa do what they need to do? It is funny that both Iowa & South Dakota State played Colorado State, as the Rams matched Iowa’s mindset about as well as anybody early last season. They took advantage of a turnover late in the first half to have a 14-10 halftime lead and I have to believe the Jacks would take a beat-for-beat repeat of that.
If Iowa had avoided that blunder, they take a 10-point lead, minimum into half and probably win that game going away. Instead, it was a tighter-than-it-needed-to-be affair, which foretold the razor’s edge most of Iowa’s games would be played on.
Doing what the Hawks need to do looks like: limit big plays on defense, play clean and come away with points in the red zone, and take advantage of previously hard-to-come-by Jackrabbit errors. If Iowa can’t do that, it’s a game which will at least feel close and, perhaps, could start the Hawkeyes’ season off on the very wrong foot.