MINNEAPOLIS — The South Dakota State University football team, ranked No. 3 in the STATS FCS Top 25 poll, opens the season at Minnesota on Thursday night at TCF Bank Stadium. The game is an 8 p.m. start, televised on Fox Sports 1.
The Jackrabbits have made the last seven FCS playoffs, and were 10-3 last year after reaching the semifinals for the second straight year. While the Jackrabbits bring back key skill players all over the field, they will start redshirt freshman J’Bore Gibbs at quarterback and the team has a new offensive coordinator Jason Eck, who was promoted from offensive line coach after Eric Eidsness left to lead the offense at Northern Illinois. The team also has new co-defensive coordinators with Brian Bergstrom and Jimmy Rogers.
“I hate the word multiple, but it’s going to be multiple,” SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier told the school’s athletic website, in describing the Jacks’ offense this year. “It’s going to be multiple with the skill guys we use, with the motions and shifts we do. We’re going to keep it somewhat simple in terms of plays, but yet multiple in terms of personnel groups and shifts and motions and really try to perfect plays and hide them within that stuff.”
Minnesota, which was 7-6 last year, received votes in The Associated Press and coaches’ preseason polls. The Gophers ran for nearly 2,500 yards as a team for the season last year, under now third-year head coach P.J. Fleck. The two teams last played in 2009, when the Gophers edged SDSU 16-13 in Minneapolis in the first meeting between the Jacks and Gophers since 1933.
The game will be SDSU’s first against an FBS opponent since 2016, when the Jacks’ lost 59-41 at then-No. 13 TCU. Last year’s season opener at Iowa State was canceled by severe weather.
“It’s something our guys look forward to, so it’s not something that we’re going to walk into their stadium and be in awe of things,” Stiegelmeier said of the game. “We respect them. Coach (Fleck) has done a great job over there of moving this program ahead. We just have to be ready to play our best football.”
Here’s some Gridiron Notes regarding the game via STATS Perform:
- South Dakota State has qualified for the FCS playoffs in seven consecutive seasons and is coming off its three deepest runs – the quarterfinals in 2016 and the semifinals in each of the last two seasons.
- This season, senior linebacker Christian Rozeboom seeks to become the third player in MVFC history to be named to the all-conference first team four times. Northern Iowa defensive back Ty Talton (1995-98) and Jackrabbits wide receiver Jake Wieneke (2014-17) are the only players to hold that distinction entering the conference’s 35th anniversary season.
- Pierre Strong’s average of 9.5 yards per carry in 2018 was the highest by an FCS player with a minimum of 100 attempts in any season since 2000. Strong’s average of 152.7 rushing yards per game from the start of November through the end of the season was fourth-best in the FCS (minimum 50 attempts.
- The Jackrabbits led all MVFC teams in average yards per touchdown (27.4) last season, finding the end zone 74 times. South Dakota State led the FCS with 30 offensive touchdowns of 30+ yards.
- Minnesota has opened the season on campus for the past six seasons, going 5-1; the only loss came in 2015 to a TCU team ranked No. 2 in the AP poll. The Gophers’ last season-opening loss to an FCS team or unranked FBS team was in 2007 versus Bowling Green State. Minnesota went 1-11 that season.
- Under P.J. Fleck, the Gophers have been penalized 90 times, least among FBS schools since 2017 (must have been in FBS both seasons). The Gophers were penalized 88 times in 2016, the year before Fleck took over.
- Tyler Johnson leads all active Power 5 players with 20 career receiving touchdowns and ranks third with 1987 career receiving yards. Johnson has amassed 241 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns in Minnesota’s openers over the past two seasons.
- Minnesota’s Carter Coughlin had 9.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles last season. Only three players from a Power 5 school had equal or better numbers in all three stats (Josh Allen, Kentucky; Jachai Polite, Florida and A.J. Epenesa, Iowa).
- SDSU is 1-8 against FBS opponents since becoming an FCS school in 2004. The Jackrabbits’ only win came at Kansas in 2015, 41-38 – Kansas lost every game that season. SDSU put up 41 points at TCU in a losing effort in 2016, their last time facing FBS opposition. Only one other FCS school in the last 30 seasons has scored 40+ in back-to-back games against FBS opponents (Eastern Washington; three straight from 2015 to 2016).