As the USD football team turns a corner toward the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener this Saturday, it would also like to turn a page from ongoing offensive struggles.
The numbers from last Saturday’s 22-16 loss at Northern Arizona are telling: Seven yards of offense in the first half, no first downs until the third quarter and no points until early in the fourth.
Asked Tuesday about those struggles, USD coach Joe Glenn pulled no punches. On more than one occasion during the weekly media teleconference, he used the phrase “laid an egg” and called Saturday’s first-half performance “horrible.”
“We had to change what we were doing, try and do some things that would work better for us,” Glenn said.
Those halftime adjustments — namely, opening up the passing game — worked for the Coyotes, who rolled up 277 yards in the second half and got within a touchdown.
The trick now is to continue that surge into the conference season, which opens Saturday at Western Illinois.
A year after going winless in eight league games, the Coyotes (1-2) head into this MVFC campaign ranked last in total offense per game (285.3) — an average of nearly 60 yards behind the next-highest team.
Saying that USD will “get the chair and whip out a little bit in practice this week,” Glenn pointed to experience at offensive line as reason to believe the Coyotes can fare better this year.
“A week ago I would’ve told you we were a lot better, but we got shook for our lunch money in the first half,” he said. “We’re better at running the football, but we have to prove it.”
Though they found success on the ground in their first two games, the Coyotes rushed 34 times for just 84 yards (a 2.5 average) in the loss at Northern Arizona. As a result, USD now ranks eighth among MVFC teams in rushing offense (166).
The key to that ground attack is junior quarterback Josh Vander Maten, who averages 58.7 yards on the ground, and already has the attention of Western Illinois.
“Any time you have a great quarterback, you have a chance to be really good offensively,” first-year WIU coach Bob Nielson said Tuesday. “It’s going to be a really difficult matchup for us.”
The Leathernecks (2-2) are already used to tough matchups, though.
Western Illinois opened the season with convincing wins over lower-level teams Hampton and Quincy, but followed that up with consecutive FBS losses to Minnesota and UNLV.
Asked about those FBS games, Nielson said there are two schools of thought in playing two money games, rather than the traditional one.
“When you challenge your guys like that, what you hope is that it puts you in a position where they’re ready to face the challenging schedule in the Missouri Valley Conference,” Nielson said.
The other side of that coin would be trying to build confidence “in every step along the way” and not coming out with wins, Nielson said.
With its non-conference games out of the way, USD can now turn its attention toward climbing the league ladder, Glenn said.
“Now we’ll get into conference play and everything’s even, everything’s fair,” he said. “We get to find out who we are in our league.”
SDSU Welcomes NDSU
Following a 39-point beatdown at the hands of Nebraska, the SDSU football team can’t afford to sulk for long.
“Confidence-wise, after the Nebraska pounding, I’m a little concerned about that,” head coach John Stiegelmeier said Tuesday. “A good practice and focused attention on a good opponent takes care of that.”
That next opponent? Two-time defending national champion North Dakota State (3-0), which comes to Brookings on Saturday afternoon for the conference opener.
Stiegelmeier was asked Tuesday if there is a checklist to beat the Bison. His reply? “It’s not an easy checklist.”
“Defensively you need to stop the run,” he said. “I’m not saying they can’t throw the ball; they threw the ball against Kansas State, but they want to run the football.”
The Jackrabbits (3-1) have lost their last four games against NDSU, including twice last year, once in the FCS playoffs. Dating back to both team’s ascension to the Division I ranks, the Bison hold a 6-4 edge.
As for the current meeting, some have questioned why such a meaningful game was slated as the league opener, but Stiegelmeier said the timing actually helps his team.
“For us, it’s great medicine right now, to be honest, because we got our tails whipped at Nebraska,” he said. “We can’t dwell on that with the number one team in America coming to town.”